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Heinlein's Rules for Writing

Heinlein’s rules of writing are:

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

They were first published in Heinlein’s 1948 essay, “On Writing of Speculative Fiction,” which was also the first modern use of the term “speculative fiction.” They were apparently also reprinted in Analog in July 1974 as part of Heinlein’s 1973 James Forrestal Memorial Lecture at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Dean Wesley Smith preaches the rules as they stand, but many people claim Heinlein didn’t really mean #3. Robert J. Sawyer rewrites it slightly in his essay about the rules, plus adds an extra rule of his own. Darrell Schweitzer disagrees with #3 outright, but in the process quotes Heinlein really meaning it:

“This is very difficult for a great many beginners to believe. A myth has grown up that writing, in order to be publishable, must be rewritten at least twice. Not true. It’s utterly false. The way to write efficiently is the way to do any other job whatsoever. Do it right the first time. This myth is based on the assumption that you’re smarter today than you were yesterday. But you’re not. Oh you may have learned something today that you use the rest of your life, but you’re no smarter. Consider a man who makes custom-made furniture. If he thinks of a new design for a chair, he doesn’t tear up the chair he made yesterday. He puts that on the display floor and tries to sell it, and he makes a new chair by the new design that he thought of. This is the no-rewriting rule.”