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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Sorry, Mr. Heinlein

   
Author Topic: Sorry, Mr. Heinlein
Bent Tree
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Dear Mr. Heinlein

I will respectfully have to decline your advice about revising my writing. Primarily, things have changed in the publishing industry since the time you were submitting a short story a week. Not to belittle your writing at all, Sir. But, the bar has been raised, styles, sub-genres, and editor preferences have evolved into a mind numbing maze. Each time you licked the glue on one of those manilla envelopes, you were sure to get a check for twenty five dollars, which at that time would, "Fill your station wagon with groceries". Twenty five dollars would not even pay for the gas to get my groceries today, and well, I am lucky if I get twenty-five dollars for my story today.

Above all else though, I dig through archives of stories I have written in years past, and realize I was not mature enough as a writer to give those fantastic ideas the merit they deserved. So long as I look through an unpublished story of mine, have a revelation on as how to make it better, I believe I will. Not to say that your advice is wrong, Mr. Heinlein, just a bit outdated.

Sincerely,
One of your Million Fans

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Reziac
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quote:
Each time you licked the glue on one of those manilla envelopes, you were sure to get a check for twenty five dollars, which at that time would, "Fill your station wagon with groceries". Twenty five dollars would not even pay for the gas to get my groceries today, and well, I am lucky if I get twenty-five dollars for my story today.
That's an interesting point in itself. What were the usual pro pay rates back in the pulp era, and what would they be today, adjusted for inflation?

I suspect you'll find the current pay rate is far less, adjusted into 21st century money.

BTW here's a handy simple inflation calculator:
http://www.westegg.com/inflation/
$25 in 1950 is $223.91 in 2010.

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Robert Nowall
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Last time I calculated the difference in word rates and figuring in inflation, I figured the major markets were paying about what they were paying back then---a penny a word, pegged to gold at thirty-five dollars an ounce.

But we must take into account that we can now buy things (computers, iPods) that weren't available for any price in Heinlein's era.

Also the paid readership base for the remaining SF mags is a fraction of what it was back then.

(Also also, it's "manila" with one "l"---as in "Manila," the city in the Phillipines. Not sure, but I believe either the color ("manila yellow") or the material was a product of the Phillipines, hence the names. I'll get back to you on that.)

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Robert Nowall
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Research confirmed. Derives from "manila hemp," also known as "abaca."
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extrinsic
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Channeling Heinlien:

Dear Writer,

Science fiction's Golden and Silver Ages were heady times. Keeping up with audience demand and staying creatively afloat was challenging to manage.

The television and the portable AM radio came along about the time digest publications and circulation numbers peaked. The handwriting was on the wall then for increasing competition. Now, how many entertainment medias compete for attention from easily swayed consumers. I, fortunately, enjoyed name recognition. About anything I wrote was published somewhere.

I see that the writing marketplace has turned topsy-turvy in the present age. An explosion of publishers competes for ever an declining readership. Many genre readers now are interested writers. Most of my readership just read for entertainment.

I'd revise my no revision rule today. Change never to only until a story is reasonably understandable and stimluating.

Rob

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Brad R Torgersen
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During the peak of the so-called Golden Age, there were approximately 65 operational magazines willing and able to pay for "scientifiction" stories. Because the genre was brand new and there were so few truly competent writers producing it, it was a seller's market. Loads of stuff went to print that would never make it out of the slush these days. The bar is indeed much higher now, both because of the drastic decrease in short fiction markets which can pay pro rate, and the drastic increase in the number of writers willing and able to write SF (or F) at competent, or better-than-competent, quality.

Plus, SF is still a field haunted by its past. Many people -- editors especially -- suffer the belief that if it's been done before, it cannot be done again. I personally think that's the wrong way to go about it, but this is more or less the way it still is. Thus the relentless drive to innovate and invent new territory has taken SF down some rather interesting roads, to put it lightly.

Notice that in related media -- motion pictures, video games, role-playing games -- there is no such restriction on "repeating" ideas or themes. Also notice that these related media dominate over print, dollar for dollar, at every turn.

But I digress.

Heinlein's 3rd rule might be extrapolated successfully in the 21st century to mean, don't get bogged down in successive re-writes that overtake or quash the additional creation of fresh prose. My own philosophy is that re-writing shouldn't ever become a bottom-heavy ratio. At the very least, one new word per every word revised. Or, 1:1. Preferably, 2:1 or 3:1, if not better. And if I'm drifting into 1:2, or 1:3, or worse, it's time to reassess what it is I am trying to accomplish, and re-prioritize.

