The Art of Revision

I came across an excellent article which found the thoughts of some of the greatest writers on editing and revising their work. last January, Emily Temple picked out quotes from major authors from the past and from today; as I am just about to embark on editing my latest novel, Radwinter, I found it fascinating, and instructive!

Here are just some examples I’ve picked out from her article:

  • “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Elmore Leonard
  • “I have rewritten — often several times  every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.”  Vladimir Nabokov.
  •  “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
  •  “I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” Truman Capote
  • “Read over your compositions and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”  Samuel Johnson
  • “An author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” Colette
  • “Good writing is essentially rewriting.” Roald Dahl
  • “Once it’s done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes.” Neil Gaiman

… and Hemingway:

Hemingway: I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.

If you want to read the whole article, which I recommend, here is a link:

One Comment

  1. Peter Bull

    Hemingway was a bullshit artist. So I think that quote is hyperbole. I don’t doubt he revised that final page a great many times, but editing/revising is a dynamic process as you know, and it would take a particularly bureaucratic kind of mind to decide how many changes constituted a ‘rewrite’ and then to keep track of all the iterative versions he had created over time – and NUMBER them! And Hemingway’s life suggests he was not an obsessively methodical anal retentive.


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