Thursday, June 16, 2011

Heinlein's Rule No. 4 - You Will Submit

From the original edition of
Have Spacesuit Will Travel

By now you can see where Heinlein’s going with these rules. This rule gets down to the question of what are you writing for, and this is a question worth considering. Not everyone is writing for publication, and it’s important to know what kind of writer you are. I think too often people feel that there is only one right answer to that question. As if writing for yourself somehow doesn’t count.  

I have always written and for many years my writing was only for myself, I consider it a form of meditation. This may possibly be because I am a terrible meditator, perhaps it was my Judeo -Christian Western-Culture upbrining, you know, “Idle hands do the devil’s work.” The best way for me to slip into an altered state, and possibly gain some enlightenment, is when move my pen across the page. This page is a place where I can be alone, to work out whatever I need to work out that day. This writing is rewarding and fullfilling and completely legitimate. Publication doesn’t make you a writer, writing makes you a writer.  

I still sit down and freewrite for 10 to 15 mintues every day. Nowdays, many of these sessions are devoted to character and story problems but if there is something that is bothering me or a tough decision on the horizon I’ll devote as many freewriting sessions to working that problem as necessary. (For those who want to know the details: it all goes into one journal, which I index, so that I can find particular story notes and becuase old librarian habits die hard.)

But I digress. You have decided that you want to write and to be published -- which is what Heinlein is talking about after all -- then you must submit.

Writing with this goal is different from writing to simply complete a story or writing exercises to improve your craft. I’ve written to all these goals and more, but making up my mind that I am going to send this story out to paying markets as soon as it’s finished changes everything, right from word one. I’m not sure if I can even articulate how deeply it effects my writing but I can feel it in my bones when I work. When I’m working on a story for publication, I’m writing for someone else and that makes my story a kind of gift. Of course, that’s only if it’s good. It has to be a story that is worth that stranger’s precious time because time wasted is kind of the opposite of a gift.

This is what keeps me honest, what challenges me to bring all my skills to bear in the service of the tale I’m telling, and what inspires me to try new techniques for delivering exposition or creating a character. Developing, writing, and sending a story out is all one long exercise in letting it go, and knowing that my story is going to be out there in the world without me around to explain or further clarify an event or a character’s intention makes me understand the whole story-writing process better.

Thanks to the electronic age there are many, many venues to submit to. So, write, finish your stories, polish them up, and send them out there.

Photo by Steve Johnson, Creative Commons

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