On Writing,  publishing

Heinlein’s Rules: Chapter Six


Five Simple Business Rules for Writing



 Continuing with the third rule.

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

I wanted to go at this rule one more time to make sure I’ve been clear. Most of the time, in this modern world, rewriting is when you do a sloppy first draft with the intent of “letting it sit” (dumbest thing I have ever heard) and then “fix it” later.

That assumes, of course, that your story is broken.

And that you have suddenly gained a vast amount of new skills since doing the story the first time.

I will often get comments from writers in workshops when I say, “Great job. It works fine.” The writer wants to know what is wrong. If I don’t say anything is wrong, nothing is wrong.

That kind of thinking, of always thinking something is broken, comes directly out of this myth that everything must be rewritten because it is clearly broken.

If you tell your creative voice to do it right the first time, the story won’t be broken.

It might not work the way you feel it should, but it won’t be broken and some readers might think it works just fine as is.



 This modern world of computers has allowed us to use a wonderful new method of writing fiction. That’s called cycling.

The first thing you must understand about this new method of working in creative voice to create a clean story the first time through is that you, the author, are the god of your story.

You are unstuck in time in your story.

You could write the last line, the first line, a middle line, and then jump around filling in gaps.

The intent is to make a story that the reader will start into on page one, word one, and end up at the last word.


This is the hardest concept for a new writer to grasp after English classes. English teachers talk about the complexity and all that of fiction and all of us thought that the authors must have been really brilliant to start from that first word and put all that nifty stuff in at exactly the right moment.


You are the god of your own story, you can jump around all you want in your story and do anything you want.

As long as you do it in creative mode.

In the old days, writers would add in pages, or hand-write in sentences in earlier pages that needed to be added because of something that came later in the story.

I would often have a page that was numbered 3a that came right after page 3 in my story.

In our modern world of computers, we can cycle back in creative mode and just add in or take out what we want when we want.

How I do it (and it turns out, many other professionals I have talked to are the same) is that I write about 400 to 600 words (into the dark) and then bog down.

I instantly jump back to the start of those 400 words and run through them, adding in a detail, reading it, touching it, until I am back to the blank page with some speed and I go another 400 to 600 words.

Then I cycle back about 500 words and do it again.

If you graphed it, it would look like I am moving forward and then jumping up out of the timeline and circling back into the timeline of the story and then going forward again.

I’ll repeat until I get to the end and the story is done and clean because I have looked at most of it twice. (I talk a lot more about this method in the book Writing into the Dark.)

I do this all while my creative voice is in control.

I average about 1,000 words per hour of finished story with this method, which always includes a five-minute break every hour.

Rewriting has been made easy with computers. That is the huge problem.

But cycling isn’t rewriting, it’s just using the computer tool to do what writers have always done. Jump around in time in our stories.

So remember, just because the reader will read a story from word one to the final word doesn’t mean you have to write it that way.



Let me describe the types of editors there are in this new world just to be very clear.

Traditional Editor.

This editor is hired by a magazine or a book company to put together a magazine or a book line. They have very specific things they are looking for and will often ask you to touch up your book, do a pass through the book to help it fit their book line or magazine better.

That’s the kind of thing Heinlein was talking about with the last part of Rule #3. These editors can write you checks for your work.


Book Doctors/Developmental Editors/Content Editors.

All of these types of editors you pay are scams. (With the exceptions of major writers with long careers helping out younger writers for a fee.)

Granted, many of these book doctors have their hearts in the right place. I understand that. They want to help young writers, but the book doctors (or developmental editors or whatever you call them) have no credentials and could no more tell what makes a better book than your neighbor down the street. (Actually, feedback from your neighbor might be better.)

So they are actually hurting young writers instead of helping them.

Do not pay these book doctors. Just trust your own creative voice, your own art.

And focus on learning how to tell better stories over years by how-to books, taking classes, and listening to writers who have forty or fifty novels published.

In other words, learn from those a ways down the road that you want to walk and never grovel and pay someone with no credentials.


Line Editors

Line editors are editors who look for consistency in your story and your words. They look for clarity. Great line editors are extremely rare and most writers can get by without them.

Often great line editors are also buying editors for magazines or anthologies. John Helfers is a great line editor and he often buys for anthologies and edits a volume of Fiction River for WMG Publishing every year.



Every indie writer needs to hire a copyeditor. You can find them in services and locally from newspapers and such. Copyeditors look for nits, mistakes, wrong words spelled correctly.

Great copyeditors are priceless as well, but you must, as an indie writer, hire one. No manuscript should go into print without a good copyeditor looking at it.

I am posting this book on my blog in rough form. It will be run through a copyeditor before it sees electronic and paper print.

Copyediting is not rewriting. Copyediting is simply finding the last wave of mistakes and cleaning as many of then out as they can find.

But no book is perfect. None.

We all do the best we can and release and move on.


Summary of Rule #3

Heinlein was basically trying to help writers learn how to write a story, do the best they could, release and move on.


Always face forward.

Think of your writing journey as a walking trip. When you write a story, you are walking forward, helping yourself by learning and practicing and creating more stories that might sell and get you readers.

But the moment you stop and turn around to rewrite something, you have stopped your forward momentum and actually walked backwards to hurt your fiction.


Always face and move forward.

The modern world has developed this fantastically powerful myth that all writing must be rewritten to be good. And no writer coming into fiction writing is immune from the pressure of the myth.

Writing is an art.

Good stories come from the creative side of our minds. To tell good stories, you must train that creative side to let go and play.

Write the story, finish the story, release the story. Rules 1-3.

It really is as simple as Heinlein said.

But in this modern world, it is really that hard.





