The Journal: Best Writing Practices

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Topic: Best Writing Practices
* So What’s the Problem?
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“Imagination is the highest kite one can fly.” Lauren Bacall

“You don’t want to dwell on your enemies, you know. I basically feel so superior to my critics for the simple reason that they haven’t done what I do. Most book reviewers haven’t written 11 novels. Many of them haven’t written one.” John Irving

“[S]uccess or failure is all about how we navigate the challenges that arise.” Felix Torres in a comment on a post on The Passive Voice

Topic: Best Writing Practices

In today’s edition of The Passive Voice, an author at Writer Unboxed asks, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could pick up a manual on ‘Best Writing Practices’ and follow its advice all the way to publishing success?” (See “Filling Your Writing Life” in “Of Interest.”)

I actually laughed and I shook my head.

I just presented such a “manual” in two Journal posts, at and

And I’ve written two great companions to those posts: Quiet the Critical Voice (and Write Fiction) and Writing the Character-Driven Story. Not to mention I’ve written 66 novels and around 250 short stories in which I model my own advice.

But aside from and predating all of that is the ultimate “Best Practices” guide: Robert A. Heinlein’s “Business Habits for Writers,” better known as Heinlien’s Rules (free download). No other best-practices guide for fiction writers is more simple, more succinct, or more difficult to follow.

Heinlein’s Rules aren’t for the lazy or lax. They aren’t for the purveyor of the soup sandwich or other sloppy things, including sloppy writing. And as a mentoring student recently reminded me, to be successful at writing fiction, you need only the first three rules:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must not rewrite (trust, don’t second-guess, yourself).

Rules 4 and 5 have to do with publication. Once you’ve written and run a spell-check, submit or publish the work, and then forget it and move on to the next work.

For novels, write them, finish them, do not rewrite them, then indie publish them and move on to the next work.

For short stories, do exactly the same thing. OR submit them to magazines, etc. for possible publication:

▪ If you submit the work to someone else for publication and it’s rejected, send it to the next publisher on your list. Right now. Repeat until you’ve exhausted your list.

▪ If/when you exhaust possible external markets for your work, indie publish it and move on to the next work.

Seriously, folks, you don’t need some magical best-practices manual.

You only need Heinlein’s Rules and a passion for writing fiction that will drive you to learn the craft, as I mentioned in the second “How to Get Here” post.

So What’s the Problem?

One problem is that aspiring fiction writers see writing as some kind of elevated “calling.” They see fiction itself as an “art form.”

Maybe it is an art form — for me, the jury’s still out on that one — but at its heart, any fiction, short or long, is only a story, nothing more. It’s a few minutes’ or hours’ entertainment for someone.

Write a short story every day, or even only every week, and you’ll soon come to understand that the value and importance of any stories, short or long, is set by the reader, not the writer.

Write a novel every two weeks or every month or even every quarter-year and you’ll come to the same realization. And that realization will free you up to write even more prolifically.

Then there’s the other problem: Some successful (but to my mind, unscrupulous) professional fiction writers actually make a good living writing nonfiction how-to books that tout all the myths. Myths that those professionals themselves probably don’t follow in their writing practice.

Of course, they’ll tell you they follow the myths — outlining, revising, rewriting, etc. — after all, like all fiction writers, they lie for a living. Those pro writers have identified a soft target. They know aspiring writers just want an easy formula — if I do this, then this, then this, I will be successful — so those professionals provide that formula: the myths.

Aspiring writers are such an easy mark because of the first problem: they hold the term “writer” in high esteem. They seem to hear an angelic choir every time they see or hear the word. As a result, they believe they must suffer in some way for their “art.” They can’t begin to believe that writing fiction can be simple, easy, and even a great deal of fun. So they opt to suffer.

And you guessed it. Most often the suffering manifests in the practice of the myths: outlining and hovering over one work, revising and rewriting and inviting critiques from others and endless polishing. Because according to all the other beginning writers, that’s what you have to do.

All that instead of writing, publishing, and moving on to the next story. It’s a shame.

I’ve always found it odd that aspiring writers rush to heed advice — the same tripe they’ve been hearing all their lives — from Stage 1 and Stage 2 writers and those professionals who tell them what they want to hear.

Yet they shy away from the advice and examples from masterful storytellers like Robert A. Heinlein or Isaac Asimov or Stephen King or James Lee Burke or Lee Child or Kristine Kathryn Rusch or CJ Cherryh or Dean Wesley Smith or dozens or hundreds of others. It truly boggles the mind.

On the other hand and on a personal level, I’m fine with that. Most writers who finally accept that all they need is adherence to Heinlein’s Rules and writing into the dark either move up to join the rest of us as prolific professionals or they stop writing altogether because it’s no longer a challenge. It isn’t an elevated calling after all, and it’s too easy.

But I have some advice for those who will continue taking writing advice from Stage 1 and 2 writers and unscrupulous pros: you might as well save money in other ventures as well. Get your legal advice from your neighbors’ 10 year old son, ask his 8 year old sister’s advice on rewiring your home, and have the 12 year old who delivers your newspaper remodel your kitchen. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? And makes exactly the same amount of sense.

Talk with you later.

Of Interest

See “Infographic: 6 Reasons Self-Publishing Your eBook Can Guarantee More Sales” at

See “Them’s the Breaks” at For fun. I was stymied that so many people asked what “Them’s the breaks” means, especially in the context of the resignation speech of the former British prime minister.

See “Filling Your Writing Life” at

See “Sex, drugs, celebrities, vampires – Just another day in the Regency” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1150 words

Writing of Blackwell Ops 8 (tentative title, novel)

Day 19… 2117 words. Total words to date…… 41729
Day 20… 2025 words. Total words to date…… 43754
Day 21… 1770 words. Total words to date…… 45524
Day 22… 3296 words. Total words to date…… 48820
Day 23… 3259 words. Total words to date…… 52079
Day 24… 2712 words. Total words to date…… 54791
Day 25… 1068 words. Total words to date…… 55859
Day 26… 1003 words. Total words to date…… 56862

Total fiction words for August……… 8042
Total fiction words for the year………… 60538
Total nonfiction words for August… 9430
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 115670
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 176208

Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. I’ve never said WITD is “the only way” to write, nor will I ever. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among other topics.

2 thoughts on “The Journal: Best Writing Practices”

  1. Regarding your thought below:

    “I just presented such a “manual” in two Journal posts, at and”

    Exactly my thought after reading both posts you mention above. Accurate, concise, clear directions for writing success.

    Here’s another thought on why people won’t take your advice. It’s scary to succeed. Sometimes scarier than failing. If you have followed all the accepted advice and failed, possibly serially, then you can safely quit. Or keep trying, knowing success is safely out of reach.
    But if you succeed? Now what?! Now you’re responsible to repeat it. Much scarier than the first success.
    I still have trouble with critical mind intrusion and I think a little with fear of success.
    BUT, I also have 2 published novels and 5 published short stories. So I know your advice, and Heinlein’s works. And that I can write, finish and publish more any time I’m ready.
    It’s all up to me.

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