Again, I see where he’s coming from. Heinlein says, “You must write,” not “you must write the same thing over and over.” How I see this rule is his way of stressing that you must keep moving forward through story after story until thinking of new stories, framing them, and telling them, becomes second nature.
There is another aspect to his statement that rings true for me and it was something I learned when I was an art student. My mom, an artist and calligrapher and my first and best instructor, told me: “The most important thing to know, when you’re working on a piece, is when to lay the brush down and walk away from it.”
It’s so easy to get sucked into the world of whatever it is that you are working on, to get fussy and overwork it. When you’re working in pencil, charcoal or paint crossing that line can happen in an instant and it’s usually immediately obvious. The piece is ruined, and you get to throw it away and start over.
This can be a little more difficult to recognize when writing, especially on a computer where there is no paper to literally wear a hole in. Anyone who’s spent any time writing knows what I’m talking about here. I’ve personally worried more than one piece of writing down to a shiny and useless nubbin.
A short story, a chapter or even a scene; it’s easy to get stuck in a kind of holding pattern endlessly circling over it, making and unmaking little changes. It is such an inviting trap to fall into especially when the way forward is unclear. You can tell yourself that you are working on your story, when really you’re not.
That said, I believe revision is absolutely necessary. To me, it’s is such an essential part of the evolution of any story that I’m writing that it is difficult for me to identify specific rounds of revisions. The key, for me, is to stay focused on moving forward. I revise every day but set some limits. For example, I only allow myself to revise the previous day’s work before breaking new ground. No starting every day by polishing that the first scene one more time.
Some have said that writing is like driving at night. Your headlights can only show you a little piece of the road ahead but if you trust the road and your map, you’ll eventually arrive at your destination. Once there, you can look back over the ground you’ve covered and everything is much clearer. The places you need to rewrite, the set-ups you need to put in place or tweak, the character adjustments.