Challenge,  motivation,  On Writing

Heinlein’s Rules

Just Finished Recording the Last Week…

Heinlein’s Rules workshop was an eye-opener again for me. By teaching the rules this way, talking about aspects of each rule for six weeks, I could start to see the beauty in the simplicity of the rules and why they boil this incredibly complex business down to such a simple foundation.

And why Heinlein called them “Business Rules.”

They really are business rules. And motivational rules.

And thinning-the-herd rules.

I was so lucky to stumble on them in the fall of 1981 and decide to just do them without missing starting January 1st 1982. Over 40 years ago… (yikes) I would have been thinned out of the writer crowd at that point. After seven years, I was on the verge of tossing in the towel anyway.

What they did for me was to finally get me out of the stupid teaching from school and allow me to apply logic to the craft.

Why was I writing slower and less to get better when every other art and sport demanded to get better you do more and practice more? Logic…

Why was I learning from people who had never done it instead of learning from the long-term masters like Heinlein, Bradbury, Ellison, and so on? Logic…

Why did I think I could make something better by touching it again instead of leaving it alone and moving forward to the next story? My skill was the same the first time through as the third time. Logic…

And on and on and on like that.


5 very simple rules.

As I said in the class, if you have a million want-to-be writers before Rule #1, by the time you get to the end of those simple five business rules, you will be lucky to have a dozen professionals.

And the part that I didn’t talk about, and that almost no professional writer does talk about, is that Heinlein’s Five Basic Business Rules are just the foundation. You build up from them and that’s when it gets even crazier.



  • Vincent Zandri

    The H Rules have certianly changed my life for the better. If not for stumbling upon them (thanks to you, Dean), I might also be one of those washed out writers or at the very least, one of those writers who can’t sleep at night because my agent hasn’t responded to the one manuscript that I’ve taken a year or two to write and that was sent to him over a month ago…

    Now I write what I want and do it right the first time, and get it to market immediately. Kindle Vella serialized stories has certainly been a boon to the prolific.

    But its funny how people and other writers look at me so strangely because of my output. The publishers are especially suspicious and almost view me as a threat at this point. Their reactions and expressions are half, He’s full of shit, and half amazement and half, if he isn’t full of crap, how is he doing it? and half, I wish he’d freaking stop for Gods sakes. The little bastard is upsetting everything.

    Ironically , I now think my construction background helps me as a writer. I gave up a multimillion dollar construction business to become a full-time writer. But in the building business, you don’t put in the foundation, then walk away from it and either contemplate what you’re going to do next for a few days or abandon it altogether. You build it as fast as you can with minimal mistakes, doing it right the on the first draft and you finish what you start and then immediately without hesitation, begin on the next project. Sometimes you work on several projects at once. Now you’re a true professional.

    My two cents of course.

    • dwsmith

      Vincent, wow what a great background for the process of writing and publishing. Listen to him folks. Totally right. We are builders of stories.


  • Philip

    What’s interesting too is how different writers struggle with different rules. My struggle is Rule #2 but I know lots who struggle with #3 or #4.

    Mentioning Bradbury makes me think of his legendary writing advice. He said write 1 short story per week because it’s impossible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.

  • Sean Monaghan

    As a teenager, I found a 1960s reprint of the book with the essay in – I was reading everything Heinlein then, so grabbed it. The rules made an impression, but not quite enough in the face of all the other nonsense from well-meaning writing tutors and peers over the years. Even the masters supervisor who, when I was done with my thesis, told me to do another polish on it. That was another five lost years.

    Thank you for shining a light on the rules again and again. I wonder what that supervisor, and those tutors, would make of me now publishing 10 novels a year, and selling first draft works to pro magazines. Not that I would mention that to anyone of course. If they do ask, I tell them three drafts.

    I wish I knew what I’d done with that book. I think it got lost in one move or another.

  • Chris

    I just started Dean’s Heinlein’s Rules course as one of the workshops included in the lifetime subscription I received on completion of The Great Challenge. So I basically got the subscription by following the rules.

    Because of Dean, I have adopted Heinlein’s rules, and it made sense to track down a second hand copy of the book they were published in. It was fun to see the rules in print, knowing how much of an impact they have had and continue to have on my writing career.

    Thanks, Dean!