“Revision” is like “wrestling with a demon,” from which “there is no escape, for almost anyone can write; only writers know how to rewrite. It is this ability alone that turns the amateur into a professional.”
William C. Knott, The Craft of Fiction
Just this morning, I was chatting with my brother Pete. As always, he asked how my novel was going. And as I have so often in the past, my answer was, “It’s going. I’m still rewriting.” “I have to hand it to you, Karin,” Pete said. “I don’t know if I’d have the perseverance to work on something the way you’re working on your novel.” When I heard this, half of me wanted to pat myself on the back for my stick-to-it-ive-ness and the other half wanted to moan and groan because this latest revision is taking so long. But here’s the thing my brother Pete doesn’t really know because he’s not a writer: writing is pretty much all about perseverance.
Remember that old Thomas Edison saying? I just checked the wording on a sign I have over my computer desk: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” It’s about the same for writing, isn’t it? Here’s a great observation from James N. Frey from his guide, How To Write A Damn Good Novel (which is a damn helpful book, by the way!):
“It has been said that Ernest Hemingway would rewrite scenes until they pleased him, often thirty or forty times. Hemingway, critics claimed, was a genious. Was it his genius that drove him to work hard, or was it hard work that resulted in works of genius?”
Who knows the answer to that question? Not me. I do know that just about every writer I admire, from Charles Dickens and Willa Cather to Gustave Flaubert to Ernest Hemingway put a lot of time into their rewriting. Dickens used to drive his printers nearly crazy, because even though he was writing serially, he was constantly making changes until they almost had to tear the proof pages from him.
Sure, our boy Charles and Ernie and Willa all had moments where words flowed from their pens and pencils onto the page with nary a change needed. But that was probably true of a handful of pages in long novels. Most writers are more like Flaubert, who was known to write and rewrite incessantly – always striving to find the better, truer word; the purer, more elemental effect.
So I guess the next time someone asks me how my project is coming along, I’ll just have to close my eyes, invoke Ernie, Gustave, and Charlie, and say it loud and proud: “I’m still rewriting!” And then, I’ll take a deep breath and just write on.