Re-writing -- excessively and exhaustively -- nearly destroyed me ten years ago. Life's been much better since I learned to let some stories and books go, forge ahead on brand new material, and if ever I dip back into the past to revive or re-draft an older project, it's a quick trip.

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LDWriter2
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Actually, there are successful pro writers who still follow his rules even in this new publishing environment.

Partly because you use a different part of your brain to revise than you do to write and you have to train that part.


One Writer who teaches writing, believes he can prove your first version is better than the revisions. I know people who have gone to his workshops and came back amazed that he was right.

But on the other hand he says all writers are different and that "rule" isn't one hundred percent. Some writers should do some revising. I seem to be one of those. But in either case it doesn't take too many revisions to kill a story.

My stories, including the one that sold, that got the furthest had three revisions at the most. Even though I've done as many as ten revisions no stories with more than four have even gotten close. The ones with four would be HMs at WotF. None of my six to ten revised stories have gotten a HM.

So now I have gone back to revising as little as possible. Only do four under special circumstances such as the groups here.

But sometimes we give up on a story too soon. Some people have sold a story after twenty rejections. Keep mailing them out is one of his rules also.

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Foste
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Three revision tops sounds reasonable. Especially since, when you sit down to revise, you are definitely going to find some nits to pick. At least it's like that for me...

"I am revising. There must be SOMETHING I can trim or cut!"

Dangerous. And detrimental.

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extrinsic
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Following writers I admire, some say they revise to their best abilities, some say never, some say somewhat, some say one thing and evidence suggests otherwise.

Jack Kerouac's On the Road purportedly was written in a flash over several weeks, though it was in development for nine or ten years, and three more years of revision afterward seeking the improvisational jazz voice that took the novel over the top. Anthem of a generation.

Kurt Vonnegut claimed he wrote straightforward manuscripts. His son and heir Mark, who inherited Kurt's manuscript trunk, claims he has evidence otherwise.

I think, believe, feel, assert, some published narratives show signs of extensive revisions. In some circumstances, it's the time span reported between first submission and final acceptance. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, for example. Thirteen years reported all told between inspiration and publication. The biggest changes made during the submission cycle I'm given to understand appear to be to the voice of the novel.

That makes sense to me. Successful writers I ask have said that's the hardest part to set down in the way they want, once they figure out the voice of a piece. And successful writers also say they consider audience during every stage of development, as well as timeliness and suitability of their creations.

Struggling writers I ask say that their writing voices are the hardest to realize. For myself, I find that true. Learning all the ins and outs of mechanical style was a chore that became quite a fun adventure once I got past resistance to prescriptive authority and appreciated the first principle of writing for reading ease. Though largely objective, mechanical style's variations leave plenty of room for voice creativity.

Learning writing craft was equally challenging, though, fortunately, about as objective in nature as well.

Voice, though . . . I wish I'd started there. Uh, I did, only I didn't know I had until I started looking for my voice. Once I found mine voice, voices---some many voices clamoring for attention---and the exciting powers of voice, I began to appreciate the fulfillments of revision.

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LDWriter2
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I forgot one detail. It has also been said that beginning writers do not know what makes a story good. So when they attempt to revise they redo what they feel is better but most probably isn't. That is one reason you can easily revise a story to death, along with the fact that we all have an inner critic who shouldn't be trusted. Which is why we need to trust our first instincts.
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Robert Nowall
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You know, in this day and age of computers and word processing, if you don't leave printed-out rough drafts or multiple files lying about, no one will ever know you revised anything...
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EVOC
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quote:
Originally posted by Brad R Torgersen:

Heinlein's 3rd rule might be extrapolated successfully in the 21st century to mean, don't get bogged down in successive re-writes that overtake or quash the additional creation of fresh prose.

I think that is the real point. I am very limiting in my rewrites as well. There are many people (including myself at one time) that would rewrite again and again. In the age of Word Processors, rewriting has become so easy that people can get caught in the rewrite loop. That is, endlessly rewriting. That will NEVER lead to publication.

I do four drafts then send it out. I look at both of the stories I have published and I see all types of things I would improve. But that is the beauty of growing as a writer. You approve almost daily.

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LDWriter2
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A quote from Ken Scholes a 2005 winner of WotF. Taken from Wotf Herald I just quoted the smallest part possible, there is more to what he said and a longer interview. I tried to use the link to the whole interview but it sent me to his story not the interview, so I'm not sure where to get the whole thing.

But Quote:
KS: I think the biggest mistake new writers make is not staying the course. Not finishing what they start, not finishing the revision process (and then constantly going back to tinker with the story instead of getting on to the next story), not submitting it because they don’t think it’s good enough.


I think this goes along with the discussion we have been having here. Even though he seems to contradict himself but I believe I know what he means.

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