Feb 25

Want to Be a Brilliant Writer?

I have the answer.

Brilliance is revision and revision is brilliance.

Brilliance doesn't come in the first draft. Brilliance is accumulated over drafts.

Writers are very lucky because we can take our first drafts and over time develop and craft them. A first draft is like Adam's rib. We add the muscle, nerves, flesh, hair, and breath of life. Editors, publishers, and fellow writers help us polish the work until it shines and communicates perfectly, and keep us from making public our inevitable misjudgements and mistakes. That's why your favorite writers dazzle you. How do they do it? Revision. That's why years pass between their books.

We all want to write brilliant first drafts and be done with it. That's like wanting to climb Everest right this minute without a base camp or a team, or have a baby right now without a pregnancy. That'd be brilliant, but it's unlikely. Don't pressure yourself with the belief that you can or should write brilliantly immediately and all by yourself all the time--that you must be superhuman. That will be unproductive. Revision is very human. The humanity which soaks into the work through revision is what makes it brilliant.

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Jan 22

On Last-Minute Revisions and Touchups

Once in a while, after a tiring day, as a sort of nightcap I might pluck from the shelf one of my books and page through, and soon it all comes back: the joy and stress involved in the book’s creation and completion; the tussle with the universe to extract from it a fitting title; the stories behind word choices, stories only I will ever know; the people who freely gave me their most fragile possession: their trust. My thoughts might run:  “That thought was inspired and it reads like it,” or I hunt for flaws. “That middle initial should be G, not J; how did I not catch it?” “Shouldn’t have tinkered with that." Last-minute rewrites of my work, even half a sentence, feel and look to me like crudely sewn knee patches on jeans. Musician Les Paul said after a recording session, “Leave the mistakes in there; let them know we’re human.” That’s a great concept, especially when paired with Miles Davis saying about his art, “Don’t worry about mistakes. There are none."