For many people aspiring to do anything, the wait for a big break can seem eternal. Author Rick Moody’s advice to recipients of the 2009 Scholastic Awards was: “Be patient.”
Rick Moody: If I had one bit of advice for all younger writers, all beginning writers, all apprentice writers, that advice would be as follows: be patient. There’s no rush. When I was writing my first novel I was still working at Farrar, Straus & Giroux in New York City, my boss, the estimable editor in chief at that particular house (himself a poet), and I were once talking about writing and trying to edit at the same time, and how work inevitably took a toll on the writing. My boss pointed out that if it took six years to write my novel what difference did that make? At 28 years old, I felt like it made a lot of difference. I was young, and I had a schedule. I was wrong, it seems to me now, to be so hasty. It’s the patience that confers on the prose work the commitment that it needs.
In this regard, it’s important to build into the process of redrafting the kind of resolution that you only get from ruminating on the work. There’s no rush! The world is not going to be made better by your story or essay or novel if you get it done this week as opposed to three weeks from now, or in six months, or in six years. The way I make certain to build in a cooling off period with the work is to work on multiple pieces at a time. I put one draft in a drawer for a little while I work on something else. When I’m ready, I turn my attention back to the prior piece, and, upon improving it, I return it to the drawer. In this way, I am not preoccupied with the charms of work. I am not the indulgent parent, the crushed-out romantic.
Taken to its conclusion, this approach suggests that the typewriter was the superior writing tool. I loved my IBM Selectric II. I got really good with that correcting key. The IBM Selectric II forced me to retype all the drafts. This allowed me to rethink every sentence. You had better really want that change, if you’re going to go to all the trouble. Word processing does just the opposite. It adores haste, it adores capricious, whimsical edits.
I often think that I can tell which books have never been printed out on 8 ½ x 11 paper, but have, rather, gone straight from word processor to book. There’s an insularity to that virtual prose. It might have been banged into shape by editor and copyeditor, but it has never lived and breathed, nor been pronounced, nor had things crossed out and rewritten. It’s like the new ring binder, which has had, so far, not even one assignment filed within.
–Excerpted from The Art of Revision