Saturday, February 19, 2005

Robert A. Heinlein's Rules For Writers - And Mine

Robert A. Heinlein stated his Rules For Writers thus:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting except on editorial order.

Simple, huh? Though I'm not too sure about Rule 3). For pro writers, 3) saves time. For beginners, rewrites are absolutely necessary.

Here are my Rules For Writers (who are in the process of starting out):

1. Don't quit your day job.
2. Set aside 1-4 hours every evening for writing.
3. Write down every single idea you get for later use.
4. Practice. Now and then, try something you haven't done before.
5. Make sure you have an understanding spouse/partner.
6. Drugs Are Not The Answer.

Explanations of my rules:

1. Don't quit your day job: Stephen King lived in a trailer with his family before he sold Carrie. And even then, he had a teaching job. I like to live comfortably, and starvation ain't my thing, so I have a day job.

2. Set aside 1-4 hours every evening for writing: The evening is when you have the least amount of daily distractions, and your writing inhibitions are the weakest. Also, you are close to sleep, which means the dreaming part of your mind is waking up. Use this. And you must produce.

The "Phony Rule" is: if you meet a person who spends a lot of time in bars, and who says "I'm a writer", this statement is 90% likely to be false. Most writers don't have time to hang around in bars. They're busy working.

3. Write down every single idea you get for later use: Ideas are precious, especially those you get from dreams. When you wake up from a vivid dream, write it down immediately. (And the more you do this, the more helpful your dreams become.) Several of my short stories come from dreams (and were published in SIMULACRUM. ) So carry pen and paper 24/7, and keep them by the bed!

4. Practice. Now and then, try something you haven't done before: OK, so you think: "but I like THESE genres, and I don't want to write THOSE genres. I'd fail anyway." Failure is a form of practice, and if you keep writing the same favorite genre over and over, your skills will stagnate. So experiment a little. Pick a genre you loathe (say, romance or detective stories) and just... try. You can always bury your failures.

5. Make sure you have an understanding spouse/partner/parent: If your wife/partner/Significant Other does not believe you should write, if she thinks you're wasting your time and setting yourself up for failure, you will find out sooner or later. And let me tell you, that breaks your heart.

So your partner/wife/parent must accept: you write, take it or leave it, and you will not quit for anything. If she starts dropping hints that she has no faith in your writing abilities, end the relation.

6. Drugs Are Not The Answer: Once I started to chat up an attractive-looking woman. When I mentioned my novels, she suggested I ought to write stoned, since it "makes you so creative". Needless to say, she had never published a novel. I immediately shunned her.

The myth about drugs and creativity is unbelievably persistent! The very few times I've been drunk in my life (the drinks were free, and I'm a cheapskate), the result was always the same:

a) a hangover, and
b) no creativity whatsoever. Blank mind.

I listen to some music that was composed by musicians "under the influence", but that doesn't mean I want to try the stuff myself. I know that many writers have a drug problem, but I sincerely do not believe the drugs made them creative.

The only drug that maybe could be creatively fruitful is LSD - which I haven't tried, and I don't need to! (My dreams are weird enough as they are, spank you very much!). But acid could just as well trigger psychosis, so what's the point?

Of all hobbies, fiction-writing is probably the least expensive. As a teenager, I wasted a small fortune on model railroading. Eventually, Mom threw the railroad out of my room (she needed the table for a dinner party). And in retrospect, I realize she did me a favor. (Thanks, Mom!)
My parents worried that my writing hobby would leave me unemployed, poor and disillusioned.

But, in retrospect, if I'd continued with model railroading I'd be much worse off today...

Got that? Now get to work.

Oh yeah, I forgot Rule 7):
7. If the Internet distracts you from writing, unplug it while you write.

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