- You must write.
- You must finish what you start.
- You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
- You must put it on the market.
- You must keep it on the market until sold.
I like those rules. They sound simple enough and easy for me to follow... except for rule #3. Every story I've published has been subject to rewriting. I've even been known to re-work parts of my manuscript more than ten, or even twenty, times! I can't help it. It's the perfectionist in me.
However, I also hate revising my manuscripts. So why should I keep doing something that I dislike? Well, I'm going to try to stop doing it. I just started working on a new novel. This time, I've told myself that I will follow ALL of Heinlein's rules, um, to some extent. For the third rule, I will allow myself one pass at revisions after the first draft to correct obvious problems. Then it's off for editorial feedback. Then, I will make another round of revisions and repeat the editorial cycle until my editor is satisfied. I won't make any more changes unless my editor asks for them.
Aside from disliking the editing process, the other reason why I'm willing to embrace Heinlein's third rule is that I finally feel ready to do so. I'm more comfortable with my writing now. With each successive book, I cringe less and less upon reading the first draft. All of these years of writing must be paying off, or I've become numb to my own incompetence. Either way, I don't think more rounds of revisions will help me anymore.
By editing less, I don't intend to produce an inferior book. On the contrary, Heinlein's advice is rooted in the belief that re-writing doesn't necessarily improve a book. Just because you re-work a chapter twenty times doesn't mean that the twentieth revision is better than the first. I should know. I've been there. If there is a problem with a story, I should be able to catch it on the second pass, or hopefully my editor will tell me so.
In the end, by following rule #3, I hope to still write a great book and save myself the headache of months of editing. It's a win-win!