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I’m Posting This Sh1t Online,
Now Whaddaya Gonna Do?

Part III
“Never Rewrite”
Webfiction and The Rules

“You must refrain from rewriting,
except to editorial order.”

Robert A Heinlein:
providing petrol for flame wars since 1947

Heinlein had four simple rules for writing:
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you start.
3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
4. You must put your story on the market until it has sold.

In the hands of new writers, Rule #3 is an argument against critique. In the hands of elders it is a slur. But it shouldn’t be a weapon in the great flame war. Phrased differently, like Robert J Sawyer does, it is common sense:

“Don’t tinker with it endlessly.”

 One of the primary bias against web fiction stems from the notion that it is bad quality. It is low quality, so the argument goes, because the webfiction writer is an inherently lazy creature and has not taken the time to perfect it. This argument is based upon the assumption that work finished quickly is bad work.

Under this assumption, most journalists are bad writers. Looking at your local newspaper or the corner magazine rack, you may be tempted to admit the point. But then think about the most illuminating, moving, amusing, or fascinating article you’ve ever read on whatever issue you find illuminating, moving, amusing or fascinating (as this is not a blog of political or social commentary I’ll leave it up to you to think of what issues provokes a reaction in you.) Is this bad writing?

The case for journalism–at least as far as it’s ability to produce quality writers goes–needs no argument. There is, of course, nothing inherently bad about journalistic writing, and I don’t think anyone would argue otherwise. But one characteristic of most journalists is that they work under a time constraint. Yet the work is not bad simply because it is produced quickly.

Webfiction has more in common with journalism than commercial fiction.

Newspaper and magazines are less about creating great art and more about sharing news. Likewise, webfiction is less about creating a perfect literary specimen and more about sharing stories. Like the blogosphere in which it lives, it is about making connections, communicating and sharing ideas.

And you’re not going to share anything by keeping your baby locked up until you polish the shit out of it and a giant contract falls into your lap.

And yet, I have come across stories online that are beautiful and fascinating and moving and amusing and illuminating. Yes, much of it is unpolished, and I’ve talked about this elsewhere. Much commercial fiction is unpolished. It may not have the same spelling errors or plot holes, but walk into whatever section of the bookstore you feel is the trashiest (no judgement here, I’m not naming genres) and pick up a few books. Many of the books people pay money for are terrible. Many web fictions are terrible. And yet, not all.

Writing a story that illuminates, moves, amuses, or fascinates, and doing it with a deadline–even a self-imposed one–is not laziness.  It’s a skill.

The dreaded #3 does not in any rephrasing say: do bad work.

In other words, edit. Polish. Make your work as good as it can possibly be. Good journalists edit. Good bloggers edit. Good webfiction writers edit. But they also balance the need to polish with the need to share. And when done well, that’s a skill to be admired.

Webfiction writers have one advantage over many traditional novelists. They write a lot. They have to. Because, yeah, when you put something online, first rights disappear, and usually nobody’s paying you for it. So you write something else. Then something else. Then something else. And only in writing all those something elses will you acquire the skills you’d never have gotten by tearing apart the first something for years on end.  Because of this repetition, the webfiction writers who survive are better at implementing the rules than many trad writers. They write. They post. They write more.

The sentiment of many in the literary community mirrors another stereotype of the writer: the loner working for years and years on a masterpiece, until he or she is finally accepted by the gatekeepers of the industry. In the age of the internet, the loner status is often qualified. Newbies are allowed to mingle in the literary circles.  They may ask questions and gingerly express opinions and  sometimes share ideas and critiques.  But as for actually sharing their material, their permissions are limited.  Ironically, one of the rules of the literary community is the same as the online community: LURK MOAR. Fledgling writers are supposed to lurk.  Even with the mingling and the asking and the expressing and the occasional sharing, the bulk of their development as writers is supposed to take place in private as they work alone, sculpting then polishing and polishing and polishing their work until someone wants it.  They are not supposed to jump into the deep end, not for a long time, and not without supervision.

But sometimes jumping in the deep end is the best way to learn to swim.  Lurking at the side of the pool, chatting with the swimmers, and arranging and rearranging your bathing suit will only get you close to the water.

Webfiction writers remember that there is only one real rule:


Also known as Heinlein’s #3

Next up:
Commercial publication: The ideal all online writers are striving for.
Yeah.  Totally.

And after that, the final segment of I’m posting this sht online, Now whaddaya gonna do?”:

A generational gap? Kids these days…  And who are the elders anyway?

8 Responses to ““Never Rewrite””

  1. A.M. Harte

    An excellent post, and I couldn’t agree more. Before I started writing webfiction, I never succeeded in finishing a novel because I would get that “it must be perfect!” block. Having the weekly deadlines forced me to keep writing and push past the fear. And even I can see how much my prose has improved over time, not only because of how much I’ve written (as you mentioned), but also due to the wonderful reader support and feedback that webfiction provides.

  2. aeliusblythe

    Yeah, the finishing and feedback processes are so key. Many people don’t realize that by moving on and writing more then writing more then writing more they are actually practicing their skill. The criticism I hear very often is that these writers are just pumping out more garbage.

