If you want to be a writer … some writing rules
Me and Heinlein. We agree on stuff. But there are caveats. The wonderful Heinlein had five writing rules:
Rule One: You Must Write
Rule Two: Finish What Your Start
Rule Three: You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order
Rule Four: You Must Put Your Story on the Market
Rule Five: You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold
And he is absolutely, utterly, totally right.
But … he’s talking to people like me. People who make a living from fiction. Not ALL writers: not part-time writers, not writers who want to produce one piece of coruscating genius to fulfil their lives, not those whose profession satisfies them enough that they can view writing as hobby, not the kind of professional writer who teaches writing in preference to doing writing. No – he means me and people like me. Hacks. The Dickens and Colettes of this world. Those of us who get a call saying ‘can you write us a science fiction/erotica based in a supermarket/swimming pool with eight/three characters, one of whom must have a beard? And can we have it by Friday?’
That’s my job. My pleasure is to tinker with fiction that I hope will one day get me the agent who gets me the publisher who gets me the three book deal that will give me security. Until then, I write for money.
I’m not ashamed of it. I wake up every morning and thank all gods that I am one of the tiny minority who’ve found a way to make a living from their passion. But I’m not foolish about it either. Unlike part time writers, hobby writers, and all those who have a financial cushion, I have to beg for my work, sing for my supper and smile when I want to spit. I’d love to write whatever I choose, to put it away when I’m bored with it, to tinker with it endlessly and to stop sending it out when I’ve had a dozen rejections. But I am a working writer. My income depends on following the rules.
This brings me into conflict with a lot of writers who think my attitude is wrong. Work should never be sent out until it’s perfect, they say. It should be revised endlessly, they say. Well fine, if they aren’t a working writer that’s a perfectly good attitude to take – but I write this blog for those who want to at least try to make a living from fiction, and the hard truth is that to do that, you have to be prepared to turn out a bearded alien in the supermarket story at the drop of a hat – do it under a pen name if you’re smart, but do it, because it keeps a roof over your head while you work towards your three book deal.