On Writing,  publishing

Heinlein’s Rules: Chapter Five


Five Simple Business Rules for Writing



Moving now to the third rule.

Rule #3: You Must Refrain From Rewriting Unless to Editorial Order.

So this is the rule that gets all the attention here in the modern world, even though it is the first two rules that stop most want-to-be writers. And the fourth rule also stops writers who can finish something from becoming professional writers.

Everybody in this modern world looks for ways and reasons around this rule. That’s how ingrained the modern myth of rewriting is in our culture.

One good thing right off about this rule. If you don’t rewrite, just get it correct the first time through, you have more time to write new stories. And writers are always pressed for time.

Yet time seems to make no difference to writers having trouble with this rule.

Rule #3 is actually an offshoot of Rule #2 failure.

Rule #2 is that you must finish what you write. If you are rewriting, you are not finishing.

And this rule plays right smack into every beginning writer’s fear that what they wrote isn’t good enough.

(Personally, I’m not sure where the thinking comes from that if they couldn’t get it correct the first time, why looking at it and stirring the words around will make it better, but that is the myth.)

So there is a lot to this rule.

And people are always wondering what Heinlein really meant.

Well, he meant exactly what he wrote. You must refrain from rewriting unless to editorial order.


That simple.

So let me break the rule down into the three parts and try to show how some of these parts work and why they fit just fine in the modern world if you actually follow the rule as Heinlein intended.

Part One… You must refrain…

Part Two… Rewriting

Part Three… Unless to Editorial Order.


Part One of Rule #3… You Must Refrain…

Heinlein, at the time he wrote this, was talking to beginning writers about what they were hearing about writing. At the time, in 1947, university programs were booming because of the GI Bill and so many WWII vets going back to school.

English teachers by this point in time had bought completely into the articles published in the late 1800s about writing slow would make better literature.

And at the same time writers such as Hemingway were tired of all the new-writer questions as being stupid. Everyone knew Hemingway was a reporter who wrote one-draft fast articles and books. He had made that clear.

Yet he still kept getting the same questions, as all experienced writers get, from wave after wave of new writers. So he started making stuff up about how he wrote, making it so outlandish that he was sure that writers would just laugh and realize they were being made fun of.

Of course, new writers have no sense of humor, so generations of new writers wrote standing up and did thirty or forty drafts because Hemingway told them to. It was a joke, folks.

So when Heinlein wrote his article and gave his five business rules, he was in a way trying to tell the truth to young writers to fight the idiocy coming out of Hemingway’s jokes.

So the phrase “You must refrain…” means exactly that. Do not think about a second draft. Just flat don’t do them.

Get it right the first time through. Just refrain from what some writers were saying in jokes and English teachers were spreading around to get writers to slow down so they didn’t have to read as much.

Also, at the point Heinlein wrote this, the pulp magazines and digests were still going strong and building circulation again after the war. Writers wrote for 1 cent per word on typewriters. As one major pulp writer said when asked, “They don’t pay me to rewrite.”


Part Two of Rule #3… Rewriting…

What is rewriting? Wow, can’t tell you how often I get that question and writers want me to define it right down to how much they can and can’t touch.

Well, first let me tell you what rewriting is not. Got that??

Rewriting is not:

— Fixing errors.

— Fixing typos

— Fixing wrong details.

If you want to know how Heinlein and other major one-draft writers used to do it, simply find online some of their pages of manuscripts. I am sure the pages put online will be the most marked up, but that’s fine as well.

What those of us who started with typewriters knew was that you could fix mistakes on a page before mailing it. Up to ten mistakes before you had to retype the page. That’s why the manuscript format is double spaced, so there is room between lines to add in words or even a sentence.

Most of Heinlein’s manuscripts have a hand correction about every page of a detail fixed. At least the manuscripts I have seen.

I’ve also seen a lot of Harlan Ellison manuscripts. You know he wrote one draft on a typewriter in store windows and posted each page as he finished it. I was also his publisher for a time and his manuscripts are very clean, usually only one-or-two word corrections a page.

You get the story correct the first time, but you can fix typos, spelling, and wrong details.

That’s what Heinlein meant.

That’s what I mean.

It really is that simple.


Creative vs Critical Voice

Over the years I have spent a lot of time talking about the difference between writing in creative voice and writing in critical voice.

Critical voice is that voice in your head that says everything is shit. That your story is bad, that you must fix it.

That’s critical voice. Nothing good ever comes from critical voice. Critical voice wants to make your stuff same and safe and dull.

Creative voice is that surprising place where nifty stuff just springs forth.

Professional writers have learned to leave that creative voice alone and let it work. We do everything in our power to stay out of its way and then not change what it has produced (other than fixing typos and small details.)

— Rewriting comes from the thought, “I need to fix that before it goes out.”

That’s critical voice and it is almost always wrong. When you hear that, just fix the typos and mail the story or publish it and move on.

— Rewriting is also caused by sloppy first drafts. Somewhere over the last twenty or thirty years, a deadly saying has cropped up. “Get it down, then fix it.”

This makes writing from creative voice almost impossible.

Think of your creative voice as a two-year-old kid. If you tell that voice that it can do what it wants, but it won’t matter, parents (critical voice) will just make it better later, the kid won’t want to play at all.

But if you follow Heinlein’s 3rd rule and promise your creative voice you won’t touch what the creative voice comes up with, you will be amazed at how freeing that is and how original and unique work comes out.

The idea of sloppy writing is just such a waste of time.

Basically, when Heinlein said, “You must refrain from rewriting…” he was telling new writers to work to get it right the first time through.

Yeah, yeah, I know, that’s not what your English teacher told you.

That’s not the myth.

So keep doing many, many drafts, maybe as many as Hemingway told you to do, and remain an aspirant as Heinlein said.

Also remember, if you are rewriting things all the time, you are not finishing anything and Rule #2 has got you in its grips.


Part Three of Rule #3… Unless to Editorial Order.

This used to be such a forgotten part of this rule for decades. It was obvious.

If you mailed off your story or novel to a major editor and the editor asked for a rewrite to fix something to help the story fit their magazine or book line better, then you considered it.

You might do it, you might decline.

Harlan Ellison added to Heinlein’s rule… “And then only if you agree.”

All of that still applies.

But this new world has really confused things for this last little clause of rule #3.


First off, agents are not editors.


Yet beginning writers will rewrite and rewrite and rewrite for agents who can’t write a check or even have a clue what they are doing.

I’ll be honest, and I have talked about it number of times on my blog, this practice is the stupidest thing I have ever seen in publishing.


If you are trapped in such stupidity, here is my suggestion:


Withdraw the book and move on. Go back to your first original draft and trust your own writing and voice. Act like an artist instead of a doormat for heaven’s sake.


Second, some scam book doctors you pay are not editors.

If you pay someone, they are NOT AN EDITOR. They can’t write you a check. In fact, you are paying them so you can be scammed and your book ruined.

Unless this editor has published fifty or more novels, just STOP!!!

Withdraw the book, count the money spent as learning, and start trusting your own voice and writing. Again, act like an artist.

Again, the only exception to this is if the book-doctor/editor is a major published writer and knows what they are talking about.

But most writers go to “editors” who have published a couple how-to-write scam books.


Think, people, just think.


So what to do with Heinlein’s Rule #3?

Follow it.


Write the best story or book you can the first time through.

Fix typos and spelling mistakes.

Give the book to a trusted first reader, then fix the nits they find.

Then move on to rule #4.

Yup, that simple.

And really, really that hard in this world of rewriting myths.

As Heinlein said, these rules look simple and are almost impossible to follow.

Why are they impossible to follow? Because simply, you won’t let yourself follow them.

You are the only person stopping yourself.

And think about how much more fun you’ll have writing if you don’t rewrite.

And how much more time you’ll have to play with new stories.





  • Lisa Nixon Richard

    Good Morning Dean,

    Before reading your blogs, I believed in the rewrite myth. I have struggled with changing the belief, but I think I am almost free! However, I do want to ask a little advice. With the first book I indie published, a friend worked on the line edits for me. We worked really well together and she was wonderful about not changing the story. Well, she is unable to work with my second book. My first reader has pointed out errors which I will fix, but I don’t have a line editor. I have looked on the internet, but I can’t justify paying more than $100 (the amount I gifted my friend for her time) since my last book barely made $90. The lowest quote I have found is about $1,100. Ouch! Do I really just skip the line editing and publish? Thank you for the help.

    • dwsmith

      Another confusing term, Lisa. Line editing is very different from copyediting. There are very, very few people on the planet who are good line editors. My wife is a great one, John Helfers is a great one, I suck at it and don’t even try when I buy a writer’s story.

      So AVOID line editing as a term. What you are looking for is a copyeditor. I mention some of this stuff in the next chapter in this book.

      What should you pay for a good copyeditor? Well, that depends on the size of the project. Good copyeditors charge by the hour. Some of you folks who are copyeditors want to jump in here and talk about the costs and general hourly rates.

      But don’t use the term “line editing” when you mean copyediting.

      • J. D. Brink

        Lisa, there are several freelance sites online where people offer services like this and you can search by category for what you need. I found a wonderful person who’s skills and tastes I’ve learned to trust and have used her for a few books now. She charges per thousand words that she’s working on, as have others I’ve hired. Short stories have cost me about 30 bucks, books maybe one or two hundred dollars. So cost ends up being based on the size of your manuscript. The site I was using before was Odesk, which has now changed names. “Upwork” I think, or something to that effect. I’m sure there are many to choose from.

