At the beginning of August I noted that I had found great wisdom in Dean Wesley Smith’s posts about following Robert Heinlein’s rules for writing and a great many other aspects of the business and pleasure of writing books. Smith writes a daily blog post in a series he calls “Writing In Public”, in which he describes the progress and problems in his current work and various other things, usually including a section called Topic of the Night, in which he talks about whatever is on his mind.
Inspired by his posts, I began to write my own series of “Writing In Public” posts. It was hard, but it went really well, and I felt that it inspired me to get work done that I would have otherwise completed more slowly.
Then, a little over a month into my series, Smith wrote a post in which his Topic of the Night section stopped me in my tracks. His message was short, to the point, and seemed to address me specifically:
TOPIC OF THE NIGHT: Don’t Say Anything
Granted, I talk here about my writing, but except for a few close friends, you are always better to say nothing about your writing process.
I’ll talk more about this over the coming weeks as I finally get going on Heinlein’s Rules book.
But just trust me. Keep your writing process, how much you produce, to yourself for the most part. And never temp the universe by saying you plan on doing so many words in a certain day.
That just becomes laughable.
It seems unlikely that he saw my posts, or that someone else saw them and tipped him off, but it’s certainly possible, and maybe he did. Regardless of whether it was intended at me personally, it was certainly directed at my activities, and he minced no words in making it clear he thought it was a bad idea.
After making a point of following Smith’s advice, would it make sense for me to ignore it here? That’s what I’ve been wondering.
I haven’t made up my mind yet.
On one hand, Smith has a lot of experience and is good at figuring out the right thing to do. On the other hand, why should it be good for him and not me? Sure, there are dangers to being so honest about one’s goals and progress (laughable, he said). But the regular posts enforce a certain focus and accountability, and to be honest, it’s easy to get distracted by process over progress without them.
My first reaction, obviously, was to stop the Writing In Public posts. Writing in public is hard, and writing things for public consumption at all can expose feelings of insecurity. On the surface, his advice seems solid, and even if it isn’t for the best, it alleviates some of the work and public exposure.
Time has passed since then, however, and I’ve been wondering if Smith’s advice is best for me and my specific situation. As I wrote, the posts are extremely good for focus and production, and furthermore, I’m an adult. I’m not wondering if my work is any good, and I’m not worried about people laughing at me. I think I’m in a great place, and I think the narrative of daily progress is probably interesting for other people.
But, there is one aspect that may tip the scales. I’m soon to reveal a big and controversial series. As Smith as written repeatedly, although most long-term writers actually follow Heinlein’s system as far as not rewriting, almost all of them say in public that they go through multiple drafts, because almost the entire general public has bought into the idea that such a process is the only way to produce something worthwhile. By admitting in public that I’m following Heinlein’s rules, I’m opening myself to criticism for not following that process, even though long-term writers don’t. I don’t really care what process non-novelists think will work best for writing novels, but I wonder if publicly bucking the mythology might hurt sales of my books. It might.
Then again, in another post, I remember Smith writing about someone wondering if following Heinlein’s rules might hurt his career, to which he thought, “What career?” Is that also the answer to whether following Heinlein’s rules and writing in public might hurt my career?
Anyway, after considering this for several weeks, I’m thinking that the benefits of Writing In Public outweigh the possible drawbacks. It seems that the benefits are immediate, significant, and very real, and any drawbacks are distant, insignificant, and merely hypothetical.
I haven’t made up my mind yet.
But expect a reboot tomorrow.