Our desire to rewrite some rules started when a friend fell off of the world a few months back, disappointed in how long it was taking him to write his newest manuscript. He also wasn't delighted by the Amazon sales numbers for his first book. He wrote us, "Sales seemed to have peaked in the first month and the peak wasn't very high. After eight months, my Kindle sales are in the low two digits."
(Have you noticed how many of our friends are struggling to sell their written work? We have, too. Instead of a Red Hat Society, we should organize a Pass the Hat Club.)
We told him that sales take awhile to build, especially for a self-published writer with no fan base, that literary fiction is always a tough field, that...yadda, yadda. It's all true but he already knew the drill. As Jim shared more recently, people could chart his Enthusiasm Trajectory just by following his blog posts. At first, he was pleased and excited. He was also a little lost, trying to drum up any possible publicity for his novel. Soon after, when a blog hop didn't hop any new book sales, he began to push for book reviews. When no one responded to his review requests -- see the earlier comment about "self-published writer", "no fan base" -- he felt hurt. His blog posts reflected some of those feelings, becoming a little more sporadic, then a lot more sporadic, then they just...went away.
Now he's back! Well, not at the blog but back to a few of his writing buddies. He contacted Renee to talk about cover art and we learned what had been happening. Jim has completed a new novel, roughly 70,000 words, and he cranked it out in about six weeks. His last novel had almost the same page count and it took him over two years. His new book is a thriller, with guns, girls, and gorillas.
No, no, there aren't any gorillas in the story, we just wanted another 'g' word to wrap the sentence. There is lots of action, according to Jim. He plans to put it out under a pseudonym.
We like pseudonyms. We've had a couple ourselves.
So how did Jim go from being a slow, cautious writer to becoming a he-man who makes his keyboard whimper? He discovered Robert Heinlein's Rules for Writing. You can find Heinlein's instructions, too, with a minimal amount of internet searching. The rules were published almost seventy years ago in an essay called, "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction".
If you don't care to do the Google dance to find his rules, here they be:
(1) You must write.
(2) You must finish what you write.
(3) You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
(4) You must put the work on the market.
(5) You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
These rules worked for Jim, even though he's never written speculative fiction. When we checked, we found buckets of believers in RH's philosophy, and several that believe his rules fit for all forms of fiction. Robert Heinlein was a huge force in his field, back in the day, and we only wish we had a fraction of his talent and imagination.
(Oh, go ahead and say it: "You do have a fraction of Heinein's talent and imagination!")
We studied the rules and decided we'd like to make a few modifications. Rules #4 and #5 are spot-on but, since we publish through Hunting Monsters Press, we no longer worry about them. Most self-publishers wouldn't, either. As for the first three rules, we've adjusted them so that they make a little more sense when it comes to our work. Maybe yours, too:
(1) You must write...with enthusiasm. (We've tried writing because of the "You must write" rule, and what came out was kind of crappy and then we threw it away and we'd wasted an entire day when we could have gone to the movies, instead, and come back refreshed. Plus, then we wondered if we even had the talent to be writers and thought maybe we should have gone to the Riverside Dental Academy, instead, like Mom wanted.)
(2) You must finish what you write...unless it totally sucks. (Because, good God, the thing we were writing last time was terrible, it was always going to be terrible, what made us think it was a good idea to do a serious piece about talking shoes, anyway?)
(3) You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order...if you're Robert Heinlein or, maybe, Isaac Asimov. Both of whom are dead. (The rest of us could use some work. Aly's Luck was edited by the wonderful Steve Haynes and more than once; then we edited the pages again when the manuscript returned to HMP; and we've just done a please-let-this-be-it final, final edit that will be replacing the current edition soon.) Because we're not Robert Heinlein, that's why.
When Jim found RH's Rules, he sketched out a plotline, then sat down and wrote. Six weeks and 70,000 words later, we're impressed by the volume of work. When we asked to see the first couple of chapters, he didn't want to show them to us. Once we talked about it, Jim decided he could probably do better. He was only refusing to do a rewrite because of...well, the Rules.
We say some rules are made to be broken.