Heinlein gives his Fifth Rule as such:
RULE #5: YOU MUST KEEP THE WORK ON THE MARKET UNTIL IT IS SOLD.
So, here’s where Mr. Heinlein and I must part ways*, because I don’t fully agree with this rule. For one, I think it’s already intrinsic to the Fourth Rule– you need to put stuff out there, and it needs to stay out there. Sure. So in part, I’m not too keen on this rule because it’s redundant. But also, on some level, I think it’s bad advice. You’ve got to be able to recognize when it’s time to put something in the trunk. That you might be doing yourself more harm than good flailing a project out there that’s well and truly flawed and unsellable.
The other big reason I’m not on board with this rule is it doesn’t feel like the next proper step in terms of discipline. “Put it out there” is energy. “Keep it out there” is inertia.
So what’s a better rule to show what one needs to do in order to move on to the next level? If I may be so bold:
ALTERNATE RULE #5: YOU MUST MOVE ON TO THE NEXT PROJECT.
This makes a lot more sense to me. You’ve pushed your baby out of the nest, and regardless of what happens with that, you’ve got to make something else. Something new.
And I must stress the ‘something new’. I fully understand the temptation, but you shouldn’t go headfirst into ‘Book Two’ of whatever you’re shopping. Put down notes, draft an outline, have a plan? Sure. Yes. If my experience is typical, if you get interest in the book you’re shopping, you’ll be asked for plans for possible books two and three. So having those plans is good. But leave it at that.
Whatever you really work on next needs to be something whose sale is not dependent on the sale of the thing your shopping. Because then you’re building a whole house of cards, investing more and more into something you might have to through in the trunk. And if you invest that much, you’re going to become more and more petrified in letting go. Move on. To something new.
It’s hard. It’s supposed to be. Tom Hanks will tell you why.
Go get to it.
*- There’s also the “time travel to seduce my mom” part of Time Enough For Love, and in general the creepiness of late-era Heinlein.