Monday, November 3, 2008

The Six Rules of Writing: Inspiring, Really

Thought this was interesting, and thought I'd share... I found it somewhat uplifting, particularly as we head into the last quarter of the semester.

The first five rules were penned by Robert A. Heinlein. The last rule was added to the list by Robert J. Sawyer, a Hugo and Nebula award winner (who also had one story rejected 18 times before it was finally accepted).

There are six rules of writing. If You take 100 people who say they want to write a book you will eliminate half of the group with each rule.
Rule #1: Sit down and start writing.
You've already done more than 50 people in your group can say. It sounds obvious, but half won't do it.

Rule #2: Finish the book.
My first book took me two and half months, but that put me ahead of 75 other people.

Rule #3: Quit tinkering with it. Once you've written it, you will go back through and make changes to the original. Refrain from rewriting except to editorial order. If your latest changes bring it back to what it was last week, you are done: quit fooling around with it and move on to rule 4. That was a tough one, but my wife helped me by editing for grammar and such. This one leaves you ahead of 87 - 88 people who say they want to write a book.

Rule #4: Send it out. It will never get published if you don't send it to a publisher.
These days it can be hard to find a publisher who will take an unsolicited manuscript. Look around on the web, they are out there. You might even want to think about finding a reputable literary agent. Once you send it to the publisher, you have left 94 - 95 in the original group of would-be writers behind.

Rule #5: Keep it on the market until it is sold.
If it is rejected today, it should be in the mail to another publisher tomorrow.

Remember, "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle (If you haven't at least heard of it, where have you been hiding?) was rejected 27 times before it was accepted and became a classic.

Rule #6: Start something else as soon as you put one manuscript in the mail.
Don't sit around waiting to start another book until the first one is sold. Very few writers make enough off of their first book to set themselves up for life. Once the first one sells, you will want to get more out there to pay the mortgage. Also, if you have something to write, the chances are good that you have more than one book in you.


  1. thanks for posting, ally!
    just an addendum to #4 - i've heard from numerous people - FFTB authors, GMU faculty writer, and published Alumni - that an agent is the only way to go. sending things straight to the publisher usually ensures a trip to a slush pile and the possibility that it will never be read. AND, perhaps an additional rule 4.5/5.5 - alum Dallas Hudgens mentioned that the best way to use that advance would be to hire a marketing firm of some sort to publicize your book, since many publishers are side-stepping that portion and making the writer take on the bulk of it.

  2. depends on where you're looking to get published - agents are the way to go for the big ny houses, but if you're looking for a small press, many of those have open submissions policies.

    im scaredof rules of writing, though these seem like truisms more than anything else.