Information Sheet # 49

January 21, 1991

FAMOUS AUTHORS TALK ABOUT REVISING

[Coe's writing emphasis program is based on the principle of multiple revisions of texts. The following passages perhaps provide some helpful inspiration from various authors who have written about their habits when rethinking and revising words on a page.]

Saul Bellow
I'm happy when the revisions are big. I'm not speaking of stylistic revisions, but of revision in my own understanding.

John Berryman
We take it that all young writers overestimate their work. It's impossible not to--I mean if you recognized what shit you were writing, you wouldn't write it.

Truman Capote
I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.

John Ciardi
...the last act of writing must be to become one's own reader. It is, I suppose, an schizophrenic process. To begin passionately and to end critically, to begin hot and to end cold. and, more importantly, to try to be passion-hot and critic-cold at the same time.

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 work, the apt phrase, the leaping smile.

Meister Eckhart
Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.

Deborah Eisenberg
For me, most writing consists of siphoning out useless pre-story matter, cutting and cutting and cutting, what seems to be endless rewriting, and what is entailed in all that is patience, and waiting, and false starts, and dead ends, and really, in a way, nerve.

John Fowles
All the best cutting is done when one is sick of the writing.

Ellen Goodman
What makes me happy is rewriting. In the first draft you get your ideas and your theme is clear, if you are using some kind of metaphor you get that established, and certainly you have to know where you're coming out. But the next time through it's like cleaning the house, getting rid of all the junk, getting things in the right order, tightening things up. I like the process of making writing neat.

Graham Greene
I am to be content with what I produce. It's an aim I never achieve, but I go over my work word by word, time and again, so as to be as little dissatisfied as possible.

A.E. Housman
I do not choose the right word. I get rid of the wrong one.

Vladimit Nabokov
I have rewritten--often several times--every work I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.

Joyce Carol Oates
The pleasure is the rewriting: The first sentence can't be written until the final sentence is written. This is a koan-like statement, and I don't mean to sound needlessly obscure of mysterious, but it's simply true. The completion of any work automatically necessitates its revisioning.

Neil Simon
Rewriting is when playwriting really gets to be fun. In baseball you only get three swings and you're out. In rewriting, you get as many swings as you want and you know, sooner or later, you'll hit the ball.

Isaac Bashevis Singer
The main rule of a writer is never to pity your manuscript. If you see something is no good, throw it away and begin again. A lot of writers have failed because they have too much pity. They have already worked so much, they cannot just throw it away. But I say that the wastepaper basket is a writers best friend. My wastepaper basket is on a stead diet.

John Updike
W riting well involves two gifts--the art of adding and the art of taking away. Of the two, the first is more important, since without it the second could not exist.

Robert Penn Warren
I do think one thing is always true: the degree of self-criticism is only good for a veto. You can throw out what you've got wrong, and you can even try to say why its wrong, but you can't say, "Now I'm going to do it right."

H.G. Wells
No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.


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