Toy, Amusement, Mistress, Tyrant, Monster?


‘Good novels are not written, they are rewritten. Great novels are diamonds mined from layered rewrites.’

Andre Jute

I suspect most writers know this, but every once in awhile you run across someone who doesn’t believe in revising or rewriting, as if their prose is sacred in its original form. I’m having a hard enough time just writing this blog post. I’ve added, deleted, rephrased… all in the space of a couple sentences.

I used to enjoy watching Carrie Bradshaw working at writing on “Sex and the City”, the weeks she struggled to think of a topic for her column, mining her friends’ lives for material (which they freely shared and never seemed to object to having exposed to strangers in Manhattan, but that’s another topic). Of course being a tv show with a limited timespan we never saw her struggle too hard and often the words seemed to flow in perfect order for her. Personally I like the revising part of writing. Of course, I’m nowhere near the revision stage of my WIP, although occasionally as I read back over stuff to remind myself of where I’ve taken my little darlings, I start fussing and tweaking, and rewording anyway.

So today I will end with another quote on revision, from the Lion of Britain, Sir Winston Churchill:

‘Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him to the public.’

Winston Churchill

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11 thoughts on “Toy, Amusement, Mistress, Tyrant, Monster?

  1. I write a post and revise it two or three times before publishing it – and then I spend the next week going back to it having to edit it as I spot a million and one mistakes from spelling to punctuation to just lousy phrasing.

    And these comment boxes are even worse. I can’t edit them one they have been submitted, so they drive me crazy.

    It’s like,’Look: I used the wrong word there. Look: that should have been a coma. Look: I managed to say exactly the opposite to what I was trying to say in that sentence.’

    There are rumours Charles Bukowski was very much a ‘first draft’ writer, but it doesn’t work for me. I’m an eternal re-drafter. Everything is a work in progress, even stuff I did years ago if I spot something I don’t like in it.

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  2. You see! You see!

    I have already spotted one mistake in that comment: there should be a space between “like, and ‘Look:”.

    (Everybody else is saying: What do you mean ‘one’ mistake, bozo? I can see twenty-six.)

    I am off. I shall go and hide my head in shame (and a copy of Fowler’s).

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  3. AHaha! I do the same thing! Makes me nuts when I do that in a comment and then can’t fix it. And you never see it until after you hit the “submit” button.

    I have heard Mozart wrote his music as “first draft” stuff, too. It just came out of his head fully formed. I don’t know how true that is, but my GAWD if that’s true…That’s a whole different level of consciousness.

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  4. One of my biggest challenges at work is getting my students to understand the value of revision. The insecure ones seem to think it’s a sign of weakness (they don’t understand why I get all excited when they tell me “it took me FOREVER to write this one – the rough draft was terrible and this final product is TOTALLY different”) and the ones with the overdeveloped senses of entitlement think it’s not necessary.

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  5. Yeah, the ones who think their writing is perfect from the first time the pencil touches the paper make themselves look ridiculous.

    Years ago I was on a Yahoo group for writers, and one idiot was posting whole stories to the group. He said he never revised anything, and he was just using the Yahoo group as a way to publish his writing, never actually participated in any discussions. It was as dreadful as you imagine. It was more a case of ego, than sense of entitlement with him. I unsubscribed immediately.

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  6. You’d think the fact that he couldn’t get published anywhere else would have been a red flag, y’know?

    The overly-entitled students operate much the same way – this sort of writer will hand in crummy final papers that don’t look any different than the crummy rough drafts, then want their instructors to explain, almost line-by-line, why they assigned the grade they did. I’m usually pretty thorough with my feedback (somebody’s gotta do it) so when I ask them, “did you read my comments? Which ones don’t you understand?” it usually shortens the meeting considerably.

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  7. I think a lot of these attitudes go back to the old idea that writing isn’t really work, that it’s not something you have to learn, when in reality it IS a craft that needs to be developed. People have this idea that writing is effortless, and the idea of having to WORK at it has just never occurred to them. They read something that has been beautifully written and think, “that’s easy, I could have written that!”

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  8. I take every chance I get to remind my students that all the great ones agonize over every single word: that so much of the finest writing you’ll ever read is comprised of words we ALL know – it’s just the order in which they’ve been placed that changes everything.

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