In today’s Journal
* Topic: Post 4 on Heinlein’s Rules
* Not a great day
* The Numbers
Topic: Post 4 on Heinlein’s Rules
A lot of this one is about the most controversial of Heinlein’s Rules: Rule 3.
Q: Ok, my next question is about Rule #3: Refrain from rewriting except to editorial order. So, if a story is good enough to be accepted by a publisher, and they give you feedback on what needs to be changed, you should make those changes (within reason). But you shouldn’t do revisions on your own.
Q (cont.): I agree with the spirit of this rule: instead of getting caught up in endless revisions, the best thing we can do to improve our craft is to write the next book (and the next one, and the next one…). But I can’t see how this works for authors who self-publish, because it’s entirely possible that they’re publishing work that is sub-par and no one will want to read. I mean, every story needs some editing, right?
Harvey: First, Harlan Ellison added an addendum to HR3: “Refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.” The addendum? “And only if you agree.” So sure, make the changes your agent or editor or publisher recommend, but only if you agree with those changes.
Second, whether a story is “good enough” to be accepted by a publisher only means the acquisitions editor and/or publisher actually liked it, which means it suited the taste of that particular person at that particular moment in time. What that person likes, another person won’t. What one person is in the mood for at this moment in time, another person isn’t.
What one person sees as excellent and entertaining, another will see as “sub-par.” I personally believe there is no story that “no one will want to read,” unless the writer has revised and rewritten and polished until it reads exactly like everything else in the slush pile.
You wrote “I can’t see how this works for authors who self-publish.” It works for me through what I call “first readers.” When I finish a work (remember, I cycle back as I write), I run an automated spell-checker. Then I save the work in a PDF format and email it to my first reader(s). Usually that happens within minutes of writing the last word of the novel. (I don’t use first readers for short stories. I read those myself, aloud, make corrections, then submit or publish them.)
My first readers are not necessarily writers. A few are and a few aren’t. But the only thing that matters is that they’re avid readers. They don’t “look for” anything as they read. They just read for entertainment, and if something pops out at them as they read, they make a note. Usually that’s a misspelled word or a wrong word (waste for waist, for example) or an inconsistency (a character put on a blue jacket when he got dressed but at lunch an hour later he’s suddenly in a brown jacket, or a character has brown eyes in one scene and blue eyes in another).
When I get input back from my first reader(s), I go through the story a final time and apply what I agree with. I ignore the rest. If one of my first readers who is also a writer decides to tell me how I “should” have written something or how they would have written it, I largely ignore that. Especially if that writer is much farther back on the writing road than I am.
As for every story needing an editor, that depends on the skill level and experience of the writer. I don’t personally use a copyeditor, but I do recommend using one unless you have an excellent grounding in grammar, the appropriate use of punctuation (including when to purposefully break the “rules”), and the nuances of the language. But I also do recommend everyone let a good first reader see their finished work. And again, that means an avid reader, not a writer.
Never under any circumstances do I recommend a “story doctor” or “developmental editor” or any of that. A good copyeditor is worth his or her weight in gold, but all the rest is inviting someone else to change your story, and that’s just wrong.
Q: To piggyback on that, what about stories that have major structural issues? This is especially common for new writers who are still figuring out how stories flow and should be structured. When I look back at my first attempts, they either required serious reworking or just needed to be filed quietly away never to be heard of again. The thought of publishing them makes me twitchy.
Harvey: Again, “major structural issues” according to whom? When you look back at your first attempts, in your opinion now they “required serious reworking” (yet you probably revised and rewrote those, didn’t you?)
But if you keep learning and writing, one year or five years or ten years from now you’ll look back on your most recent writings and believe they “require serious reworking.” But if you had published those stories, some readers would have loved them.
This is true even if you follow Heinlein’s Rules and write into the dark. Especially if you keep learning as you move forward through your writing career. If you look back at earlier works, even your previous novel, you can find something you could have done better.
So the shoice is yours: revise, rewrite, etc. for weeks or months or years, or publish the thing and move on to practice more and improve with the next work.
I’m up around 1000 words, so that’s enough for today. More tomorrow. Stay tuned. One more post coming to finish this series.
Not a great day on the novel yesterday, but still rolling. I hope to get back on track today.
Talk with you again soon.
See “Why Write Fantasy?” at https://mystorydoctor.com/writing-fantasy/.
See “A Lot of Learning” at https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/a-lot-of-learning/. Some popups you can get for only a very small donation. Check this out.
See “Two Green Comedians Walk into a Café” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/two-green-comedians-walk-into-a-cafe/. Read this, and remember that every opinion is only one opinion.
See “The weird long cloud on Mars…” at https://www.space.com/mars-weird-long-cloud-arsia-mons-secrets.
See “SpaceX will launch…” at https://www.space.com/spacex-starlink-20-internet-satellite-launch-webcast.
The Journal…………………………………… 1040 words
Writing of The Journey Home: Part 8 (novel)
Day 1…… 4891 words. Total words to date…… 4891
Day 2…… 4495 words. Total words to date…… 9386
Day 3…… 4515 words. Total words to date…… 13901
Day 4…… 4078 words. Total words to date…… 17979
Day 5…… 4464 words. Total words to date…… 22443
Day 6…… 4040 words. Total words to date…… 26483
Day 7…… 3078 words. Total words to date…… 29561
Day 8…… 1258 words. Total words to date…… 30819
Total fiction words for March……… 35046
Total fiction words for the year………… 234054
Total nonfiction words for March… 8860
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 54890
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 288944
Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 4
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 58
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates it both regularly and publicly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.