Wednesday, November 25, 2009


No I’m not referring to overindulgence of alcoholic beverages. Here I’m referring to the idea that every manuscript does not become a published book even from writers who have published books and even from famous writers who have published books. I was listening to an interview with David Almond the other day and he talked about manuscripts that he wrote, one he spent a year on, that he had to eventually toss. The whole manuscript. A whole year. That’s extreme but it happens. And it will make you a little crazy. More common is you’ll write fifty or sixty pages and decide the manuscript just isn’t working and have to abandon it. That will make you a little crazy, too.

Almond did say in that interview that throwing away that manuscript he’d labored over freed him. He started writing another manuscript and was able to write a good draft in only a few months. That novel was published.

It’s hard but I don’t think the work you do that isn’t published is wasted. Sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes good manuscripts go bad. Even John Updike, the great stylist, someone whose sentences seem as effortless as bird songs, said he threw away a lot of pages. If a manuscript wasn’t working, he didn’t hesitate to toss it and start something else. It’s all about finding your way to the stories you can tell.

It's messy. It's a messy, messy business, this art and craft of writing.

To paraphrase the great actress, Betty Davis, who said, "Getting old isn't for sissies," writing isn't for sissies.


Elizabeth Rose Murray said...

an excellent blog post. I completely agree. it's all trial and error and dedication. Nicely written.

Marisa Birns said...

I agree with you. And manuscripts that go bad aren't mistakes. They're practice, and practice always makes one better!

Thanks for this post.

Oh, here's a quote from Ernest Hemingway: "The first draft of anything is sh*t."


Brian Yansky said...

Thanks Elizabeth and Marisa.