Revise, Revise, Revise


It’s a new year, and hopeful souls around the world are working diligently on their plans to revise—their health, their attitudes, their lives. But who knows more about the art of revision than great writers? Below, 20 famous writers share their thoughts on revision. The consensus? It’s pretty important.

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“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” —Elmore Leonard, Newsweek, 1985

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—wholeheartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” —Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing, 1916

“I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” —Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, 1966

“Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings) … I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: ‘Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.’ —Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” —Mark Twain

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right. —Ernest Hemingway, The Paris ReviewInterview, 1956

“I don’t write easily or rapidly. My first draft usually has only a few elements worth keeping. I have to find what those are and build from them and throw out what doesn’t work, or what simply is not alive.” —Susan Sontag

“I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” —Truman Capote, Conversations With Capote, by Lawrence Grobel, 1985

“Read over your compositions and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”
Samuel Johnson

“Your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.” —Kurt Vonnegut, How to Use the Power of the Printed Word

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“It takes me six months to do a story. I think it out and write it sentence by sentence—no first draft. I can’t write five words but that I can change seven.” —Dorothy Parker, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” —Colette, Casual Chance, 1964

“Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying.” —John Updike

“Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.” —Raymond Chandler

“Anyone and everyone taking a writing class knows that the secret of good writing is to cut it back, pare it down, winnow, chop, hack, prune, and trim, remove every superfluous word, compress, compress, compress …

Actually, when you think about it, not many novels in the Spare tradition are terribly cheerful. Jokes you can usually pluck out whole, by the roots, so if you’re doing some heavy-duty prose-weeding, they’re the first to go. And there’s some stuff about the whole winnowing process I just don’t get. Why does it always stop when the work in question has been reduced to sixty or seventy thousand words—entirely coincidentally, I’m sure, the minimum length for a publishable novel? I’m sure you could get it down to twenty or thirty if you tried hard enough. In fact, why stop at twenty or thirty? Why write at all? Why not just jot the plot and a couple of themes down on the back of an envelope and leave it at that? The truth is, there’s nothing very utilitarian about fiction or its creation, and I suspect that people are desperate to make it sound manly, back-breaking labor because it’s such a wussy thing to do in the first place. The obsession with austerity is an attempt to compensate, to make writing resemble a real job, like farming, or logging. (It’s also why people who work in advertising put in twenty-hour days.) Go on, young writers—treat yourself to a joke, or an adverb! Spoil yourself! Readers won’t mind!” —Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
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“By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” —Roald Dahl

“The best advice I can give on this is, once it’s done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes. Finish the short story, print it out, then put it in a drawer and write other things. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before. If there are things you aren’t satisfied with as a reader, go in and fix them as a writer: that’s revision.” —Neil Gaiman

“Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn’t work, throw it away. It’s a nice feeling, and you don’t want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.” —Helen Dunmore

“Don’t look back until you’ve written an entire draft, just begin each day from the last sentence you wrote the preceding day. This prevents those cringing feelings, and means that you have a substantial body of work before you get down to the real work which is all in the edit.” —Will Self

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” —Saul Bellow

This post also appears on Flavorpill, an Atlantic partner site.

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Patricia Anne Jackson Chosen as Semi-Finalist Prestigious Faulkner Award

Patricia Anne Jackson, AKA P.A. Jackson has been chosen as a semi-finalist in the prestigious William Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Award for her novella, Upside Down. The story, coming in at approximately 20,000 words, is a dark southern gothic tale with magical realism elements and is a tribute to the genre developed by the late American writer William Faulkner.

This manuscript as well as many others, including novels, screenplays and short stories, is seeking agent representation and publication/production. All interested parties please contact Ms. Jackson at

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Great Validation for Novelists From a Career Novelist

Reposted courtesy of Writers Digest

My personal notes are in parentheses:

1. You find yourself in the throes of a title dilemma

Like every author on the planet, I’ve spent endless hours mulling over title options for my work. One strives, of course, to be both memorable and honestly descriptive of the content. But then, by and large, a great title is an art form unto itself and a great title does not necessarily signify a great book.

Warren Headshot-featured

american quartet warren adler - featuredThis guest post is by bestselling author Warren Adler. Adler is an acclaimed novelist of more than 40+ novels, a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and consistently writes about his experience as an independent, self-published eBook author with his own press, Stonehouse Productions. Currently in development for Adler is the Hollywood sequel to The War of the Roses – The War of the Roses: The Children, along with other projects including Capitol Crimes, a television series based on Warren Adler’s Fiona Fitzgerald mystery novels. Learn more about Warren and his new film/TV developments on his website here. American Quartet, book 1 of his Fiona Fitzgerald series is now on Kindle promo for $1.99 through June 24th. Follow him here on Twitter and Facebook.

2. You get 100 pages in a novel and suddenly decide you’re tossing it all 

This may seem insane but I normally know whether or not I am on to something good only after being 100 pages into a story. I’m willing to bet some of you go much farther.

(*This I have not experienced. Sounds painful!)

3. Your friends think you’ve become a recluse because you spend so much time at your writing desk. 

I’m usually very regimented about my writing schedule and typically wake up at about 5 a.m. and start writing until 10 a.m. There have been times, however, where I’ve spent an entire day in my study working on a novel. Little do these friends know the kind of dynamic journey writers go on in their work.

(*The people in my life know I’m a recluse when it comes to writing! It goes with the territory)

4. Choosing between creativity and money.

We don’t live by money alone. For those who aspire to the high art of literary writing, similarly to painters, composers, musicians, and others who prize, above all, discovering insight into the human condition, we will always put creation over the clink of coinage (or at least find a clever way to bridge the gap).

(*For me, this is the most painful aspect of being a writer. But, I am confident this will change in time. It seems to be a rite of passage unlike success in other professions. Rare is the famous/successful writer who did not experience poverty early on and maybe continuously. Perhaps it is an integral part of the creative process– separating from the world.)

5. Sometimes you spend a lot more time researching for your story than you do writing.

Actually, this isn’t really a struggle but I’m leaving it in. When I was working on TARGET CHURCHILL, I spent months reading memoirs by Winston Churchill among other historical documents. It was all grist for the novelist’s mill. My research led to new characters and sub-plots. It was all so rich and intriguing that I could have spent a lifetime on the topic.

*(I have not experienced this but I don’t write historical fiction. I’ve had students who get so caught up in the research they don’t write.)

6. You have a lot of trouble trying to decide how your novel will end.

Honestly, if I ever knew the ending of a novel in advance, I wouldn’t write it. The way in which I write is to let my characters come alive in my head and interact with each other, create conflict with each other, and work out their own destinies. I know this sounds out there but writers will know what I’m talking about.

(*In shorter fiction, I usually get my ending first. But the novel writes itself. I don’t overthink it, let the characters do what they’re going to do.)

7. There are times when you can’t sleep at night because you’re constantly thinking about what the next page in your story will be.

Sound familiar? There’s nothing wrong with a smidgen of insomnia for the sake of your writing. It’s a kind of rites of passage for the dedicated novelist. I am always writing a story in my head, keeping a log of ideas that pop up. I find that the best thing to do is keep a notepad or journal near you so you can jot thoughts down, otherwise you’ll just end up more frustrated that you can’t get it out of your head and onto paper.

(*Going through this right now. I’m exhausted.)

8. Editors start changing and omitting parts of your story that you think should be left in.

One of the reasons I went independent was because I could not stand editors who took it upon themselves to essentially bulldoze entire sections of my work that I’d spent a lot of painstaking time on. I am always weary of this. I would rather make my own mistakes than have someone else make them for me.

(*Still ahead for me. I think about it all the time. Yikes!)

9. You’re CONSTANTLY rewriting!

Well, I firmly believe that the key to good writing is rewriting. When I write a novel I go back to it every single day and I try to produce at least 5 pages. I’ll write 5 pages one day then go back the next day, start from the beginning and rewrite. I’ve managed 39+ novels so evidently this isn’t such a bad process.

(*Over and over and over and over.  I don’t intend to; it’s just that I re-read every time I submit or rework a piece and there seem to be so many errors. Plus, when you write a lot like I do you’re improving dramatically as a writer all the time. I’m a better writer now than I was even three months ago. I guess eventually it levels out, but I don’t know. I’m so busy going back and reworking older pieces that I haven’t experienced stasis yet. The one thing I am very happy about: I still love the plots of my earlier work. It’s just the writing needs improvement.)

10. You know all too well what it’s like to get lost in your characters, in fact, sometimes your characters get out of line and start going off on tangents.

If this doesn’t happen to you at some point then something must be wrong. Naturally, I become heavily invested in the characters I create, what they think, how they act, what they wish for, their passions, their emotional lives, their angst, their sexuality, their inner hungers and desires. They find internal expression in my third person style of writing and It becomes necessary to curb my imagination at times. You’re probably wondering what those tangents sound like (that’s for another blog).

(*Oh, the traps of subplot!)

I am a writing coach and experienced personal growth facilitator If I can help you with any of the above issues  or others, contact me at

Keep Writing!


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Don’t Get Discouraged! Keep Submitting!

“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.” —James Lee Burke

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Ray Bradbury’s Homage to Great Writers

Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies………..They show the pores in the face of life.

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradubury

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Last Night: Another Great Night of Writing at the Mercury Cafe

3-25-14:Mercury Cafe ReadingIt’s always fun to get out and read. Ed and Marcia Ward put out a call for me to read and I was happy to oblige. Although my work was the only non-memoir, from the feedback I received it looks like my short fiction (An Arapahoe Community College’s Studio Short Fiction Winner, April 2014) was well-received. A special thanks to the lady who made it clear she heard every plot twist and for her kind words that I had “raised the bar” on the standard of writing presented.


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Information for Screenwriters: The Difference Between Adaptation and Inspiration

Reposted by writer, Patricia Anne Jackson

Q&A: What’s the Difference Between a Movie That’s “Based On” a Book and a Movie That’s “Inspired By” One?

