45 years later, a personal challenge

Heinlein’s rules

1. You must write.

2. You must finish what you start.

3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.

4. You must put it on the market.

5. You must keep it on the market until sold.


Dean Wesley Smith is a successful writer who says he owes his success to following five rules that Robert A. Heinlein set down almost as a throwaway thought at the end of an essay he wrote about writing speculative fiction.

I encountered those rules about 45 years ago, too. (The essay was written in 1947.) I was awed by their simplicity and common sense.

I typed the rules out carefully with my manual typewriter, cut the paper carefully to fit a 5 by 8 inch frame, slipped the rules into the frame, and hung them on the wall so I could see them every day as I wrote, as I finished what I started, as I refrained from rewriting except to editorial order, as I put it on the market, and as I kept it on the market until it sold.

Instead of doing all that, Dean Wesley Smith made a pledge to follow those rules, just to see if they worked.

Since the fall of 1981, when he started practicing the rules, Smith has published 150 novels and hundreds of short stories.

Since somewhere in the late 1960s or early ‘70s when I first encountered the rules, I basically have published two novels, three collections of superhero stories, and a short story. (For these purposes non-fiction doesn’t count.)

The difference between Smith and me is that I put the rules on a pedestal, and he worked them.

I’m revisiting the rules through Smith’s fine new short book, Heinlein’s Rules: Five Simple Business Rules for Writing, and remain awestruck by their simplicity and common sense.

Let’s see where that gets me this time. Will I write? Or will I look at the rules and think, “Boy, that makes sense”?

I did sit down and fill eight pages of my journal with a short story this morning. The first day is always the easy one. How much will I write 27 days from now?

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Creative log:

Monday, June 6, 2016: An eight-page (handwritten) short story


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