‘We do not write. We re-write. Sometimes long after publication, in our fatigued heads. This is not a matter of initial sloppiness, or compensation for a lack of brilliance via hard work. Isaac Babel could write up to forty drafts of a single story. Sherwood Anderson said that some of his stories took him ten or twelve years to write. Re-writing is crystallization of a thought. Or excavation. Or – writing.’ So says Lee Kofman, author and writing mentor. – excerpt from Lee Kofman’s blog leekofman.com.au Yet today I read of a highly successful author who often writes 100 pages without either re-reading or re-writing. She is Elena Ferrante, whose novels have been described as ‘masterpieces’. Further bucking the trend, she refuses to self-promote by giving interviews, public talks, or other marketing strategies. Which just goes to show, once again, that rules, especially writing rules, were meant to be broken – if, like Ferrante, you can get away with it. In my own writing, I have completed draft after draft of my novel, Capriccio. Each new version is subtly different from the others. The aim is to have a perfect manuscript before submitting it to publishing houses. But I sometimes wonder, after all this work, are the earlier versions somehow fresher, because they’re less worked over? What are other writers’, or readers of this blog, thoughts on rewriting? Please share your writing practices here ! 📝📃📚
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Jane Austen was born 240 years ago today, on 16 December 1775. Over two centuries later, she’s still one of the most widely read writers in the English language. Interestingly, she appeared to ignore the ‘rules’ we writers are taught today: much of her writing is ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’, and she changes Point of View (shock horror!) not only in […]
Geraldine Brooks’ latest novel, The Secret Chord . Geraldine Brooks is an Australian journalist and writer whose books include Nine Parts of Desire, March, Caleb’s Crossing and her latest, The Secret Chord. She spoke to Kate Evans as part of a special event for the Sydney Writers Festival at the Seymour Centre, in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd. I was one of the audience, seeing Geraldine from a long way away, so that she looked like a tiny doll, way down there on the stage, talking to ABC’s Kate Evans. What I took from her talk was her unfailing cheerfulness, her humility, and her sense of humour. She is obviously much loved, judging by the enthusiastic response from her audience that night. I was struck by her phrase ‘the swan-dive into the imagination’, describing how she works as a writer of historical fiction. As a writer of fiction based on fact myself, (faction) I understood perfectly what she meant by the need to have ‘a solid scaffolding’ when writing a novel such as ‘The Secret Chord’. Brooks began her career as a journalist in Australia and then a foreign correspondent. Her first book was the non-fiction Nine Parts of Desire, about women living in Islam. Eventually she turned to fiction, writing about the plague in Year of Wonders, about a native American scholar in Caleb’s Crossing and then about a pacifist philosopher during the American Civil War in March, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. Her latest novel The Secret […]
The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Teresa, writing about Janet Malcolm’s masterly non-fiction biography, ‘The Silent Woman,’ in the Blog ‘Shelf Love’, says: ‘It’s fascinating to consider that in some respects fiction could be more true than nonfiction. Fiction is part of a closed world, all in the author’s mind, and even if the author deliberately leaves options open, that openness is part of the author’s created world. With nonfiction, there really is a truth that happened, but there are so many mediators between that truth and the reading audience. How can one be sure of the truth?’ Janet Malcolm goes on to discuss the near impossibility of truth in biography–or in any nonfiction. Malcolm writes: In a work of nonfiction we almost never know the truth of what happened. The ideal of unmediated reporting is regularly achieved only in fiction, where the writer faithfully reports on what is going on in his imagination….We must always take the novelist’s and the playwright’s and the poet’s word, just as we are almost always free to doubt the biographer’s or the autobiographer’s or the historian’s or the journalist’s. In imaginative literature we are constrained from considering alternative scenarios—there are none. This is the way it is But is there a single, whole truth to tell? That’s the question that undergirds The Silent Woman, Malcolm’s book about the Plath legacy.The book is structured as a sort of memoir of Malcolm’s own journey as she […]
To Show or to Tell? When is Telling OK? This is a perennial topic for working writers. Vera Aisling, I’m her post ‘Combing Prose,’ has some interesting thoughts on this, and other aspects of critiqueing.
Joan Didion, renowned author of ‘Blue Nights’, ‘Slouching towards Bethlehem’ ‘the Year of Magical Thinking, and other works of both fiction and non-fiction, has this to say about the writing process. The author of fifteen books, Didion has developed her own writerly habits. She described her work as cycling between new writing and revision: “Before I start to write, […]
I’ve recently been reading novels by the wonderful Australian writer, Joan London. ‘The Golden Age’ and ‘Gilgamesh’. Both are wonderfully written, award-winning books, yet they seem to break many of the ‘rules’ we aspiring writers are taught in the many popular courses in the craft of writing. Professor Elizabeth Webby writes: ‘Unlike much contemporary Australian fiction, Joan London’s novel ‘Gilgamesh’ is not narrated in the first person or from the perspective of one character. This makes the author’s task more complicated but results in a much richer reading experience since we are allowed into each character’s inner life, making them all vividly present.’ Yet London ignores many popular precepts, and with powerful results. For example, in her novel ‘Gilgamesh’, about an innocent country girl who goes on quest to find the father of her child, the Point of View (POV in writer-speak) often changes from one character to the next even on the same page. Yet I found her writing compelling and beautiful. Here, for instance, is a short excerpt from ‘Gilgamesh’: ‘They had met in Iraq, where Leopold was working on an archaeological dig not far from Baghdad, on the Euphrates. Aram was working on the expedition as a driver. He was Armenian, born in Turkey, where his parents had died when he was very young.’ Thus London introduces two of her main characters. But is this ‘showing’ or ‘telling’? Telling’ is a travesty of good writing practice, […]
“The most compelling thing I’ve read online recently is Helen Garner’s piece in The Monthly, ‘The insults of age’. Garner’s writing is always emotionally intelligent and always delivered with a clear-eyed grace, but this piece – her perspective on what it means to be a 71-year-old woman – is a particular gem. The cultural assumption that the ageing are almost-dead […]
Janet Malcolm, in her masterly work on the biographies of Plath, makes an interesting point about fiction having more ‘truth’ than non-fiction. It’s fascinating to consider that in some respects fiction could be more true than nonfiction. Fiction is part of a closed world, all in the author’s mind, and even if the author deliberately leaves options open, that openness is part of the author’s created world. With nonfiction, there really is a truth that happened, but there are so many mediators between that truth and the reading audience, each interpreting the facts differently or choosing which facts to reveal, with some having a stake in how the story is presented and understood. How can one be sure of the truth? What’s Fact, what’s Fiction? In ‘Capriccio’ I use the facts of Assia’s life as a scaffolding on which to build the deeper truth of emotions, thoughts and conversations, using fiction. For example, in my chapter entitled ‘Edge’, we know the facts are that Sylvia wrote a letter, and asked for stamps, on the night she took her life. The letter, if it was found, has never been disclosed. My excerpt from that letter is invented, an imagined version of what she might have written on that last day. The fictional letter from Sylvia contains the things Assia might have read about herself. We also know that Assia was shocked to read the vituperative language Sylvia wrote about Assia and David in the […]