Saturday, June 30, 2012

On Quotes

I've been amusing myself this morning by looking through quotes by writers on writing. It a pastime one degree away from being productive, while still mimicking the feeling. Plus, there's a lot of really great nuggets of wisdom in those authors' off-the-cuff (or perhaps well-thought-out) words.

Such as this quote:

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.”
—Annie Dillard
It took me two novels to recognize the wisdom of Dillard's words. I kept wanting to save that "great scene" or the character nugget that made it all make sense for the next novel, or better yet, for the third in the trilogy. It's a compulsion born of fear: fear that I won't have another great idea, fear that I'll use up all my brilliant ideas on one book, fear that I'll need that amazing scene later to boost a flagging storyline. Six novels later and several more in the queue, I'm happy to say that using all the "great" ideas frees up the mind to think of more even better ones. By letting each idea go, using each one or discarding it, I learn, and my imagination grows stronger.

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
—Stephen King
I'm here. I'm doing this. And I know that my first round of edits is not cutting it to the bone. I know that I'll need to go back and cut more, but I'm doing my best. Trimming, cutting, tightening, clarifying. 

This is hard:
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
—Mark Twain
This is what the second round of edits will be. The first is the big-picture sweep, in which I feel that I'm making all those right-word decisions, but will later realize that I missed a great many opportunities to replace passive verbs and boring descriptors.
“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”
—William S. Burroughs
While I've never cheated a landlord, I fully agree with this statement. There's no substitute for inspiration, and without it, any writing is going to be nothing more than words splattered on a page.

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