Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Zut alors, it's not brain surgery

Zut alors, rewriting is not brain surgery and we'd be in trouble if it was.
Here's what some writers have to say about their process. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” — Elmore Leonard, Newsweek, 1985 “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – wholeheartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” — Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing, 1916 “I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” — Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, 1966 “Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings)…I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: ‘Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.’ — Stephen King, On Writing, 2000 “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” — Mark Twain. It takes me six months to do a story. I think it out and then write it sentence by sentence—no first draft. I can’t write five words but that I change seven. Dorothy Parker Revision is where the magic happens. For me, the best, most inspired ideas often appear during rewriting. I compare the initial getting-it-down process to skimming the surface of a pond. Often all I get are weeds and scum, the everyday accumulation of clichés and pat phrases we use without thought. Revision means diving deep to where the pure, clean water is, where dangers lurk in hidden grottos and pearls grow in the moist mouths of oysters. Richard Cormier, author of young-adult novels,says: "The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon." Cara - Tuesday


  1. YES, Cara! Working it over and over and over is my only hope. "If at first you don't succeed..." Not a motto for a brain surgeon. Or a skydiver. But for us.....

  2. and Voltaire said it too 'Writing is Rewriting' :)

  3. Writing is much like painting (fine arts): how many painters put brush to canvas with no sketching, no trial designs, no overbrushing, etc? Sure, the mall-painters who turn out 1000 impressionistic landscapes a year. But few paintings with HEART are done in a single pass.

    So, too, with writing. (Even this comment... :-)

  4. Exactly, EvKa you put it so well!

  5. 'Revision means diving deep to where the pure clean water is.'

    Love that phrase, Cara! And most of this advice sounds a little bit like my attitude to research: Do huge amounts ... but then leave about 90% of it out. You want the story to be real-ISTIC, not REAL.