15 February 2011

Want to See Something Really Scary?



Woof! Remember this iconic scene from Twilight Zone: The Movie with Baby Dan Aykroyd and Baby Albert Brooks? Boy, they sure did time their jump scares differently in the 1980s. It seems to me like Aykroyd is strangling Brooks for about half an hour there. And yet when I saw this as a young teen it scared the crap out of me. Our 2011 jump scares last no longer than 1.5 seconds each. Yet magically, we are still capable of perceiving them. WE ARE ENTERING THE TIME ACCELERATION, EVERYBODY! 2012! 2012!

But seriously, want to really see something really scary? Check out this list of Robert Heinlein's rules for writing, which are the newly adopted credo of the Write 1, Sub 1 gang:


Heinlein's Rules for Writing*, which shall heretofore be adopted -- except for the 3rd one, probably -- as our Write1Sub1 Credo:


  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.
*These rules originally appeared in Robert Heinlein's 1947 essay "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction."

Like I said - really scary. I am following these to the best of my ability. Even that pesky number 3 is helping me to let go of work when it's "probably good enough" as opposed to believing that there must be something wrong with a perfectly good story that I just haven't figured out yet.

(I'm not delusional enough to say that everything I write is good from the get-go. I am saying that there's a point when you've taken a story as far as you're going to take it. At that point, you probably should just send it out into the world, or at least to critique, or something. I'm working on a soft 3.)

Attempting to follow Heinlein's Rules for Writing is probably a wise decision in the face of what some genre writers have recently been identifying as a market shift back to the values of the pulp era. Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in her recent "Business Rusch" post, argues that

In some ways, we have returned - almost instantly - to the days of the pulps. The faster the writer is, the better the writer is at storytelling (not at writing pretty sentences), the more the writer's works will sell. The better the writer is at business, the more profit she will make from her own writing.

Want to see something really, really scary? Read Jason S. Ridler's post at SFWA on Frank Gruber, pulp fiction writer of the 1920s and 30s. If you're too scared to go over there and check it out, I direct you to Eileen Wiedbrauk's tidy summary: "Write more. Write faster. Get an Underwood and battle the pulp jungle."

Now that's scary. Scary in a good way.

5 comments:

Cherie Reich said...

Hello, fellow crusader!

I agree number three is the hardest one to follow, especially if you have learned so much about writing from when you wrote it. It's easier sometimes to rewrite than to sit through and stare at all those words and try to edit them. Although, I definitely see the point in not rewriting.

Eileen Wiedbrauk said...

Woohoo! go for it ET!

Those rules get so often quoted that now I'd really like to find the original essay and read it in its entirety. (let me know if you see it on the web)

The third rule is a tough one. Instinct warring with teaching. Ego warring with practicality. The notion of getting it right on your own ... well I've been taught that you don't. Ideally, I can find an educated enough audience (in terms of craft) to be usefully first readers, and not have to use people who want it their way.

Still, there's something absolutely tempting and sinfully indulgent about following rule three as it stands that has me thinking of chocolate and slinky silk dresses.

Ah, decadence, and temptation, these are your three physical manifestations: silk, chocolate, and publishing uncritiqued work.

Lydia K said...

Hey crusader! If only the rules would just happen if we tried hard enough...those last ones are difficult hurdles!

Tanya Reimer said...

Welcome to the crusade, we're in the same family now!
I agree with you for those rules (note they were written in 1947 when computers/agents/publishers/readers/writers didn't demand perfection) no 3, just needs to be tweaked.

My rule would be -Once you feel your piece is perfected let it rest and see what you think tomorrow. Still like it? Then get it out there.-

Elizabeth Twist said...

@Cherie and Tanya: I'm thinking that the key here is that #3 is about rewriting, not editing. Doing a pass for corrections and tweaking and grammar checks and style and all that is not rewriting. Although as you, Tanya, very rightly point out, when the list was put together, editing kind of did mean rewriting, or at least retyping. The temptation to do all kinds of tweaks must have been high.

As I type this, I am remembering that I did all of my undergrad papers by longhand and typewriter. How did I manage? I think a lot of editing and rewriting takes place in your head, between drafts, when each draft is distinct like that.

@Eileen: I am envious of the amount that you have workshopped your stuff. You have been through the ringer for your art, which is amazing. With all due respect to your instructors and grad school in general, however, I don't think that you never get it right on your own. I do think there are some stories that need help to get over the hump. That's where your ideal craft-savvy audience comes in. Which is why I am very much looking forward to having you read my next story.

My new battle cry: Let's put on our silk dressing gowns, eat some chocolate, and publish some uncritiqued work!

@Lydia K: we shall persevere.

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