Writers at Work: The Art of Revision

By Ray E. Boomhower

“Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.”
—Bernard Malamud

“If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”
—Arthur Quiller-Couch

“The wastepaper basket is a writer’s best friend.”
—Isaac Bashevis Singer

“Most of the rewrite is cleaning. Don’t describe it, show it. . . . The hardest thing in the world is simplicity. And the most fearful thing, too. You have to strip yourself of all your disguises, some of which you didn’t know you had. You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone That is the goal.”
—James Baldwin

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

“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

“The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.”
—Henry Green

“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.”

“Remember, it is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is a common occurrence in all writing, and among the best writers.”
—William Strunk Jr.

“Rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite.”
—John Bartlow Martin
Ray E. Boomhower is senior editor at the Indiana Historical Society Press, where he edits the quarterly popular history magazine Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. He has also written biographies on such notable Hoosiers as Gus Grissom, Ernie Pyle, Lew Wallace, and May Wright Sewall. Boomhower’s book John Bartlow Martin: A Voice for the Underdog was recently published by Indiana University Press. He is now working on a book about the World War II writing from the Pacific by Time and Life journalist Robert Sherrod.

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