  • Harvey

    Hi Dean,

    Under the part where you discuss “Scam Book Doctors” you wrote “If you pay someone, they are not an editor.”

    To avoid confusing beginning writers, you might mention (as you have elsewhere) that a good copyeditor is worth his or her weight in gold.

    Many writers, right or wrong, consider the terms “editor” and “freelance editor” and “copyeditor” interchangeable. And of course, a good copyeditor is an “editor” that the writer will pay who is not scamming anyone.

    My two cents.

    • dwsmith

      Yeah, I keep forgetting that newer writers have no idea about terms. Book doctors are scams. Editors you pay are scams (unless they have 40 or 50 novels they have written and sold under their belts. Dave Farland is an example here. He is not a scam, but without credits, editors are scams if you pay them.)

      Copyeditors are people you pay to help you find the final level of mistakes. Nits. An intense reader looking for mistakes. Nothing more, no plot help, nothing. Good ones are great and in my opinion, you must have your book copyedited before going into print.

      But copyediting is a long, long, long ways from scam editing. Like saying that a good skateboarder could drive a Formula One race car. Nope.

    • dwsmith

      George, it’s everything. Everything. We work between our ears and the fight is all between our ears. Beliefs and everything are there. Mindset is how we approach say a story and that’s everything. If you approach it with the attitude you are going to do a sloppy and half-ass job because you can fix it later, you will do a sloppy and half-ass job. If you approach the story that you are only going to do it once and get it as best you can the first time, you will.

      All mindset.

  • Marsha

    So timely. I sent out a recent short story, got an immediate rejection. Sent it right out again. Rejection. Editor said it didn’t grab him. My immediate reaction was “Oh no, my story sucks. I need to rework it to make it better.”

    Fortunately I’ve been following you long enough to realize that was Ms. Critical Voice jumping into the fray. So, I am ignoring her and sending the story to the next pub. on my list for two reasons.

    1. I have new projects to work on and don’t want to WASTE MY TIME reworking a now old story.

    2. I wrote the story in creative voice and I liked the story. I write first for me because it’s so much fun, and second to sell. I’ve ruined too many stories reworking them after they were rejected. No more!

    But that first reaction—”I suck at this”—is strong, I must admit. Good thing I have so much fun at writing or I would get mightily discouraged! So thank you for yet another very timely piece.

    • dwsmith

      Marsha, my best story about that is that I had a story rejected 26 times before it finally sold at 10 cents per word to a major magazine, one I had never thought at first to send it to.

      If I hadn’t just been keeping the story in the mail, I never would have made the sale.

  • Felicia

    I have a quick question about paid editing for indie authors. Once the story is done, spell check is run and first reader has read it, do you think hiring a copy-editor is a good idea? Or does a paid copy-editor mess around too much with the voice of the work? What about a proofreader? Basically what are your thoughts on what is appropriate for a book before publishing.

    • dwsmith

      In my opinion, all books need copyediting before hitting print. But copyediting is not editing as most beginning writers think. Copyediting is just finding more mistakes, nothing more. More nits. You want your book to be the best it can be before seeing print.

      If some copyeditor thinks they need to rewrite you, FIRE THEM at once. A copyeditor does not rewrite, only finds slight nits and mistakes and wrong words spelled correctly. Nothing more.

    • Linda Adams

      If it helps, when I get copyediting, she corrects things like the following:
      * Grammatical errors.
      * Minor wording issues (sometimes I get a little klunky)
      * Flags where I’ve flipped a word (i.e., tree instead of train, which is a common error for me and VERY had for me to see.
      * Flags where I’ve repeated myself (it’s just a comment saying, “You said this above.”)
      * Correcting double dash to EM dash
      * Consistency errors, like making sure it’s either copy edit or copyedit throughout the manuscript 🙂
      * Places where I’ve left out a pretty important word (sort of like referring to “They” without defining who “they” are)

      Most of your reaction to a copyedit will be “Darn! How’d I miss that?” I’ve also had maybe 2-3 times where I looked at what she was suggesting, decided nope, that wasn’t it, and deleted the correction.

      A writer friend got the developmental editing on her novel. When she got it back, she was demoralized and second guessing her self. The DE was trying to change the genre and some basic elements that made the story that story.

  • Loyd Jenkins

    I am so glad you emphasize that these are BUSINESS rules. That is the reason I see for the last part of this rule. This is your business. The guy paying you money wants it different. If it’s worth it, make the guy happy and change it. Get paid. It is no different than building cabinets or taking pictures.

