20 Great Writers on the Art of Revision

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? Sure, they mostly know about rewriting their own work, and they may not always have applied the principles to their daily habits, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try. After the jump, 20 famous writers share their thoughts on revision, the consensus being: it’s pretty important. Get inspired after the jump, and tell us your own revision mantra in the comments.

“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