The 5 Rules for Writing

By Robert A Heinlein

Robert A Heinlein was a great writer. In a 1947 essay called “On Writing Speculative Fiction” Heinlein revealed his 5 rules of writing.

He said that they were simple rules that are hard to follow and that’s why most writers never make it.

Heinlein said he had no qualms about teaching others his rules, even though those who follow them could become his direct competitor, because he knew that almost no one would follow his advice.

Yet his 5 simple rules are so powerful, that they are still of great benefit today to any writer who follows them - but many rarely do.

Rule one: Write. This may seem too obvious yet it’s the most difficult one to follow.

It’s easy to let life and work get in the way of writing.

Many writers constantly complain that they can't find the time to run. But that's not true. We always find time for the things we want to do.

If you struggle with this, you may want to read No BS time management for Entrepreneurs by Dan Kennedy or The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. Both are excellent at giving you to apply more but to chair.

Rule two: Finish what you start. You'll never be a great writer if you cannot carry your work through to its conclusion. Paragraph even if you think your writing is weak or that you've lost track of where you're going keep writing. You can go over it later and see if you had gone wrong. But most of the time you'll be pleased with what you've written.

Don't let anyone see your first draft. It is for your eyes only. As Earnest Hemingway once famously said," First drafts are shit.” They are meant to be bad so don't be too hard on yourself.

You can always edit what you've written. But you can't edit a blank page. So don't get it right, get it written.

Rule three: You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order. In other words, don't mess around endlessly with your work and keep changing it.

If you send your finished manuscript to a publisher and they think it's publishable (is that a word?) they will get their editors to tell you which parts, if any, need rewriting. Sometimes magazine editors do the same.

Writers never feel that their work is good enough, even after it has sold millions of copies.

Rule four: You must put your story on the market. You're not a professional writer until you earn money from what you do.

But putting your work”out there” for all the world to see, can feel daunting.

As a writer, you need to grow a thick skin because there will always be those who will criticise your work. Even the best selling authors have their share of critics.

Rule five: You must keep it on the market until it has sold. Rejection is a part of every writers life. If you regularly send your work out to magazine editors and book publishers, you'll collect enough rejection letters to wallpaper your house.

But don't let it get you down. A rejection doesn't necessarily mean that your work’s no good. It could be (and often is) that it's not suitable at that time, or that someone else has already submitted something similar.

I once read of a magazine editor who had accepted and paid a writer for an article. Then a week later another writer sent him an article on the same subject, and although the new article was in every way superior to the first one, he had to reject it

So if your work gets turned down by one publisher, quickly send it to another.

And those are the five rules of writing which, if followed, will lead to your success:

  • Write
  • Finish what you start
  • Don't keep rewriting what you've written
  • Put your work on the market
  • Keep it on the market until it is sold


We'll see…


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