  • Vera Soroka

    I do everything myself including the copy editing. I’m pretty good at it and no one so far as said that I have made mistakes. I’ve learned to do everything myself as I don’t have the funds to hire someone.
    I write straight through for the most part and keep track of the story as I go. So, I don’t cycle like some writers. When I’m done, it’s done.

    • Suz Korb

      I do everything myself too! And I write straight through from beginning to end. I thought I was the only one who does this! It’s nice to know you do as well 🙂

    • J.M. Ney-Grimm

      My usual proofreader (who catches every typo and misspelling) wasn’t available for my last novel, so I decided to try something I’d heard other indies speak of: using text-to-speech. It worked really well for me. I’d read along while the text-to-speech narrated, and boy! did the typos/misspellings/errors jump out at me. Reading silently (or aloud) to myself, I would have missed them, my brain filling in what should be there. But I didn’t miss them when the text-to-speech spoke them aloud.

  • Annemarie

    Cycling: How do I know and distinguish, if I ‘m going back in creative voice or in critival voice?
    For me that’s the point, where I fail with Heinlein’s rules. I’m not able – I think – to see the difference.

    • dwsmith

      If you are doing in while writing, it’s creative. If you never have the thought “this sucks, I got to fix it” then it’s creative. Watch for negative thoughts. Or protective thoughts. That’s critical voice.

      Creative voice is always positive and forward. Critical voice is always negative and trying to slow you down and stop you. Very clear once you start seeing it.

      • Vera Soroka

        Oh I know how creative voice feels. It shouts at you. In last novel I introduced a third character and my little voice said why did you do that. You messed up and you now have to start over. I listened to it and now I am in the process of “rewriting it” while that voice looks over me and say do it right this time. It can stop you cold.

    • Sam Reeves

      I had a similar wondering. With me, I stop at things like, “These two sentences don’t flow together well.” I am tempted to fix that kind of thing, but another voice says, “No, leave it for a line edit pass.”

    • J.M. Ney-Grimm

      Creative voice says things like: “Wow! This is so cool! Put this in!” or “Wow! That’s why I put that nifty bit that I didn’t understand back in chapter one, and now if I put this other nifty bit in here, it will be awesome!” 😀

  • Lee Dennis

    I was given for two books for Christmas: “Make Me,” Lee Child’s latest novel about Jack Reacher (whom we’ve just discovered) and Andy Martin’s “Reacher Said Nothing,” about the writing of that book. As I’m reading “Make Me,” I keep 4-5 chapters ahead of where I am in the Martin book.
    I’ve just reached the point where Martin reports that one-draft Child does cycling: he goes back several chapters and makes a significant geographic change, and then goes back to Chapter One to change the name (and ethnicity) of the major female character.
    A lot of fun and it reinforces what Dean tells us every day.
    Press on, regardless!

  • Sam Reeves

    I first heard of cycling in your Writing into the Dark lecture, and I love it. Actually, I have written this way naturally all my life, but I had thought it was a crutch rather than a tool. You’re the first person I have ever heard talk about it positively.

    You write about twice as much as I do before you bog down, and I think I dally longer in the cycling back. Still, it works. Just today, for example, it saved me from throwing away a story I had been working on for three days. The manuscript seemed cliche and boring. So, I jumped back to the beginning (which was a 1400-word jump) and a new character popped into my head. I added him, and now I am excited about the story again.

    The method also helps when I find myself afraid to finish a story.

  • R.J. Merle

    Terminology-wise, “Dare to be Bad,” does not translate to getting the novel out of your head as fast as you can in order to fix the writing dump, correct? (It seems that is some circles that is the interpretation.) Whereas, from what I gather of your use of the “Dare to be Bad” term, the gist is that you dare to be bad in writing the best book that you can, having fun in the time that you are writing it, then move on to the next. Is this accurate? (I’m sure you can translate far better than I.

    • dwsmith

      Yes, that is accurate. You have to dare to do the best you can. If it’s bad, that’s a risk you are daring to take. You guarantee it will be bad if you write sloppy. Train yourself to always do the best job you can do.

  • Gary Speer

    I suspect you are putting Proofreaders under the Copy Editor category? Or do you consider Proofreaders a separate “bird” that simply wasn’t part of your discussion here. (This comes from someone who’s married to a professional Proofreader.)

    In my wife’s case, she’s done a lot of paid freelance work as both a Proofreader and a Copy Editor.

    Too many years ago than I care to remember, I spent seven years as a newspaper Copy Editor. At that point in the newspaper game, there were some gray areas between Copy Editing and Proof Reading tasks, i.e., the newspaper had arbitrarily eliminated all their specifically paid and trained Proofreaders and assumed the Copy Editors would automatically understand what and how to do their jobs with unexplained newly added responsibilities. It was absolute Bedlam for a few months trying to get out the daily newspaper!

    Great times!

  • C.M. Clark

    I’m one of those writers that’s been caught in the advice of the splat draft. The idea of everything can be fixed later after the novel sits and sits… etc. My problem is there’s no later. I don’t go back to edit.

    I love the idea of being finished with a novel and not having to go back through it dozens of times to make it perfect. This idea of cycling back through your work as you write, for me is so amazing.

  • J.A. Marlow

    Just referred some writers to this post. The idea that one must have a development editor is a wide-spread and dangerous one. I know this post is from last year, but you might want to return to this particular type of editor, what they are, who they are, and just how dangerous to the creative process they can be. AND that they are not necessary (or even wanted) by long-term professional writers, much less by those who want to become long-term professional writers.

    It’s a tiresome so-called requirement for a professional writer. I wish the myth would die a very fast death.