Heinlein’s Rules, Learning and Writing

Recently, Dean Wesley Smith blogged about Heinlein’s Rules and learning from them. He listed the rules, and I had to think about what they might mean for me, and for my writing. And this is also a very important part of learning, another point on which I agree with Dean—and another point on which he blogged recently. So, what did I think? Well, here are my initial responses:

  • #1 You must write. Totally Agree. You must write. If you do not write, you have nothing to sell.
  • #2 You must finish what you write. Absolutely: If you do not finish what you write, you have lots of writing, and still nothing to sell.
  • #3 You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order. Not so sure about this. Yes, I write one draft and I tend not to redraft, so I agree here. No major rewrites. However, since I’m my own editor, it’s me who gives the orders—as well as any beta readers I’ve found… I have to be careful, or the edit-rewrite thing could get very circular. So, no, I don’t rewrite the story, but I do go back as an editor and pick out inconsistencies, over-used words, and slow patches and I do rewrite those. I also do a little polishing as I go. Having said that, I don’t tend to do more than four of five editorial passes when I’ve finished, and then I put the story out, and I tend not to look back.
  • #4 You must put it on the market. Absolutely. Yes. If you do not put it on the market, it will not sell. So, when you have done the best you can on the story, put it out on the market. On as many markets as possible, and then get on with the next one.
  • #5 You must keep it on the market until sold. I think this refers to when a story was sent out again, and again, and again, until a magazine or publisher bought it. I’m not so sure what it means nowadays, but I think it means for an indie, that you put it out there and leave it there to sell.
It will be very interesting to see how Dean interprets these rules for the new world of publishing, and whether or not I’ve missed something, which is likely. I’m still learning. I’m thinking there’s more I can add to my understanding of these rules, and probably more for you, too. If you’re interested in following Dean’s discussion, you can find the first two chapters HERE.


  1. Good stuff, thanks for sharing. I've followed Dean's (and Heinlein's) rules for years after taking a workshop with Dean. He's right that they're hard to follow consistently, but when it works, it's great.

    I wonder if for indies, rule 5 can be adjusted to read "You must leave it alone once it's on the market." Meaning, don't keep going back into it to revise a chapter, or fix things beyond typos. I've read about authors who publish a work and then can't stop tinkering with it. It's so easy to upload a revised file now, but that just gets in the way of writing something new.

    (However, I think as part of the marketing side of things, an indie should plan to revise cover, blurb, etc. on a regular basis if needed. That's not writing, though, and probably beyond the point of these rules.)

    Thanks for the blog post!

  2. Thanks, Jim.

    I like the idea that Rule 5 means leaving it along once it's on the market - and I think that both Dean and Joe Konrath have blogs about that. I remember one of them saying to leave it alone until it had been out twelve months and then going back and analysing and making changes if it had not sold, or if sales were extraordinarily low. They set some specific conditions, though. I agree with the no (or limited) tinkering after publication rule, though. That's often time better spent working on your next novel. Thanks for the comment :-)


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