Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thoughts on Revision by Famous Writers

While dusting off picture book manuscripts to revise for my agent, I discovered a worksheet from a writing workshop I attended many years ago. It is a list of quotations from famous writers on the subject of revision. I love revising, which is fortunate because I spend most of my time revising. I love digging through my steaming piles of words in search of ponies (see post on my Creative Process to understand this reference).

I love the challenge of rethinking, reshaping, reworking, and rewriting every word until CLICK! they connect like a circuit, bringing power, energy, and life to my story.

I've written a few blog posts concerning my thoughts on revision, so for this post, I thought I'd share other writers' thoughts on the subject.

Let's treat this post like one of those "Take a penny. Leave a penny" trays.

Feel free to take a quote or two or twelve if you need some extra reminders when you sit down to tackle a revision, or leave one or more thoughts of your own on the subject in the comments section, so we may benefit from your revising experience.


"By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting." Roald Dahl

"I'm a rewriter. That's the part I like best...once I have a pile of paper to work with, it's like having the pieces of a puzzle. I just have to put the pieces together to make a picture." Judy Blume

"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 word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile." Robert Cormier

"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

"Half my life is an act of revision." John Irving

"It is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is common in all writing and among the best of writers." E.B. White

"Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing." Richard North Patterson

"I have rewritten- often several times- every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasers." Vladimir Nabokov

"The difference between the right and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug." Mark Twain

"The best way out is always through." Robert Frost

"Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties." Bonnie Friedman

“The writer must have a good imagination to begin with, but the imagination has to be muscular, which means it must be exercised in a disciplined way, day in and day out, by writing, failing, succeeding and revising." Stephen King

"I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." James Michener

“The best advice I can give on this is, once it's done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes. When you're ready, pick it up and read it, as if you've never read it before. If there are things you aren't satisfied with as a reader, go in and fix them as a writer: that's revision." Neil Gaiman


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