For the first in this series of looking at quotes from others I’ve picked two to unpack.
“It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly” and “The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written”
“It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly” (C J Cherryh)
Well, OK in a literal sense but what a waste of time. If you really take no trouble then that initial garbage might be as troublesome to ‘edit brilliantly’ as a blank piece of paper. There’s something here though. Stretching it the other way, the advice not to keep on polishing the current sentence until it’s perfect, but to plough on until the rough draft is complete, is not bad advice.
Some writers would polish and polish and never get to paragraph two. JRR Tolkien almost didn’t let go of The Lord of the Rings because it wasn’t perfect. Some writers naturally polish as they draft and get the balance right. Valerie Wood rarely rewrites anything once she’s reached the end and she’s written enough books to be able to say it’s a successful technique for her.
Personally, I wouldn’t write garbage unless I was setting out to write garbage (for reasons of my own that are irrelevant here but might generate a new blog at some point). It might not be polished prose but I make sure that what I’ve written – scene, chapter, paragraph – is going in the right direction, before I go on. If I don’t do that, I know I might be led into a dead end from which I will have to do a lot of unwinding and rewriting.
I probably hold the record for the most times that a 100k word novel has been rewritten from scratch (for reasons that would make yet another blog some other time) but I’d never walk into that trap by choice.
“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written” (Joyce Carol Oates)
Let’s be literal about this. Er ... yes it can. I’ve done it and I tend to plot my books before I write them, but I know plenty of successful authors who write by the seat of their pants and leap into a new venture solely on the basis of a good opening gambit and with no idea where it will lead.
Is there something in this? Does the act of finishing a book and later going back over the draft lead to a better opening? Does knowing the detail of the way it ends mean that a crisper opening sentence can be crafted? Maybe... sometimes... It’s always worth a look. But... the first sentence *can’t* be written until the final sentence is written? Nah, sorry.
I might be missing a philosophical gem here but I’m sending that quote to the trash can.