Heinlein’s Rules for Business! Ah, the pure simplicity! The sheer elegance! The incredible difficulty!
90% of all writers can’t follow Heinlein’s five simple rules. They’re deceptively easy to say, and unbelievably hard to follow.
Right now, I’m tripping over Rule #2.
See, Heinlein’s Rule #2 is, you must finish what you write.
Because Rule #1 is you must write.
So, I’ve finally gotten a project off the starting block. It was fun, because I sort of set my mind to using Algis Budrys’s Seven-Point plot to start the story off.
Budrys’s method is one I’ve talked about several times now, and even my kids have tried it and stated, unprompted, “It really works!” What they mean is, when you provide the initial seeds of a story, the method dictates what comes next and you don’t have to spend any time thinking about it.
That is, you always know what comes next. How you write it is up to you.
Whichever one you choose, the idea’s terribly simple: Just write what comes next after you provide the seeds for the story, which are items 1, 2, and 3. The rest will come to you naturally out of the story.
To me, this is the pantser’s plot of gold (ha! see what I did there?), the Holy Grail for someone who doesn’t want to outline or plan because the process is ruined for them. (Ahem. Me.) But with this method, it’s possible to just come up with part of the setup and watch the rest of it unfold as you follow the pattern. It doesn’t give you any specific items to cover – no milestones you must hit, no percentages of manuscript to adhere to, no requirements except addressing what comes next.
No limits on the creativity of any kind.
Aside: As it turns out, the first three points of the Algis Budrys Seven-Point Plot, when sketched out, make a killer sales blurb and book description.
Anyway, I determined to try this plotting method to see if just the seeds would help me get down the road on a new book or story. I’m not picky about which at this point; I just want to write something.
Another aside: For short stories, you’d leave some of the elements of the Seven-Point Plot out. Also, you can reveal them in a different order if you’re really, really skilled.
So, this weekend I forced myself over to my computer and launched a new story. And that’s great, but why do I have to force myself? That’s sort of an issue, because writers should want to write, and maybe even need to write. So that’s…bad.
Anyway, I did launch another story, and that’s fine, but it’s not great because I’ve gotten this far before. A couple of times, actually. And never, not even once, did I progress to Heinlein’s Rule #2 – you must finish what you write.
No magic formula exists to fix this problem. Sometimes, the issue might be I’ve put too much importance on the writing. After I finished my last novel I just knew I had to finish its preceding novel before I can publish the finished one. Because the finished one, as I’ve mentioned ad nauseam, is book two of that series and relies on the reader understanding things like relationships and previous characters.
I should note here, a beta reader gave me some really awesome feedback that indicated I could, if I added just a few things to the story, round out the relationships and the previous characters, and make it a stand-alone book which wouldn’t require a book one prequel. And my loving wife has mentioned many times she thinks book one could be released later as a prequel and solve publishing order issues.
Okay, so I’m working on this new story. But here’s the good news: I already know what I need to supply next. I’m working on the seeds, the first three elements of the story, which constitute the beginning, and when that’s done and I launch into the next stage/phase/act/sequence, the story requirements will help me come up with what I need to do.
And so far, so good. I have a clear idea where I have to do, what I want to cover to set this story up, and when I finally reach the next section, I can see, in my little mind’s eye viewport, the things I’ll have to do to get to the end. Which, y’know, I don’t know yet.
So, I’m combining this method with writing into the dark. I had a basic idea for this story for a few years, and this finally gave me an excuse to try the Budrys system. And you know what? So far…
…it really works!
I guess we’ll have to see whether it helps follow through. Because it’s easy to start writing a book.
But it’s hard to complete all of Heinlein’s Rules.
I’m stuck on Rule #2 right now. But I’m determined not to fail.