Sunday, November 4, 2012



I was going to write about writer’s angst today, but when I Googled thatMy Photo subject, I ran across such a marvelous blog by author Lynda Beck Fenwick, headed “Writer’s Angst,” that I felt compelled to address the issue of re-writing (which is as good a way of introducing angst as any).

Her angst, in fact, does seem to have been brought on by the need to re-write—and she includes some telling quotes on the subject. In fact, all the quotes on writing in this piece were selected by her. She is a talented woman.

Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short. 

Henry David Thoreau.

The simple truth is that although some people have the facility to write a totally acceptable draft the first time around, most of us do not – and here I include myself. Enter re-writing, something I used to hate, but have now learned to enjoy. Quite how one can enjoy eviscerating one’s own work is a good question, but it appears that masochism needs to be part of a writer’s make-up. In fact, some would argue that writers—by definition—are a pretty screwed up lot, but I prefer adjectives like “creative,” and “complex.” They mean much the same thing, but they are more socially acceptable. “Moody”—needless to say—goes without question. Living with angst would make anyone moody.

Some say that living with a writer—and his or her moods—tends to make one equally prone to angst; but (let me cross my fingers here) I tend towards the view that our talent and charm compensates…

To re-write successfully, you have to be able to criticize your own work (a somewhat unnatural act initially). Of course the logical compensation  should be that you can praise your own work as well—with a clear conscience—but personally I have never been able to take matters that far. Clearly my ego needs further cultivating (though others might disagree).  I shall get to work on that task quam celerime. The latter is one of the few phrases I recall from my school Latin, and it was beloved of Julius Caesar. Indeed, it reflected his military style. It means: “As quickly as possible.” The man was a veritable dynamo.

An essential element for good writing is a good ear.  One must listen to the sound of one's own prose. 

Barbara Tuchman 

This is exceptionally good advice—though I don’t actually read my own work out loud. But I read it in my mind as if I was doing just that—sometimes again and again—and find the process vastly helpful. Good writing should have a rhythm, and if it has not, something is not kosher. If the latter is the case, here is what Colette says: author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it. 


The woman sounds like someone you would not want to meet in a dark alley, but perhaps she was exaggerating to make a point. Frankly, I think “destroy most of it” is a little extreme, but the important thing is to do whatever is necessary so that your writing reaches the point where it works.

“It works,” by the way, is high praise in this business; and, if uttered by an editor, is normally accompanied by a pained face and said in a strangulated manner. Editors hate saying nice things to writers. It offends the Editors Code and erodes their sense of power. Editors all have Napoleonic complexes.

Books aren't written, they're rewritten.  Including your own.  It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it... 

Michael Crichton

Here endeth the lesson.


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