Friday, July 15, 2011

In Their Own Words

I don't feel I have much to add to Bonnie's excellent video post on revision, so I thought you might enjoy hearing what some well-known authors have to say on the subject.

Mark Twain:

"You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lighting too much, the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by." "The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say." (Exactly what our Bonnie said in her post.)

Robert Cormier:

"The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile."

Michael Crichton:

"Books aren't written -- they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the 7th rewrite hasn't quite done it."

John Irving:

"More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn't say I have a talent that's special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina."

Thomas Wolfe:

"What I had to face, the very bitter lesson that everyone who wants to write has got to learn, was that a thing may in itself be the finest piece of writing one has ever done, and yet have absolutely no place in the manuscript one hopes to publish." (This one gave me that "ugh!" feeling.)

Dorothy Parker:

"I can't write five words but that I can change seven."

John Hersey:

To be a writer is to throw away a great deal, not to be satisfied, to type again, and then again and once more, and over and over."

William Kennedy:

"When you write ... some things that come very late in the creation change what you were conceiving back when you started. Therefore, you have to go back and revise."

Judy Blume:

"I'm a rewriter. That's the part I like best ... once I have a pile of paper to work with, it's like having the pieces of a puzzle. I just have to put the pieces together to make a picture."

Anne Tyler:

"It all depends on how you count, but I'd say the book (Noah's Compass) took four drafts. That's three longhand drafts before I entered it in the computer, and then I copied the computer version into longhand again. I read that fourth version into a tape recorder and then listened to the tape recorder while I followed along on the computer screen to pick up any minor changes I had made." (Wow, does THAT make me feel like a slacker!) "Ridiculous, I know. But it's more or less the way I've always done it, except for the three or four earliest books which I wrote without revising, under the mistaken impression that revising was a form of cheating. Nowadays, I love revising. I think of Draft One as work and the revisions as play."

Nora Roberts:

"I'll vomit out the first draft: bare-bones, get-the-story-down. I don't edit and fiddle as I go, because I don't know what's going to happen next. Once I get the discovery draft down, then I'll go back to page one, chapter one, and then I start worrying about how it sounds, where I've made mistakes, where I've gone right, what else I have to add, where's the texture, where's the emotion. I start fixing. And then, after I've done that all the way through again, I'll go back one more time, and that's when I'm really going to worry about the language. And the rhythm, and making sure that I haven't made a mistake, that I've tied up all the loose ends reasonably. It doesn't necessarily mean everything ties up for every reader, because some want it one way and some want it another, and you just have to be true to the story, so it's all plausible at the end of the day."

Ann Patchett:

"The way I work, I spend about a year putting a book together in my head. And when it's all laid out, I start to write. I do 95 percent of my revision in the first 50 pages. I'll throw out the 50 pages over and over and over again. Once I get that straight, then I'm on track, and I don't do a whole lot of revision. By the time I get to the end, I'm finished. I'll brush it up, but it goes off."

I enjoyed reading what other authors have to say about the topic of revision (and hope you did too) even though some of the comments are at odds with my own style. I HATE revision. HATE. IT. I do my best to write the first draft as though it were the last one. Whether or not I succeed is debatable, I'm sure. But that's just how I'm wired. That's not to say I don't make changes once I've finished the manuscript, not at all. I just do my best to keep them to a minimum, because, honestly, I can look at a clean screen and my imagination starts to play. But once I've written a page, a chapter, or a novel, I find it incredibly difficult to go back and "flesh it out" or expand on it.

I have so much to learn.

What about you? Where do you fit in to the revision dialogue? You love it, you hate it? You tolerate it? Talk to us.


Lori Benton said...

Mostly I love it. Once something's on the page it's like layers of dark glass are removed and I can see the story clearer. The first time, and every time thereafter, I read over a scene is my play time, where unexpected things happen and the characters surprise me. It's still work, but it's absorbing work, the kind in which I can lose myself for hours. But writing the first draft... I can usually only sustain that in short 10-15 minute bursts. I make myself do that for several hours a day to get to the fun part.