  • Fred A. Aiken

    I’m sure that you may already have found the error that you made on Chapter Five. In case you hadn’t, your title chapter for the post was chapter five while the body of the text starts off calling it Chapter Four. This piddingly error would be caught by your editor when the manuscript is submitted for publication. However, it points to one thing that writers, especially new writers, argue against rule three. They confuse editing with rewriting. Most of us have not yet reached the proficiency to trust our writing to be correct and thus need to cycle back one final time to catch spelling, punctuation, and other errors. Recycling is a key feature to the writing in the dark technique and usually allows the writer to find these sorts of errors. The point that most writers miss is that such editing is not rewriting but a key part of work on the initial draft of the story, in my opinion.

  • Gary Speer

    You’ve titled this blog “Heinlein’s Rules: Chapter 5.”

    But the subheading says “CHAPTER FOUR.”

    I confess I haven’t kept up with this work on Heinlein’s Rules closely enough, what with the way everything from your other writing responsibilities to serious storms has split it up. So I don’t know whether this is chapter four or chapter five. Which should that be?

    Enjoying it all as always! Thanks again so much, Dean, for the way your work has helped so many of us!

  • Cynthia Lee

    I have several writer acquaintances who have rewritten for agents. In one case, the rewriting took over a year. A year! I read one young girl’s blog who had been rewriting her YA novel for a supposedly big-time agent for over a year and a half! I knew a young man who rewrote a novel for a little over a year only to have that agent drop him when he’d finished the rewrites.

    Even when I was an baby aspiring writer still looking for an agent, I remember feeling suspicious of agents who asked for rewrites that then consumed months and even years (!) of a writer’s life. This behavior is so presumptuous and arrogant and disrespectuful that I can’t even get my mind around it. If I think about it too long, I get angry.

    I have several acquaintances that just stopped writing altogether due to frustrations with agent requests for rewrites. *shakes head*

    • dwsmith

      Agree, Cynthia. I have watched the agent myth destroy so many writer’s dreams, it just makes me angry. But I have stopped pounding at agents here on this blog because I was just talking into the air. A belief in agents is impossible to fight. The only way a writer will get through it is go to an agent, have the agent screw the writer in some way, then with luck the writer survives. I think it is one of those steps these days along the path and I can’t seem to find an effective way to help writers skip the step. Sadly.

    • ed ryan

      Amen, Cynthia.

      I remember the hamster wheel all too well.

      Thinking back, I remember spending too much time obsessing over what agents wanted. Never occurred to me until Dean mentioned it in one of his first posts that I read that agents don;t write checks.

      Now every time a writer says “I can’t get my book published – I don’t have an agent.” I say : “Yeah I can’t drive my car because I don’t have a tomato.”

      You should see the looks I get….

  • Linda Maye Adams

    The myths are really strong for the developmental editing. Everyone seems to accept it at face value that they need to get developmental editing, even if it’s the editors or beginning writers making the recommendation. The editors have an agenda (to make money) and the beginners don’t know what they’re doing. When I was looking for a copy editor, I attended a con, figuring I could get some information. There was a panel on editing, so I attended it. Maybe one of the panelists would be a possibility. As it turned out all the panelists flagged themselves as inappropriate. They asked me beforehand what I was looking for, and I just said “Copy editing.” That resulted in a public lecture during the panel in front of all the attendees: “Everyone NEEDS developmental editing. Copy editing is a complete waste of time.” Instant no sale. They told me exactly how they would do business, and it would be to treat me like I was stupid.

    When I found my copy editor, I sent her a short story, said, “I just want a copy edit. No developmental editing.” I had a built in final decision there, which was if she tried to upsell me, we were done. But she gave me what I asked for, quoted a price, and it was a business transaction, not a guilt trip.

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, Linda. Well done. Folks, if you are confused on this, read Linda’s comment a few times.

      Developmental editors are scam book doctors and don’t have a clue what they are doing (without credentials).

      Good copyeditors come out of newspaper work and are everywhere in every town. And are mostly reasonable.

  • allynh

    I Googled and found this example of Heinlein page right off the bat.


    One way to copy edit your own stuff is give it time. Work on something else for a while then come back to the prose in a really simple way.

    Have your story printed out so that you can write on the page. Then have your computer read a page out loud while you look at the printed page and read along with the computer.

    The computer will pronounce things in an odd way, which makes you pay attention. As you read along you will spot missing words, the wrong words, etc… Just highlight on the page and move on. When you have gone through the whole draft let it sit awhile, then go look at the highlighted areas. In most cases there is nothing wrong with the highlighted prose, you were just hearing it wrong. Fix the obvious stuff after you marked up the page. You can get super confused if you are trying to fix stuff on the fly.

    We used to do this all the time with engineering plans. Someone would read the screen, the other person would read the page, and it caught most of the nits.

    The thing that trips me up are sentences that are spelled right, but with the wrong word.

    – The files buzzed above his head.