    However, even a terrible writer will improve if they write frequently and they write many things. (I think someone famous actually said something like that, but I can’t remember who. Now off to look…)

    • A.M. Harte

      Indeed – practice makes perfect!

      And there is no audience harsher than a webfiction audience, because if they hate your writing, they can simply click away.

      • aeliusblythe

        Exactly. Being (mostly) free, there’s no obligation whatsoever to read your stuff. And there’s “plenty of other fish in the sea,” so to speak, so they can just wander off and find something better.

        It reminds me of a great post the agent Nathan Bransford made last year, “The Rejection Letter of the Future will be Silence, and Why This is a Good Thing”

        Basically, he says, the gatekeeper role shifts from the agent/editor to the reader. With the traditional gatekeepers, the readers only end up seeing what is thought good enough to be allowed through. With the shift to an online model, the readers themselves can decide for themselves what’s good enough.

        Then, like you say, they can just click away if it’s not.

        It certainly puts a lot of pressure on the writer (and that’s a good thing!)

  3. met

    You put into words something that I’ve felt but haven’t really articulated: The online -or any freely accessible- format is about sharing stories, and not about literary perfection. Growing up I was all set on the mainstream publishing model, until I finally decided that what was most important to me was the sharing and self-expression, not the dubious rewards of traditional publishing. So segments of Guts and Sass: An Anti-Epic are not always their best. I’m learning a lot by writing on a schedule, and it’s far from perfect, but it’s *out there* for people to enjoy, or not, as they please.

    • Yosf

      က မ Thanks you so much..ခ သင … တ ကရဖ တကယ မ လင ပ တယ … Strike က သ က မမလ ခ ရင စ တ ဆ မ ပ … မသ တ … တ ကမယ လ.. က ယ က က ဖ သ က သ တ က cheese Cake စ ပ .. ရတ ပ … န န … ဘ မ မပ န တ လ က ရင ပ စရ စက တ အမ က သ အလ လ ပ လ လ မ မယ … ကဗ မ လ … က ဇ ပ က ယ ဆ မ ရ တ အစ မ ရ င အစက က လ တ အ လ က တကယ က ပ သ ပ ခ စ စရ က င ကတယ … သ ဂ … Tag ပ တ က ဇ လ ပတ ပ စ လ ဆ လ လ က ဇ န က တခ သက ဝ ဘယ သ လ ဆ တ န က တ သ လ မ ပ … ဟ ဟ ပန ပန … မင တ မ .. ခ လ က ရ ပ ပန ပန ရယ … ဆရ မ မ မ င မ .. ခ စ တ စ တ န သ ငယ ခ င လ လ ရ လ က တ ပ သက ဝရ သ ဘ ထ အမ န က တ ခ စ တ သ တ အ လ န အခ ခ က ခ င က တ ခ င တ ပ … ပ က န မခင မင ဇ … သ တ န တ ခ တ ဟ တ ပ ဘ .. သ သ သ တ လ ပ ခ စ ရတ သ တ ယ က န တ ခ တ ပ … (ဆက ဖ လ က ခင …)အစ တ ပလ ပ Strike… လ ခ .. သတ မယ … မမ လ ခ လ က ရမလ .. ဟင … ပ ရ ပ … အင … အ လ န တ စ တ က ထ မ တ နတ အ မ တမ ပ ပ … တန ခ န ဆ … အမ က မစဥ စ ပ န လ မ က ခင မ တ ကမယ န အမည မသ န မမခင ဥ မ… Strike ရ စက က တယ ယ ကတ က … ဟ ဟ မ န မ န … ဒ က လ တ န က တ မ ခ ပ န .. လ ဆ … သင ယ … လ ဖတ တ က ဇ … စ တ က ထ ကလ တ ပ ပ လ … က စ တ ဖ … Thank you very much. I love Suki… Haa.. Haa… မတ … ည မက တ လ က ပ တယ … စက ဘ လ န လ တ လ… က စမ ခ င … က ယ စ တ ဝင စ တ ပ က ယ ပ နတယ … ဟ ဟ မ က… က ဇ ပ အဆင ပတ တ န တ ကတ ပ ကန တ န ဆ ဖ ပ တယ … က မမ တ မ တ လ ပ … ဝ သန တ ရင ခ န သ တ သ ငယ ခ င မ တ ဆ မ အ လ မ က ခဏ တ ဆ င ကပ စ ဟ ဆ တ င ပ သည

  4. aeliusblythe

    Same here. I always assumed there was only one way to go–the traditional way. But just like there are many skills to be an all around good writer, there are many ways to get to being a good writer.

    I’ve actually resolved to write a serial myself (something I’ve been wanting to do for a while) specifically because I want to acquire those skills. I’ve spent way too much time in the past chasing perfection and not getting anything done!

    • met

      Actually writing on a deadline for serial publication is definitely teaching me a lot. And much of it I don’t think I would have really understood until it was out there, “on paper” for everyone else. It’s like an outline that the whole world can see, and suddenly the holes are glaringly clear.



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