Apr. 9th, 2011

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Followed a link today to a series of posts on publishing myths by Dean Wesley Smith, and quickly discovered that if I read any more of this person's blog I will do something I will regret. After reiterating that every writer is different, he quickly forgets that motto and arrogantly assumes that his own unique experiences are or ought to be the norm.

Anyway, in the the second post in his series, on how writers should not revise their work, he trots out this old chestnut by Heinlein:
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.

And you know, I'm really, really tired of seeing this. Heinlein was a writer who was able to produce salable fiction in one draft. He was also extremely unusual in that he was able to produce salable first drafts more often than not from the very start of his career.

I know this is a shocking idea for all of the Heinlein-worshipers out there who have never read a slush pile or who have never taught freshman composition (I have done both, briefly), but not everyone can do that. In fact, 99.9% of amateur writers cannot do that, ever, no matter how hard they try to learn.

The tiny fraction of amateur writers who become professional writers have learned, one way or another, to produce salable material. For some, learning that takes a few years; for others, it takes decades. Some learn to write salable material by writing a lot of worthless first drafts that never see the light of day; others learn by rewriting over and over again until they get it right.

A few writers eventually learn how to produce salable material in the first draft, but most need to rewrite and revise, to some degree, for their entire career. And for a writer who is skilled enough to be able to sell his first drafts to continue to trot out that Heinlein quote in giving advice to amateur writers does a huge disservice to the vast majority of aspiring writers who are not like him, and will never be like him.

If Heinlein hadn't been privileged and lucky enough to be able to turn out salable fiction from day one, then his rules might have looked like this (revisions in italics):

1. You must write work of salable quality.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting a finished work 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 or until it is rejected by all markets that might buy it.
6. If your work is rejected by all markets that might buy it, it was not of salable quality. Learn what lessons you can and try again with a new piece.

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