Tuesday 18 November 2008

WRITING TIPS: More on Revisions

Moonrat mentions in her blog that Toni Morrison angsts about revising seventeen words. Now I'm angsting. Does a major rewrite of basically everything BUT seventeen words mean the novel lies dead on the page?

In his memoir "On Writing"* Stephen King tells a story about the great Henry James that goes like this:

A friend came to visit Joyce one day and found the great author sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of absolute despair.
"James, what's wrong?" the friend asked. "Is it the work?"
Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at the friend. Of course it was the work; isn't it always?
"How many words did you get today?" the friend pursued.
Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): "Seven."
"Seven? But James...that's good, at least for you!"
"Yes," said Joyce, finally looking up. "I suppose it is...but I don't know what order they go in!"

In the same way that Toni Morrison considers changing seventeen words a catastrophic rewrite, the Henry James anecdote illustrates an important aspect of writing: every single word counts. The revision process can be a critical component in the journey from idea to draft to completed novel. And so I'll continue to angst as I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite this novel...

*King, Stephen. "On Writing". 2000. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0 340 76997 1. Page 117-118.

No comments: