The transcripts from this taped conversation were long, absorbing, funny, disorganized, and repetitive. I edited them down to a manageable size and sent my version on to him. Then there was a long pause while he went back to America and. The Anatomy lesson was published. Early in 1984, on his next visit to England, we resumed; he revised my version and we talked about the revision until it acquired its final form. I found this process extremely interesting.
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Just after he finished. The Anatomy lesson we began the, paris review interview. We met in the early summer of 1983 at the royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, where roth occasionally takes a room to work in when hes visiting England. The room had been turned into a small, meticulously organized office—ibm golf-ball typewriter, alphabetical file holders, Anglepoise lamps, dictionaries, aspirin, copyholder, felt-tip pens for correcting, a radio—with a few books on the mantelpiece, among them the recently published autobiography by Irving Howe, a margin. Chekhov, john Cheevers, oh What a paradise It seems, fordyces, behavioral Methods for Chronic pain and Illness (useful for Zuckerman Claire Blooms autobiography, limelight and After, and some, paris review interviews. We talked in this businesslike cell for a day and a half, pausing only for meals. I was looked after with great thoughtfulness. Roths manner, which matches his appearance—subdued, conventional clothes, gold-rimmed spectacles, the look of a quiet professional American visitor to london, perhaps an academic or a lawyer—is courteous, mild, and responsive. He listens carefully to everything, makes lots of quick jokes, and likes to be willow amused. Just underneath this benign appearance there is a ferocious concentration and mental rapacity; everything is grist for his mill, no vagueness is tolerated, differences of opinion are pounced on greedily, and nothing that might be useful is let slip. Thinking on his feet, he develops his ideas through a playful administrative use of figurative language—as much as a way of avoiding confessional answers (though he can be very direct) as of interesting himself.
However, between that and the published story, the passage shows subtle but significant differences. During the course of writing six novels, i realized that the days when the truth shone brightest were the days my pen flowed the freest and messiest across the pages. And I was rewarded business with longer and longer satisfactory passages. Its paradoxical that giving up control rewards you with what you seek most: concise, insightful work. You might also like. Courtesy of Philip Roth, i met Philip Roth after I had published a short book about his work for the methuen Contemporary Writers Series. He read the book and wrote me a generous letter. After our first meeting, he sent me the fourth draft. The Anatomy lesson, which we later talked about, because, in the final stages of writing a novel, roth likes to get as much criticism and response as he can from a few interested readers.
Most beginning writers cling to every word theyve written. But if you practice looseness and receptivity when writing your first draft, the day will come during revisions when you realize you have a surplus of good writing to sort through. I just took a spin through a couple of my old. Writers at Work parts general volumes the paris review, interviews). Along with george Plimptons interview of each famous author, the. Review reproduces pages from their drafts. I studied some of these: cynthia ozick: Her handwritten draft page is a beautiful mess, containing almost more strike-outs than unscathed text. Ralph ellison: he used a typewriter, then marked up his pages with a ruthless hand. Ernest hemingway: His handwritten page from The battler shows only one cross-out.
When beginning a writing session, new authors often feel that they must jump off to an excellent start, when all they really need is to start. In this, theres no difference between me and you. Often I have to slog through crap to produce decent writing, especially if ive laid off from it while doing revisions. But I never despair, having learned that if I just keep going, Ill get to someplace worthwhile. Face your second draft, if youve practiced slovenliness with a liberal hand, youll be delighted at how much fun your second draft will. After ive got a chapter or two roughed out, i go from my handwritten pages to my pc, where i edit and rewrite as I go, adding new text and omitting what—I can now clearly see—doesnt work. Thus i establish the rough rhythm that works for me: a couple of days writing longhand, then a day at the old. Some authors work through their entire manuscript in longhand before sitting down to type, and thats dandy, too.
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And thats the magic we all live for, isnt it? If you want to add a word or a block of text, dont stop at using carats to show an insert. Circle stuff, draw arrows, loop one piece of text into breakdown the middle of another. If its instantly obvious that one version of a word, sentence or graph is better, strike out the bad one and go on without looking back. If you compose on a keyboard, make the return button your best friend: Set off a new idea by hitting two carriage returns. Let your fingers splash on the keyboard.
Dont use the cut and paste functions while creating a first draft. Note that Im not telling you to write as fast as you possibly can, as in speed for speeds sake. Take time to pause and reflect. Then take whatever comes without judging it too much. Whys it so important to suspend judgment when writing? Because that freedom opens you to the surprising stuff you never saw coming; stuff that makes you smile as you sit there in the coffee shop, your mug of joe cooling because youve forgotten developer to take a sip in 15 solid minutes.
But lets be honest: Thats unrealistic because sometimes you really do see another possibility right away, and you should be free to pursue. I recommend over-writing as you. If, in a single moment, you think of two different ways of saying something, just write both, one after the other. Later youll be able to decide which is better. Write a box around a phrase; stack two competing adjectives atop each other; make notes in the margin. I use the margins for research notes such as, whats position of Sirius over.
Fresh sheets arent just for motels. Im a big believer in using exactly the amount of natural resources you need, and no less. If you want to go off on a new tangent thats longer than a sentence, rip off your current page and start a fresh one. Never crowd a new thought into a crevice of the page youre. And for the love of God, dont wait for the new thought to fully form before you put it down. More often than not, as soon as you write the first shard of that new thought, itll work itself to fullness as you write.
Ernest, hemingway,"s - brain"
Get them out now. Theyll contaminate the good stuff only until you get around to general your second draft. Relax, physically and mentally. If, as I do, you write your first drafts longhand, consider your pen a paintbrush. Hold it relaxed in your hand and move it from your shoulder, instead of with your fingers. Your whole arm will move freely, and youll pour out the words, as well as banish carpal tunnel syndrome all to hell. The common wisdom in writing workshops is that you shouldnt stop to revise.
Hey, dont take my word for it—trust John Dos Passos, patricia highsmith, mark Twain and William Shakespeare. Exposition is always less important than you think. Just focus on what happens next. Hemingway didnt mean, though, that if you begin with crap, dung or merde, youll end up with something far better without much effort. He also didnt mean that its ok to start with a weak premise. He meant that the first essay execution of your ideas must be as unfettered as possible. Which will result in—yes!—some crap: false starts, pretentiousness, clunky images and clichés.
your writing to come alive—to be multi-dimensional—you must barter away some control. The rewards are worth. Learn to love anarchy, ignore sequence while writing your first draft. Beginning writers will often say, ive got the basic story figured out, but I dont know how to present it so it hangs together. Im never sure what should come next. Nothing is as freeing as writing what comes to mind next, not necessarily w hat must come next.
It took me a long time to figure out Hemingways hidden meaning, and longer still to apply. Over time, as I got rougher with my first drafts, my finished work got better and better. Be honest, why does a coherent first draft give birth to a stilted finished product? Because it means you havent biography let it flow. You havent given yourself permission to make mistakes because you havent forgiven yourself for past ones. Admit it: Unless your throttles wide open, youre not giving it everything youve got. One day i realized that creativity in writing isnt a linear process, even though we read in a linear fashion and the words must go on the page one after the other; even though we must put our thoughts and words in order so the.
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As Ernest Hemingway famously said, The first draft of anything is shit. For years, i didnt understand. When I started writing fiction seriously, i kept trying to get it right the first time. Every night after clocking out from my job in a bookstore, id sit at my favorite coffee shop with a yellow pad and the pens I collected from publishers reps, and carefully work on my first novel. Id write my minimum 300-word requirement, staying inside the lines and squeezing out every word with great thought and deliberation. Grant me, at least, that I was disciplined: I counted my words, and if I got to 299, i wouldnt go back and add very to a sentence—i had to at least begin the next one. By that method, apple i managed to produce quite a lot of pages. My prose didnt consistently swing, sizzle or startle.