    That only works if they are actual “files” rather than “flies” as I intended.

    BTW, I just read _River of Gods_ again, by Ian McDonald, and it is full of missing words. The book is devastating, and I took the missing words as a feature of the prose not as a nit.

    • dwsmith

      Yeah, the manuscript for the second page shown would have been retyped because of too many mistakes. As I say, they would never show the pages with no mistakes or only one or two. Back in the day ten mistakes was the limit per page. The first page without the stains was what most manuscript pages looked like in those days.

    • Lee Dennis

      Have the computer read it out loud? What a great idea! It’s how we (two people) used to proofread typed contracts, way back in a previous century.

      • allynh

        Lee Dennis said: It’s how we (two people) used to proofread typed contracts, way back in a previous century.

        Yes, the old ways work, and with the computer as reader you don’t have to pay them, or feel bad about tying up their time.

        If you copy edit a few thousand words throughout the day, while working on other projects, you have stepped back from the Story and are just looking at what is on the page.

        It keeps you from getting in the way of the process, and keeps the billable hours down. HA!

  • J. D. Brink

    Thank you for exploring this, or rather, emphasizing the important points. I know I feel better! My “2nd drafts” are always just for typos, word choices, and watching for repetition, and I almost never make major story changes. My “creative voice” usually comes up with better stuff than all my thinking about the project ahead of time could ever produce.

    Case in point, on December 22nd I decided that I wanted to write a story that I’d had in mind for quite a while now (a year, at least) and that I wanted to get it done in time to submit to the Writers of the Future deadline on the 31st. I’ve never made such a short-term deadline, but I was going to follow Heinlein’s and DWS”s guidance and just write the darn thing and send it out in a week.

    And to my own amazement, despite the holidays and having to work four 13-hour shifts in that compressed time, I made it! And the story I produced came out in a completely unexpected way. When I sat down to get started, it came out in 1st person POV with this funky voice to it. I wasn’t sure what to make of that at first, and I thought, Well, I’ll just use that to get me going and then I can come back and change it to 3rd person later. (Which would definitely be rewriting!) But by paragraph three or four I realized that this was the unique voice this story needed, would make it stand out against everything else, and that changing it would be a big mistake.

    So not only did I meet Heinlein’s rules, but I benefited from trusting my creative voice and silencing my critical one.

    Now I have 2 days to scan for typos and get it submitted. I’m very excited to have learned this lesson first-hand and it has changed my mindset about my own limitations to getting more words to “paper” and getting stories out into the world. 2016 is looking like a more productive year than it did just one week ago!

  • Frank Powers

    A week before a friend introduced me to your work I had finally decided to stop making excuses and write a book already. I was going to write it nanowrimo style, type until it was done, whatever garbage I could get down, with the expectation of fixing it later. I wrote 4000 words and it was awful. Not the writing itself, as you might expect it was bad too, but the awful part was how I felt writing it.

    It wasn’t fun. Having rewriting hanging over my head just ruined the experience. Then I was introduced to the Rewrite chapter of your Sacred Cows post/book. Getting it right the first time just feels right. I’m not obsessing over every line making sure I have the perfect wording but I am writing a story I am proud of that I am having fun writing. Instead of being anxious about inevitable rewriting, I’m anxious to get into my writing chair and tell the story.

    I am still very early in the process and those myths do keep popping into my head but you have helped me tremendously. Despite being free here I will be buying this book to compliment the rest of my DWS how to write set. I’m not sure if you know how many of us out here really appreciate the work you do but you have helped open doors I didn’t realize were even there. Sincerely, thank you for all you do here.

  • Bill Seymour

    I’m loving these posts and thank you so much for putting this out here for us Dean. I know Heinlein’s rules go through my head now every time I approach a new project. Each one is having its unique struggles, but in the end: get it written, get it finished, get it out there, and get started again. Far harder than it was to type that.

    I think the part I struggle with about some of the comments above is the Proofreading vs. Copyediting vs. Line Editing vs. Developmental editing. Even before I stumbled upon your blogs a couple of years ago, I had thrown out the idea of Developmental editing both for the price and the idea of someone else telling me how my story would be better their way. I don’t write so someone else can make my story theirs; I write the stories I want to write.

    Now the other three I struggle with because I find (depending on who you are talking to) the names become interchangeable and then some of the pricing also gets a bit out of hand. Let’s take the novel I published in October and my 2015 word count for example.

    Novel #1: ~103,000 words. Most “CopyEditors” I find through online searching charge between $0.03 to $0.10 per word. If you do the math, I’m sitting on $3,000 to $10,000 for this book.

    2015 Word Count: 350,000 words (not great but I’m getting there). If I published all of them in 2015 at those ranges, I’m looking at $10,500 to $35,000.

