Monday, March 15, 2010

Writing About Writing, Part Two.

I learned one important lesson about writing from a sculptor. He explained that he didn’t create his art with his hands, he did it with his eyes and mind. The most important part of the creation process, he explained, is to look at what you have done, think about it, then make it better. As a sculptor, he emphasized that you have to look at the work from every angle; a good metaphor for what writers do too.

Many writers have made this observation. Vladimir Nabokov wrote, "I have rewritten - often several times - every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasers."

Though this bit of wisdom is common, it may need to be impressed upon young writers since so many of today’s modes of expression demand and celebrate the spontaneous and unexamined.

Writers have always been impatient. Young writers especially tend to fall in love with their creations much too quickly. That has to be beaten out of you, as it was me. Today, you can publish as you write. No one will stop you. You have to stop yourself.

I have heard there were once people called editors who helped writers improve their works and become better writers. I don’t wish to disparage any editors with whom I’ve worked, but I rarely get feedback and nobody is that good. It’s not the editor’s fault. They are not hired to do that. They are hired to commission writers who can write something that’s ready to publish. They have too many other responsibilities and don’t have time to give you much more than general impressions.

I have one editor who actually edits me from time to time, but he picks his battles. He only does it when the project is high profile. Again, no criticism is intended. He’d love to do it on everything if he could, but that’s not his job.

Putting those two bits together – economy and craft – I learned that rewriting a sentence to shorten it by even one word is time well spent.

1 comment:

sku said...

Great series Chuck. I always like to hear professional writers comment on the craft.

Another great writing/editing quote is Blaise Pascal's: "The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter."