Heinlein’s Rules: A Series

In today’s Journal

* Playing It By Ear
* Only a Week Left
* Heinlein’s Rules: A Series
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Playing It By Ear

I’m playing it by ear here, folks, and I’m a one-man operation. If there’s anything you’d like to see me talk about in the Journal, remember that your ideas are always welcome.

And as I said earlier, I’m not a moving target. You can leave a comment, or you can email me directly at harveystanbrough[at]gmail.com.

Only a Week Left

before I switch over to The New Daily Journal. Those who choose to remain free subscribers after May 31st will still receive the Journal, but only occasionally.

To make the switch with me and receive every post after May 31, subscribe now with either a recurring donation of $3 per month or at least $36 per year.

You will also be able to subscribe at that same low rate through June 30.

Beginning on July 1, the rate will increase to $5 per month or $60 per annum. (Stripe’s minumum monthly subscription rate.)

In the meantime, to be sure the following info gets out to everyone, I’m bringing forward a short series of posts I originally wrote in early 2021.

Heinlein’s Rules: A Series


Today and for the next four days I’ll bring forward five updated posts that comprise a would-be interview about Heinlein’s Business Habits for Writers and why, as a professional fiction writer, I personally find them essential.

This series was first published in the almost-daily Journal in March 2021.

Back in 2020, I received a note from a writer who wanted to interview me about my adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. The purpose was so the writer could put up a blog post on the topic. In the end, the resulting post was too long for the blog’s format.

But the questions the writer asked, and the indicental comments she made, were absolutely typical (usually even word for word) of the questions and comments I’ve heard from writers at conferences and conventions for the past thirty years.

So I decided to use that writer’s questions and comments to post a series of topics here for the benefit of those who read this Journal.

Some of this will hit home. Some of it might make you angry. Some of it will sound repetitious. I don’t mean any harm.

In my own experience, I’ve often found I had to hear something more than once or hear it said in a different way before I finally got it. It is in that spirit that I offer this and the following few posts on Heinlein’s Rules and Writing Into the Dark, which really do go hand in hand.

First, so we’re all starting from the same place, here are Heinlein’s Rules. You can download a free PDF copy of Heinlein’s Rules (annotated) by clicking here.

Robert A. Heinlein first outlined his rules in Of Worlds Beyond: The Science of Science Fiction Writing. Largely as an afterthought to his article, he wrote the following:

“I’m told that these articles are supposed to be some use to the reader. I have a guilty feeling that all of the above may have been more for my amusement than for your edification. Therefore I shall chuck in as a bonus a group of practical, tested rules, which, if followed meticulously, will prove rewarding to any writer.”

Then he listed what he calls his Business Habits:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you start.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
  4. You must put it on the market.
  5. You must keep it on the market until sold.

He added that if you follow these rules, eventually you would find some editor (reader) somewhere who will buy your work.

Nothing could be more spot-on the money.

Here are some exerpts from the interviewer’s introduction, which contain some of those “typical” questions and comments I alluded to earlier and my responses:

Q: “It stands to reason that if we, as writers, spend the bulk of our time writing, we’re only going to improve. And if, instead of hopping from unfinished project to unfinished project or obsessing over a work to the point of ridiculousness, we move on to the next story, we’re going to spend more time writing. Which is the one thing we all need to do a lot of to succeed.”

HS: Yes, instead of “hopping from unfinished project to unfinished project or obsessing over a work” at all, we should write the current story (even the very first) to the best of our ability, then publish it and move on to the next story.

But this isn’t only so we’ll “spend more time” writing. Writing a lot without learning and practice will not help you succeed. Practice (vs. hovering via revisions and rewrites) is what will help you succeed. To practice, you learn and then apply what you learned in the next story.

Never look back. Always look forward to the next technique to learn and the next story to write.

Q: “I have a few concerns with some of the rules to the point that I’ve never been able to embrace the process. … I’ve always wished I knew someone personally who follows Heinlein Rules so I could talk to them and see what they would say about my concerns.”

HS: You came to the right place. I was exactly the same way. Exactly. Which is to say I was filled with unreasoning fear. Unreasoning because there are no real consequences to “failing” at one or more of Heinlein’s Rules. You just dust yourself off and climb back on.

There are also no real consequences to writing and publishing a story that, in your opinion, is “bad.” (More on this toward the end of this post.)

The truth is, the world won’t stop if you write a “bad” story and not that much good will happen if you write a “good” story. Your opinion of your work is still only one opinion.

To put it more succinctly, to YOU, your original voice is boring because it’s with you 24/7. But to others, your original voice is unique and fresh.

Given the chance to read your story, some readers will love it, some will hate it, and the majority will enjoy it—IF you don’t revise, edit, and “polish” your original voice and the voice of your characters off of it.

Okay, that’s enough for now. Next up, post two in this series. Of course, comments and questions are welcome.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

The Writer as Nomad Good post.

Q&A with author Hugh Howey There are many great points in this article. I recommend it. I do not recommend “beta” readers who opine about content.

Day Three of Licensing Expo

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1140

Writing of When the Owl Calls (novel)

Day 1…… 1884 words. To date…… 1884
Day 2…… 3699 words. To date…… 5583

Fiction for May…………………….….… 22813
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 326598
Fiction since October 1………………… 629656
Nonfiction for May……………………… 21840
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 176180
2024 consumable words……………… 502778

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 8
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………… 90
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……… 239
Short story collections…………………… 29

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing are lies, and they will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

To be sure you continue receiving the Journal after May 31, subscribe free, then click the Donate link at the end of this post and make either a recurring donation of $3 per month OR a one-time donation of at least $36. In doing that, you’re effectively paying me 5 cents per hour to provide you with the Journal every day. Donate Here. Thank you!

4 thoughts on “Heinlein’s Rules: A Series”

  1. Harvey, do you know of any good nonfiction books that covers the pulp era? I’m trying to bolster my knowledge of the writers and the time period, but so far I haven’t been able to find much beyond articles and wikipedia entries for individual writers. Some of the articles weren’t too, shall we say, complimentary either (the usual ‘they wrote too fast’. ‘Churned out pot boilers’ etc) so I’d also like to find a work which is positive if possible.
    If you have any recommendations I’d much appreciate them.

Comments are closed.