Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fifteen minutes

A few posts ago, Vicki and Charles experimented with writing their blogs in fifteen minutes. Yikes, I thought, that would be tough. I’ve always quoted Justice Brandeis, “There is no great writing, only great rewriting.”

I believe this adage, but I have a hunch not everyone cleaves to it as I do. How do news reporters handle deadlines? They fire off their comments in less than fifteen. I know, some reports look as if they should have spent more time, but not all. Many of them are eloquent.

Do the writers of the analytical essays on the front page of the Sunday New York Times pull their pieces together in fifteen minutes? Even considering that all the research was organized before the reporter sat down at her/his keyboard? I have my doubts. I’m not talking about the pithy news items that cover the basic who, what, when, where, and why in a few inches of column space. I'm referring to fascinating pieces like the one in last Sunday’s NYT that covered maternity care in impoverished Tanzania. Riveting material, and if author Denise Grady put that together in fifteen, I am awed. It would have taken me a week at least.

What about novels? Years ago, I heard Lawrence Block say that he never outlines, and he rarely rewrites. A few other authors have echoed his methods, and their professed abilities amaze me. (If you believe them. I believed Block.)

I rewrite. Again and again. I also outline, but we’ve covered that topic. Part of my writing is discovery. I know the story I want to tell, but the unexpected recurs. (His father was murdered when he was fifteen?! Hmmm, that wasn’t in the outline, but it explains his idiosyncrasies.) And when do I reveal this life-changing fact? No, not now—just deal with his paranoia. Even he doesn’t recognize the full impact of that event. And on I go, backtracking, making notes, inserting tidbits.

So much of life, let alone writing, reflects a mental outlook. I don’t want to give up my sense of discovery, so I’m probably not going to change my process. Though I would like to be more organized!

P.S. This took me 38 minutes. I had to go dig through the recycling box for Sunday’s paper and check the article to see if it was as I remembered. It was better, actually. Does this count in my writing time? It’s research!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm a rewriter, too. Sometimes I write passages that don't need a whole lot of work, but I still end up tinkering with them. I think most creative writers like rewriting because they decide later on that they want their story to go in a different direction. Journalists, of course, don't do that (not usually, anyway! :) )

Mystery Writing is Murder

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

It's good to hear I'm not alone! Sometimes I feel like my ideas need to be herded onto a coherent path.