Nicole said...

I think it's important to "learn" what works best for each individual writer--what works best for each of us. Making changes in how we approach writing can be like shoving the proverbial square pegs in round holes. We're wired a certain way. It's not better or worse than those of others. We can improve on our focus, but unless it works to change course in how we approach composition, it's just one more chain around the ankles of creation.

"Revision" can be no more than finding a better word or tweaking a character or no less than eliminating a scene and a character or even the direction of a story. Much of it has to do with how we create and approach the actual writing. No way is better than another. All that really counts is the satisfaction of "The End" signifying that this piece is done.

sally said...

I'm completely the opposite of you. I hate rough draft. I get stuck over and over and over again, trying to make the plot work. I love revision. I like adding in plot elements or scenes that make plot work, and I don't mind taking out scenes and fitting the important stuff into other, existing scenes, but I especially love playing with paragraphs and sentences and words to make them prettier.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it funny how we're all so different? Nicole, you're absolutely, 100% correct.

Marian said...

Fascinating and enlightening.

Kathleen Popa said...

Sharon, thanks for this. I love reading how other writers approach their work. And Mark Twain is always the best.

Latayne C Scott said...

I got spoiled by writing non-fiction books first. Rarely if ever did an editor ask me to do any revisions (except for cutting sections of material -- and in the case of The Mormon Mirage, they added it all back into the e-book.)

But I confess after writing three complete novels and halves of two others, I don't have my land legs yet. Mostly I revise as I go along, combing through the tangles of the work I did in most recent days. By the time I get to the beginning of the book, to read it again, there's little I change.

Anonymous said...

I'm very much looking forward to revising my current work in progress. I know that it really needs revision/rewriting--especially the first part. I think it's kind of funny how the story evolves as you write so that your plot points at the start of the manuscript don't always correlate to what you write even halfway through. That's happened to me, anyway. Halfway through the manuscript and already contemplating how I'm going to have to change the start.

Anonymous said...

Latayne, that's exactly how I write. Another way in which we're kindred spirits.

Bonnie Grove said...

Thanks for sharing all this, Sharon. Truthfully, I don't know how I approach writing a novel. So far, I've approached each novel I've written differently. The story dictates, at least in part, how I will treat it, and then there is the aspect of where I am in my learning journey and the parts of what I'm learning that I apply to the work. Each ms is different and seems to require a different approach. I guess I'm like Latayne, still looking for my land legs. And yes, I find writing non-fiction SO much easier. My non-fiction required zero editing.

Anonymous said...

Revision is had work, but the first draft is extremely painful. I'm neither a plotter or pantser, but float somewhere in between.

Because of that, and because of the extensive amount of research that I can't possibly complete before a manuscript is done, I go through MANY revisions of a manuscript.

But I do love the revision process best of all (the only down side is NEVER being satisfied with your manuscript).

BK Jackson

Patti Hill said...

Isn't Bonnie cuter than Mark Twain?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Patti. Much cuter. Even without the mustache.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I confess, I am the tree killer of the last post. I am the one who doesn't want to write flashbacks, not so many as it would take to incorporate 116 pages of hard and fast action. I am the one who discovered the joy of community. Somehow the naming didn't happen in the posting. I did it first this time.
I am happy writing and rewriting. They feel the same to me. I find a loose end and create story to ground it. I find a difficult cadence and create words to balance it.
I never expected to be perfect the first time. As the manuscript is torn from my hands into the printing press (Amazon print file, e-reader PDF) I'll be jotting and dotting.

Anonymous said...

I love rewriting. In fact, it brings me a sick satisfaction.

Lately I've realized that one of my protags needs a major overhaul. And the novel is on it's 7th rewrite. I go again! Fun, fun!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Susie. You are amazing!