Q: I have a question regarding the rights needed to make a film “based on” a book, and/or “inspired by” a book. First of all, is there a legal difference between these two terms? It seems that one implies a more direct adaptation (“based on”) and the other a looser connection to a book, but is there some legal basis for determining this? Also, does one need to purchase the rights to a book that “inspires” their film? How about a book that it is “based on”?

A: In answer to your first question, while technically there is no legal significance to the specific words “based on” or “inspired by,” there is legal significance to what each term may imply.

If a movie is “based on” a book, it is implied that the film is an adaptation of a preexisting book. This is such a common practice that at some point in the 5 hour 37 minute Academy Awards telecast, between shots of Jack Nicholson, I believe they may even present an Oscar for the “Best Adapted Screenplay.” Most of those screenplays are based on books.

We can assume that any screenplay based on a book is going share unique characters, plots, scenes, etc. with that book. We may never have been graced with the presence of Kate Winslet’s sex starved, Nazi cougar had that character not first been fully fleshed out in the book The Reader. The filmmaker who makes a movie that shares a prior book’s copyrighted material must get rights from the copyright owner of the book in order to make that movie. Without obtaining the necessary rights, a movie based on a book likely would be considered copyright infringement.

It gets a little bit trickier when you say “inspired by.” This could mean a whole lot of different things. Let’s say you read the short story “Flowers for Algernon.” You finish the story crying, inspired to write a movie about a man who overcomes obvious mental shortcomings to become president of the United States. You didn’t include any of the unique elements from the story in your film, it simply served as the inspiration for your script (you also read a lot of newspapers over the last eight years). In a case like this, you wouldn’t need to obtain any rights from the author of “Flowers for Algernon.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum, “inspired by” may only be one small step below “based on.” Perhaps you decide to make a statement about North Korea by writing a script inspired by the book 1984. The plot is essentially the same but the characters are now Korean and it’s set in modern day North Korea. You’ve taken a lot of creative liberties with the story and added your own unique elements but you use nearly identical plot points and many of the same scenes from the book. In this case, your film will likely be seen as a derivative work based on the original classic novel. Therefore, you would need the necessary rights in order to make your film.

The toughest call are those situations in between. Theoretically Clueless was inspired by Jane Austen’s book Emma. Now unfortunately I’ve never read Emma, but I have seen Clueless, and I’m fairly certain that the song “Rollin’ with the Homies” was not a part of the book. Cluelesswas entirely original except for the underlying concept. More recently, it could be said Disturbiawas inspired by Rear Window. Again, you had a unique new movie that essentially shared a concept with a prior work. In these “inspired by” cases, it’s not always entirely clear if you need permission from the copyright owner of the materials by which your film is inspired.

There’s a great quote by some great person, neither of which I can remember, but it basically said that no piece of art is truly original, because no artist can help but be inspired by art that they love. Whether or not you are going to need permission for the owner of an underlying work depends on the situation and requires a fact specific analysis. If your film is “based on” a book, it’s almost certain you’ll need permission. If a book only serves as your “inspiration,” you may be in somewhat dangerous territory so I would recommend treading lightly and carrying a big lawyer.

It should be noted that if a once-protected work is very old, it may be in the “public domain,” meaning that the period of copyright protection has lapsed and anyone can copy it without permission. In other words, if the book you’re interested in is in the public domain, you won’t need to obtain permission to use it as the basis or inspiration for your film. In my example above, the creators of Clueless didn’t have to worry about whether their film was close enough to Emma to require permission because Emma is old enough to be in the public domain.

This blog was originally published as part of Legal Ease, Film Independent’s weekly column on legal matters pertaining to the entertainment industry.

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Dealing Effectively With an Agent

Dealing Effectively with an Agent

Questions an agent may ask:

  • Are you willing to further expand your platform?
  • Are you open to revisions? (Basically that’s a trap—say yes and mean it!)
  • Do you have the time to revise prior to publication?

Questions you should ask:

  • What kind of revisions do you foresee?
  • Who do you see as a potential audience for my work?
  • Do you have experience selling in my genre? And do you have specific publishers in mind for my book?

If there are other agents you’re waiting to hear from, this is the time to let us know. We’re hoping you can’t imagine anyone else representing you, but we understand that partnering with an agent is an important decision. Out of consideration, set a reasonable timeline of up to three weeks to make a final choice.

Our Wish for You …

Ultimately you are our compass. We’re hunting for buried treasure, so please point us in the right direction. Establish an image, craft your best work, connect with us on a personal level, and your future will shine ahead of you like a sea of glossy book jackets. You can find an agent. We know this because we’re hoping to find you, too.

brian-klems-2013Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter

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What Separates “Real Writers” From the Other Kind?


“It is impossible to discourage the real writers – they don’t give a damn what you say; they’re going to write.”

~ Sinclair Lewis

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How Long Does It Take to Write a First Draft of a Novel?


“The first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

~Stephen King

While Mr. King is a writing machine and he has had Tabitha by his side all these years helping him, I agree that a first draft should be cranked out quickly. I would say, more judiciously, that if a book is taking more than a year to get the first complete story down on the page there is some greater block. This is where a good writing coach comes in.


Keep Writing!

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