Monday, November 17, 2008

revisions

Last week, I went to see Toni Morrison give a reading from her new novel, A Mercy. (I think I might have mentioned I kinda worship Toni Morrison.)

The interlocutor, Fran Lebowitz, told a little story about A Mercy. A year ago, she said, her friend Toni had forwarded her a copy of the rough manuscript, and she'd read it. Last month, Fran found out that she's be moderating this discussion, so she called Toni and asked if she should reread the finished version.

"Oh definitely!" said Toni. "I completely rewrote it."

So Fran reread it, and called Toni back. She was confused. She'd been expecting a catastrophic rewrite, and missed it. What exactly had Toni changed?

"Seventeen words," said Toni.

Working on my own revisions right now, I only have one thing to say. Toni,

I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN.

21 comments:

Nancy H. said...

Yes, yes, yes. Good to know others feel that way too about the "minor" revisions they do!

Christy Raedeke said...

Being in the midst of a revision right now, I’m not sure if this is a balm or an irritant…

Nevertheless, Toni is amazing.

Precie said...

LOL!

1) Have you read it yet? I'm waiting for a trusted review. :)

2) Yup, every word is that important. :) Fun, huh?

Kate Lord Brown said...

Oh wow - do miss (post kids) being able to go to grown up things like this. 17 words. *Awe* ... imagine getting it that right.

Julie Weathers said...

Sigh, seventeen words? I change that many in one sentence.

Unded, what an appropriate verification word. Maybe it's a sign I should be writing about zombies.

Briane P said...

I'd love to see which seventeen words they were, wouldn't you?

beth said...

Love that. Seriously. I totally get that.

Crimogenic said...

Words of a master writer at play...

Cool.

I agree with Julie Weathers, when she says "change that many in one sentence". Amen.

ggwritespoetry said...

Oh, I so get Toni... especially in poetry... sometimes two or three words make a world of difference... and I fret about each one...

Natalie said...

Seventeen words can make a big difference, it's true. I find it interesting that we can stress over over those words...but then someone else won't even notice!

Justus M. Bowman said...

Julie,

I feel the same as you do about revising, but my book includes some zombie action. They're too awesome to avoid!

Anonymous said...

Revision questions---not quite 17 words, but about 4 that are driving me NUTS. Everything I've read says NEVER use a cliche in your writing. Never, never, never. But in my first draft of my WIP I used one at the end of a very heavy (emotionally) para and thought I would come back to it. Now that I am "back to it" I find that everything I try to replace it with sounds contrived. Opinions, please. Is inclusion of a cliche, especially in first few paragraphs an automatic sentence to permanent slush????

Ali said...

OK, who counts words changed over the course of a manuscript? (I know: Toni Morrison. Got it.)

Anon., I think it'd depend on what the cliche is and whether you're writing in a character's voice. I mean, are we talking "It was raining cats and dogs," or more along the lines of "she was the light of my life?"

Anonymous said...

We're talking "old habits die hard" in deep POV prose, but not dialogue.
Thanks!

Ali said...

In that case, I think you can use the cliche, as long as you give it an add-on of some sort to make it belong to your unique narrative voice. Examples that would work with a narrator with a dry sense of humor: "Old habits die hard. With luck, they're reincarnated as quirks." Or, "Old habits don't die hard. They desperately cling to life, long after the doctor pulls the plug."

nancydrew212 said...

oh, to be Toni Morrison...

ChristaCarol said...

I giggled at this. I'm just looking forward to being in the revision process again :P

Whirlochre said...

Maybe she's working her way towards seventeen syllables...

amybai said...

Hooo boy, did I ever identify with this.

Sadly, I hit 17 words on page 1, I think before I left the 2nd paragraph.

150 said...

Oscar Wilde: I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.

Beth Partin said...

I love Toni Morrison too. But only 17 words? Maybe she's always written that way...

I love the Oscar Wilde quote. Revising poetry can really drive you crazy.