    My book and the year goes from a pretty hefty investment for a beginning writer to a new car. I know you asked above if there is anyone who can offer advise on expected rates and sites for copyeditors, but I guess I just want to check if I’m out of line in thinking the above-stated figures are a tad on the HIGH side.

    I hope so because my old beater truck is starting to make some bad noises and I don’t want to choose between a new vehicle and succeeding with my ambitious 600,000 published word goal for 2016.

    As always, thank you for all you do Dean. I know there are far more people who appreciate what you do than you probably know.



    • Jay Allman

      The prices I have seen quoted on-line vary widely, depending not only on the copyeditor (based on experience) but on how thorough you want the work done. I have the impression that you should not expect to escape paying less than $0.01 a word, and $0.02/word is about the least you can reasonably hope to get.

      You could try hiring a copyeditor through a site like Freelancer.com. That would give you a lot of bidders to pick from (that’s good!), but you would have to sort thru a lot since many jobs attract spam bids (that’s bad!). Some of the bidders will be competing on price and thus come in at the cheaper end of your price range (that’s good!) but you stand a chance of getting what you pay for if you accept a low bid (that’s bad!). I don’t think any of the bids come with a free frogurt, though.

      I’ve operated on both sides of the fence at FL, as an employer and a freelancer. The employers have quite a bit of power while choosing bids. You can put bidders thru quasi-interviews before hiring them on, and any employer who works thru FL shouldn’t be shy about making bidders sweat to win the job.

      • dwsmith

        Jay, when possible, stay local with copyeditors. They can be found in newspapers and at local colleges. Just make sure they don’t want to be writers. Those copyeditors are dangerous unless they know what they are doing. Also, places like Lucky Bat Books has a set fee for copyediting by complete professionals. Great people there and we use numbers of their copyeditors freelance.

  • Bob Mueller

    Augh! Needed to read this a few days ago.

    Subbed a flash short story to a local writer’s group contest. Didn’t win or place. Got some interesting comments from the judge though, so I started rewriting the story. Not major stuff, but trying to clear a few things up.

    To be fair, the comments indirectly pointed that they didn’t quite follow where the story was going. And my title was wrong. But thinking about what I’m doing with the rewrite and filtering it through this post makes me realize I’m probably overdoing the rewrite.

  • Annemarie

    How do you classify research-related changes?
    When I write historical fiction, before starting I only look up, what I consider essential – otherwise it would become procrastination. While writing ,I see, what I still am missing. ant then sometimes it happens that my guess were so far off that i have to change parts of the scenes to stay accurate.
    This is certainly critical voice that tels me, – for example – I can’t have anyone read a newspaper at Naples in 1647.
    Now what?

  • Elliotte Rusty Harold

    Interesting what you say about Hemingway not being serious. I can certainly believe this was a joke:

    Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
    Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
    Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
    Hemingway: Getting the words right.
    — Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

    However it’s also possible he was dead serious. Is there evidence that suggests Hemingway was joking about his revision process?

    • dwsmith

      He hated stupid questions.

      Here is how it works. I am reading a book right now in manuscript that took Kris 15 years to write. Not kidding, not a lie.

      Now, as a beginning writer who might love Kris’s work, would you believe you should, from that statement, take 15 years to write a book?

      You have to look at the life of the writer, how they really worked, what they did, and if something was unusual in a certain process before you blanket their method with some basic rule.

      Stupid rules like if you want to write like Hemingway, you must rewrite 39 times. Or if you want to write like Kris Rusch, you need to take 15 years on a book. Both stupid when you know the real writer behind it and the situation.

      And think it through, Elliotte. Could you really count 39 times??? And isn’t it interesting that the number was 39? (grin)

      Also realize that for an author to convince the world his words are worth the time and money to buy, it is better to lie about how much time it took. That gives the words more value to the reader. Not kidding. So if you lie (writers) to people and say you rewrote something 39 times, readers will think “Wow, that must be good.”

      Starting to see the problems with all this. Here I talk about process. You can tell people what you want about your process. I am just trying to help writers get to the best way to create wonderful, original stories.

  • Elliotte Rusty Harold

    Continuing to search, it looks to me like there’s pretty clear evidence that Hemingway did revise, heavily, at least some of the time:

    What first got Sullivan thinking about revision was encountering a version of Ernest Hemingway she’d never seen before. While a first-year PhD student at Harvard, Sullivan visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and its Hemingway collection. She marveled at the famous author’s archive—his letters, his family scrapbooks, even his bullfighting materials. But one thing in particular stood out to her: the typescript of his novel “The Sun Also Rises.” It showed Hemingway changing his book dramatically from one version to the next. Monologues vanished, entire plot points disappeared, and, in the end, he arrived at the terse, mysterious novel that became part of the American literary canon. “The Hemingway style that’s so familiar to us wasn’t in the first draft,” Sullivan says. “It was a product of revision.”

    — Craig Fehrman, “Revising your writing again? Blame the Modernists”

    • dwsmith

      Elliotte, read deeper about the editor involved and Hemmingway’s life at the time. You’ll understand what happened there.

  • Christina Ochs

    Loving this in-depth clarification of the rules. I’m one of those rare souls who actually enjoy rewriting, but I’m breaking myself of the habit. I look at my first two books and realize I wasted months fixing things I could have avoided by cycling instead. Maybe I needed that “write the awful first draft” attitude just to make it happen the first time, but now I’m confident I can finish a novel, so I’m trying to be more efficient.

    I’m writing into the dark on my third book and am enjoying the process, though it’s also somewhat terrifying. This is the first time I’ve written a book without knowing how it’s going to end. It’s frightening and freeing at the same time. I read your Writing into the Dark book about halfway through my second novel and promptly dropped my outline to try that instead. My early readers are unanimous in noticing that the second half flows much better and is far more interesting than the first. I keep reminding myself of that whenever fear strikes. About 60k words in, I’ve gotten stuck a few times, but always figured out why, fixed the problem and kept moving forward. It works! And when I’ve finished this first draft, it will be clean enough to send straight to my beta readers. Saved at least two months right there. Thank you!

    • dwsmith

      Christina, the key is to embrace the fear. Like a ride at a amusement part, the fear is part of the fun. When you realize that, it becomes even more fun. Honest.

  • Carradee

    Back in 2011, I released my first novel. Before I did that, I considered hacking it apart and adjusting it to be something more conventional in the ways that others were suggesting. I considered cutting the prologue. I considered making the narrator more active rather than reactionary. I considered it. (For reasons I won’t get into, but they were legitimate and pertinent to one aspect of my career.)

    But all those things would’ve changed the entire point of the book, which would’ve changed the entire (still in-progress) series. And they would’ve created an entirely different story from what I wanted to tell.

    The story was what I’d wanted to tell. The series is coming out as the story I want to tell, too, despite the surprises I’m hitting along the way. (Case in point: a character I’d thought was a levelheaded voice of sanity is actually outright insane.) And comments I get—on Wattpad and elsewhere—tell me that I’m succeeding at telling the story I wanted to tell.

    I don’t regret leaving the story as it is.

    Do some folks hate it? Of course! But some love it—and love it for the very reasons that others hate it and suggested I change it!

    Now, I did rewrite this story once…after it didn’t quite come out the story I wanted it to be, but that involved hacking out the parts that were what I wanted and writing the missing pieces—over 50k words of them!—so I’m inclined to think of it as revision. Same with the one short story that came out with the pieces all in the wrong order, where I took a step back, snipped it apart, rearranged things, and stitched it back up. (Keep in mind that my subconscious/muse likes technicalities, so I’m the type who can start with “Use the words ‘three’, ‘chains’, and ‘killer whale’ in a story that doesn’t use the word ‘water'” and have a blast designing and writing a story to fit that.)

    I usually fix things as I go (because I usually get “writer’s block” from my muse telling me “You screwed something up! Fix it!”), but every so often, I have to write through to the end in order to figure out what needs fixing…in part because there are points in my stories where I pretty much have to keep going to even understand what I’m doing.

    And the more practice I get with finishing stories, the more often I’m recognizing what I’m building before I reach “The End”. My one not-yet-released novel is on hold not because I expect the story itself to need fixing, but because the details/facts are going to need some fixing, and I won’t know what facts need fixing until I’ve gotten another book or two drafted in the series.

    But I am a storyteller. That’s my focus. I’ve had several people tell me that my stories have kickstarted their own urges to write, themselves.

    Not every writer wants to be a storyteller. Some want to write some big Idea of Importance that they can unleash on the world and then complain about how everyone’s too stupid to get it. Problem is that people who do this tend to also be the type to insist and insist and insist that their way is the only way, so I don’t think it’s all that surprising that many a storyteller ends up sabotaged by them.

    But also, some folks want to take the formulas and norms and to produce stories that fit them. If that is your goal, I’m unconvinced that a book doctor is necessarily a bad thing—but it can be a risky learning technique. It’s all too easy to get sabotaged by someone who doesn’t know as much as they think they do.

    Less risky is studying the market for yourself and finding a first/beta reader who’s adept with what you’re trying to do. For example, I don’t experience romantic or sexual attraction (at all), so if I want a story to be able to qualify as genre romance, I need help to make sure I incorporate the emotional/attraction details. But that’s still a matter of adjusting/inserting details, not changing the story itself—and my own personal framework still affects what ends up on the page. I’ve gotten comments from folks who like how I handle relationships in my writing…which, to be honest, is sometimes how I find out that what I wrote even is romantic, etc. >_>

    There actually are book doctors/content editors/developmental editors who focus on helping the writer tell the story they wanted to tell, rather than on getting a writer to follow “The Rulez”, but… The problem in those situations isn’t the story itself. The problem is that the the writer doesn’t even have the basic tools in the toolbox. Many people have never been taught the actual fundamentals of how words work—even as basic as the fact that a ‘screech’ is by definition high-pitched—so they actually can’t write the stories they want to tell. They can write a hundred stories and still not have anything usable because they lack the fundamentals.

