Wednesday, August 16, 2006

AD: Writing Well—Writing Slow(ly)


My friend Angie is at it again. I sent the following list to a few writer friends with whom I am discussing the importance of taking one’s time to produce excellent fiction, and she thought they’d make an interesting blog entry. Being pretty new to the blogosphere (is that how you spell it?) I had no idea. Well, here’s hoping she’s right (she usually is):

If I had more time, I would write a shorter story. - Mark Twain

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. - Samuel Johnson

A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure. - Henry David Thoreau

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

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. - John Hersey

Books are never finished, they are merely abandoned. - Oscar Wilde

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

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. - Mark Twain

First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about. - Bernard Malamud

When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing. - Enrique Jardiel Poncela

Our admiration of fine writing will always be in proportion to its real difficulty and its apparent ease. - Charles Caleb Colton

The strokes of the pen need deliberation as much as the sword needs swiftness. - Julia Ward Howe

Like stones, words are laborious and unforgiving, and the fitting of them together, like the fitting of stones, demands great patience and strength of purpose and particular skill. - Edmund Morrison

All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. - George Orwell


Athol Dickson, author of:
River Rising
http://www.bethanyhouse.com/riverrisingatholdickson/index.htm
The Gospel According to Moses
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/isbn=1587430487/bakerbookhouseA/103-7850295-0575863

The Charis Connection congratulates Athol on the Christy Award for River Rising!

12 Comments:

At 12:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I write a play in a week. A novel takes a month." -- William Saroyan, Pulitzer Prize Winner

 
At 5:49 AM, Blogger Gina Holmes said...

I like the above quote and wish it applied to me. I can relate more to the Orwell quote unfortunately. I might be able to crank out a book in a hurry but no way would it win a Pulitzer or anything else. Some people are more blessed in this area than others.

 
At 8:25 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Hemingway said, "The first draft is s---."

 
At 8:27 AM, Blogger JSB said...

As I see it, the issue isn't really time; it's concentration. I think of Kerouac's "On the Road," written in a weeks long intense frenzy. Jack London wrote fast, too, and seemed to get better doing it this way. He once said of inspiration that you have to "light out after it with a club." In fact, some writers might find treasures if they wrote a little faster, with greater concentration. Saroyan's been mentioned. He wrote a most beautiful novel, "The Human Comedy", in a couple of weeks. His voice seemed to emerge best this way. My advice to writers would be to experiment around. One can honor God by getting up and going to work each day, and if one produces a quota on that work day, and it becomes a book after this steady, dedicated pace, even a relatively "fast" book can be excellent in the economy of the Master Storyteller. OTOH, lingering over a work doesn't guarantee excellence. To me it's about concentration and craft. You learn both by getting to the writing, finishing a novel (you learn an incredible amount just by finishing) and getting on with the next.

 
At 8:42 AM, Blogger Richard Mabry said...

Thanks for the post. These are truly "words to live by" for a writer. And now, I have to get back to work on my fifth rewrite.

 
At 9:04 AM, Blogger Ronald E. Gollner said...

Having read, and appreciated this, as well as your previous post on the topic, I must confess that I am curious about one thing: when does re-writing become overwriting?

I mean can one literally "tweak" a manuscript to death?

 
At 9:26 AM, Blogger Ane Mulligan said...

My favorite is: First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about. - Bernard Malamud

That describes me. I plot heavily, but still don't know my story until the first draft is finished. Sigh.

 
At 11:12 AM, Blogger Michelle Pendergrass said...

I have a couple of favorites myself:

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. ~Hannah Arendt


How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. ~Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 19 August 1851


It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write. ~Sinclair Lewis


One ought only to write when one leaves a piece of one's own flesh in the inkpot, each time one dips one's pen. ~Leo Tolstoy


The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone's neurosis, and we'd have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads. ~William Styron, interview, Writers at Work, 1958


Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

 
At 11:44 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Thanks for sharing these quotes.
The Hemingway quote that Kristy shared freed me not too long ago. It's okay to write those bad first drafts. Just sit down and start writing.
But I also wonder, like Ronald, when we edit the life and passion out of a piece.

 
At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Athol Dickson said...

On Saroyan's and Jack London's and Jack Kerouac’s frenzied pace: as I mentioned in that "Haste Makes Waste" post last week, there are undoubtedly a few geniuses like them writing something somewhere, because after all, someone has to do it. But the web is a very large place (world-wide, even) and geniuses are scarce by definition, and those two facts combined make it doubtful such a dignitary is reading these quotations. If by chance we have made contact here with a Truly Great Author, someone who calls Inspiration and Perfection mere slaves, someone who could not possibly improve a second or third draft and laughs to think of four or five—in short, someone who always gets it right the first time—if such a Lofty One has deigned to skim these humble pages then we need not worry; they will be far too wise to concern themselves with the advice of lesser men like Twain, Thoreau, Hersey, Orwell, Wilde, and etcetera. They will type like the wind, give their masterpiece a mere glance (or not, as they deem best) and post it directly to the editors. Meanwhile, those of us not blessed to type in tongues, those who cannot seem to avoid noticing the possibility of improvements, must take some feeble comfort from the fact that those quotations include one or two fair-to-middling writers who also suffered our affliction.

On re-writing versus over-writing: it seems to me the line is close to being crossed when I honestly can't come up with anything left to improve without using a thesaurus or a manual of style. In other words, when the characters are alive, the settings are vivid, the similes and metaphors are appropriate, the story is paced correctly, every scene is essential and right where it ought to be in the order of things, when the dialogue is realistic, etcetera, etcetera, and I find myself reduced to searching for split infinitives and pondering the difference between “black as coal” and “black as charcoal,” it’s probably time to move on.

 
At 10:46 PM, Blogger Ronald E. Gollner said...

"If by chance we have made contact here with a Truly Great Author..."

Yes, well, modesty constrains me...

Honesty compels me to confess that the motivation behind my question has everything to do with a dreadful tendency of mine to over-tweak. It comes from having worked as a Record Producer for thirty-something years.

I'm getting better...got it down to five or six re-writes now. :)

 
At 11:42 PM, Blogger JSB said...

You forget the old adage, Athol, that genius is 99% persperation. These men I mentioned did not spring forth pristine. Each one spent YEARS perfecting their craft, and they did it by writing, writing, writing every day. Fast. too. In fact, Kerouac wrote a "labored" novel, "The Town and the City," and it fell flat. He discovered that it was far better for him to get the conscious stream going. So, again, it is not "speed" that is the issue. Nor native genius. It is care and concentration and desire. And production of words.

 

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