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Writers on Writing: Selected Quotations


I may be the world’s worst writer, but I’m the world’s best rewriter. James Michener

Every time I rewrite, even if I had assumed nothing needed changing, I think of new details that might help to convince readers that this story really did happen. Anne Tyler

Generally, every sentence I write is two words away from being good. For me, the hard thing is to study each sentence when I’m revising and make it as good as I can by cutting, adding, or changing at least a couple of words. Tim Gautreaux

How do I approach the task of rewriting? Usually with great reluctance. But if an editor’s suggestions and my own second thoughts seem to make sense, then I will set to work with renewed enthusiasm and a conviction that improvement is a worthwhile goal. Robert Bloch

The more you go over a test the more you find that you have to add or subtract….Most of our writers just give you their first wild rush and assume that because it comes from them it is valuable. This is the romantic fallacy of the bad writer. Gore Vidal

I revise until I feel I’m done, and then I am done with that section or scene. I don’t often go back and change much after that. Kent Haruf

Everything new I write throws the rest out of kilter. It is just like a room decorated at different periods. You decide to put new chintz on those two worst chairs—“The rest aren’t so bad.” And then, that done, the others look shabby, and by the time you’ve recovered them, the first ones are faded again. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Revision…tests our ability to be honest with ourselves about our strengths and our weaknesses. Who enjoys that sort of honest, really? Jan Burke

I can’t write five words but that I change seven. Dorothy Parker

A novel is something that has to be endured by the writer. Anybody who can’t go back for the fourteenth and fifteenth revision with freshness and enthusiasm ought to get out of the business. James M. Cain

Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. John Steinbeck

There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred pages are there. Only you don’t see them. Elie Wiesel

Most of the time in speaking, we settle for the catch-as-catch-can way in which the words tumble out. In writing, however, there’s a chance to try to get them right. But the opportunity to get them right is a terrible burden: you can work for two hours trying to get a paragraph “right” and discover it’s not right at all. And then give up. Pete Elbow

I suffer agony over some of the cutting, but I realize it’s got to be done. When something really good goes it’s an awful wrench, but as you probably know, something really can be good and yet have no place in the scheme of a book. Thomas Wolfe

I am a rewriter. I rewrite a number of times. Imaginative richness is born in rewriting. Bernard Malamud

I don’t write a quick draft and then revise. Instead, I write 30 or 40 drafts of each page before moving on to the next. Dean Koontz

I think too many people rush out with a work that’s half done because they want people to pat them on the back and make them feel it’s OK. Alexandra Styron

The more you polish the form and perfect it, the more it hardens, becomes frozen, and dies….It is often almost dangerous to polish the writing and the form too much. It often happens—precisely when the polishing has been intense and the form has taken on an aspect of great beauty which delights the writer when he first reads it—that when he comes back to it a few days later he sees that it is a corpse, entirely dead and meaningless. Nathalie Sarraute

Don’t try to write that perfect draft—God sakes, whatever that is. Instead, allow yourself the freedom to play. Never rein in your creativity. Frank McCourt

Finish an entire book before doing a lot of editing. Too many writers spend years rewriting the first chapter. By the time you get to the end you’ll have a better idea of how and where to begin. Anne Eames

What I’ve learned through all my years of writing is that my first drafts always stink. But I can’t make them sing until I’ve at least gotten the bones of the plot down on paper. So I keep writing, knowing that eventually I’ll fix what needs to be fixed. Tess Gerritsen

I know some one-draft writers, one of whom maintains that to spend another week on a manuscript neatening up the sentences is not going to make a hundred copies’ difference in the number of books that are eventually sold, so why bother? John Jerome

I write slowly because I write badly. I have to rewrite everything many, many times just to achieve mediocrity. William Gass

(I rewrite) the first twenty pages over and over again—because in my idea you have to get everything into them. So as I go along and the book developes, I have to go back to the beginning again and again. Henry Green

On revision, test each sentence and paragraph, asking: Does this mean what I want it to mean? Is there a more precise way I can say it? John Guinther

This page was last updated on: Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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A. James Fisher
Dept. of Political Science & Criminal Justice, 146 Hendricks Hall
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444
e-mail: jfisher@edinboro.edu blog: http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com