    Perfect grammar and spelling do not make writing perfect. We both know that; but a lot of people don’t.

    I’m not saying you should or need to address that. Such people aren’t your target audience. I just don’t think it hurts anything for someone to mention them. I have a tendency to end up tutoring such people (who actually can improve, for the record), so I figure I might as well bring it up. 🙂

    • dwsmith

      Sorry, we’re going to have to disagree. Every person has the tools of storytelling in them. We have been read stories to since we were kids. And every person can learn storytelling. Pretending you need a crutch and paying for a book doctor or some other form of scam editor is just critical voice not letting the real skills come out.

      You lean on a crutch, especially an expensive one, and you never learn to walk. So we disagree there. Period.

      • Carradee

        Not sure why you think everyone has been read to as a child or even was able to read as a child—both are outright false. You’re also assuming that folks who teach such fundamentals of how words work together want to be a permanent aide rather than a temporary one.

        Crutches are always meant to be temporary tools to support a person while an injury heals.

        With some leg injuries, you have to use the leg to get through the injury and strengthen the leg. Same’s true of most writing issues (with the issue being the injury and the writing itself being the leg). But some leg injuries, you permanently damage your leg if you ignore them and keep using the leg. Likewise, some writing issues can’t be learned if you ignore them; the difference is that the result isn’t permanent and can be overcome as soon as you learn it, either on your own or by someone pointing it out…but it’s always easier and even more effective to apply those lessons for a writer to a new piece of writing rather than to shovel them into the old one (which makes me unpopular with some of my fellow writers and editors, because I outright tell folks that story trumps style and even grammar, because if you have story, you can find an audience and target market—even if you lack the others—but not if you lack story).

        Some writers never had a chance to learn the very basics of how English works—which means that the writer has poor reading comprehension, because they don’t understand how words work together. Teachers and others dismiss them as not having the “talent” for writing, when they are storytellers and can write perfectly fine once they’re taught.

        The reason you can’t just set up an English class for such people is they don’t know what they don’t know—except they do know what doesn’t work for them, which is the dry academic essay stuff that their English teachers confused them with, so they figure English classes aren’t for them.

        They therefore look to hired editors to teach them (assuming they even know what they need, before they self-publish or hire an editor—not all do). Even if they don’t know and hire someone, they won’t necessarily find out at first, because many copyeditors/proofreaders just polish the surface or add their own mistakes, rather than noticing patterns underpinning the issues and pointing out, “This word does not mean what you seem to think it means” or “So did he enter the building, stop in the yard, or take the bus? You’ve had him do all three in the same moment.” (Made-up example, but that sort of contradictory action stuff is common.)

        “Editing” these folks is actually intense one-on-one tutoring in how English works. The person who does it might just call it something like “book doctoring” because that’s what their target clientele perceives them as doing or at least comes to them looking for. If they called themselves English tutors, their target clientele would think, Oh, I can already speak English, and my friends love my stories! and ignore the person who can provide them exactly what they’re looking for.

        If someone was often read to as a child and especially if they themselves read voraciously, then they usually already know all that fundamental stuff—or at least are skilled enough at the storytelling that they have enough fundamentals in place for someone to point out, “Hey, did you realize this means X?” and them to go “Oh!”

        It’s my experience that actual English teachers are most likely to be exceptions, because they latch onto details and miss how those details affect the context. (One error teachers are prone to: Using sentence fragments as dangling modifiers, where the first one could be referring to three different things, and then the possibilities for what each fragment could be referring to only grow exponentially as the scene continues. How large the final exponent is depends on how much the teacher likes sentence fragments.)

        Altogether, I suspect this is another one of those situations where we’re defining some words differently and starting from a different point of origin. [shrug]

        Happy new year! 🙂

        • dwsmith

          Possible, Carradee. Not sure why you are so locked onto writers giving money away and letting others into their work. I believe a writer is always better served to trust their own skills and keep learning and working to get better without letting any more than a first reader into their process (and a copyeditor).

          And all I have seen with these people are writers feeling that they MUST spend this money for someone who knows nothing about writing novels (with the only exception being people like Dave Farland who help writers and he knows what he’s doing).

          Better to avoid and find other ways to learn. And a ton cheaper and a ton safer for your writer voice.

          So yup, we are going to disagree on this one.