About Me

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Writers: On Revision

Joyce Carol Oates:

"Editors are sometimes surprised that I entirely rewrite pieces that have been accepted for publication. Often I surprise myself, I exasperate and frustrate myself, by entirely rewriting chapters of novels that had seemed quite acceptable the previous day; and, on later occasions, rewriting these. For always I feel that I have new ideas, always there seems to me more felicitous ways of expressing what I want to say." ~ Quote from The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art (Ecco, c2003)

Raymond Carver:

“There’s not much that I like better than to take a story that I’ve had around the house for a while and work it over again. It’s the same with the poems I write. I’m in no hurry to send something off just after I write it, and I sometimes keep it around the house for months doing this or that to it, taking this out and putting that in. It doesn’t take that long to do the first draft of the story, that usually happens in one sitting, but it does take a while to do the various versions of the story. I’ve done as many as twenty or thirty drafts of a story. Never less than ten or twelve drafts…Things like this should hearten every writer whose first drafts are dreadful, like mine are.” ~ Quote from The Making of A Story (Norton, c2007)

Bernard Malamud:

“First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about. Revision is working with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to reform it….The first draft is the most uncertain—where you need the guts, the ability to accept the imperfect until it is better. Revision is one of the true pleasure of writing.” ~ from The Making of A Story

William Faulkner:

“All of us have failed to match our dream of perfection. I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. If I could write all my work again, I’m convinced I could do it better. This is the healthiest condition for an artist.” ~ from The Making of A Story

Joyce Carol Oates:

"My method is one of continuous revision; while writing a long novel, every day I loop back to the earlier sections, to rewrite, in order to maintain a consistent, fluid voice; when I write the final two to three chapters of a novel, I write them simultaneously with the rewriting of the opening of the novel, so that, ideally at least, the novel is like a river uniformly flowing, each passage concurrent with all the others." ~ from The Faith of a Writer

I read Joyce Carol Oate's novella, I Close My Door Upon Myself, this evening, and the book embodies this concept of a river uniformly flowing- I could not put it down. I can identify with the ideas these writers express. When I write, I write in one sitting the initial draft of a scene, a chapter, or an entire short story, and then I go back to revise, interminably, until all the elements synthesize. Moments, hours, days later, when I think I have finished, a word, a phrase, or an idea will present itself that must be added, and then the work begins all over, re-reading, re-shaping, adding and deleting, and searching for this uniformity of sound and spirit. (For me, the auditory, the sound and rhythm of a work, is as important an element as any, in prose as much as poetry.)

Here's another great quote from Joyce Carol Oates, in her collection of essays that make up The Faith of A Writer:

"Why certain individuals appear to devote their lives to the phenomenon of interpreting experience in terms of structure, and of language, must remain a mystery. It is not an alternative to life, still less an escape from life, it is life: yet overlaid with a peculiar sort of luminosity, as if one were, and were not, fully inhabiting the present tense."

I've read every page of the library copy of The Faith of A Writer, "sticky" noting all the amazing passages. My personal copy of the book is on it's way to me, and should be delivered by tomorrow.

Here's a link to an article I wrote a while back, about my current writing process, and some of the methods I use for revision: http://anniekingwrites.blogspot.com/2008/09/how-i-write.html


  1. Annie, Reading your posts makes me feel as if I've joined a club. I like it.

    In writing I am an obsessive rogue boy scout building a camp fire. Every stick is selected or rejected, stacked, arranged and rearranged. Then all is torn apart and done again as often as time permits.

    And I am in competition with the real talent in the world. Smarter, younger, quicker, better.

    Thank goodness I'm not bright enough to be discouraged.

  2. Hi Jack,

    I know what you mean. I never knew there were so many of us, with varying degrees of talent, obsessed with what we must do, never knowing if we will "make it" in the writing world, because that is not why we do it; we have something to share-- until I went online and found I was not alone.

    That's a great way to put it: we've joined a club. It feels good to be part of a family who understands, and to know that published authors are a part of that family, too.

    I like your building a fire analogy. You're very bright, Jack. And talented.

    Enjoy your days off!

  3. Annie and Jack. I only tell you this because I admire both of you. Don't kick yourselves! I have done that for too long, and I hate to see other people do it.

    I'm a hollow advice giver, because I kick myself constantly. But I think both of you are very talented and bright. Annie, you're so right about the family. I've gotten more encouragement online than I did in any workshop. It's a great feeling.

    Actually, I came on here to tell you I love the post (sorry for the soapbox preaching). I used to think I was the only one who revised after publication. It's nice to know that even a great writer like Oates feels the need to continually improve. Maybe that's one of the reasons she's so great. Awesome post, Annie! Thanks.

  4. Hi Julie, Thank you for your kind words! Annie