George Saunders on Presence and Revision

I read books on writing in waves, gleaning what I can and moving on to get to the business of actually writing. I’ve been reading fewer of these kinds of books as of late, which I suppose is inevitable as you see the same advice and methods recycled in different ways.

I’m definitely the kind of writer that bangs out drafts and then revises. A lot. I need ideas to work with because I don’t drop perfectly formed sentences, paragraphs and stories from my mind from the get go.

I guess you could say I manufacture my own clay. It’s the lumpiest, crudest clay there is, but it’s something to work with. It’s not just editing either, it’s the thinking about, the forgetting and the remembering. As my old painting contractor boss said about my painting technique, I work sporadically. There’s no steady flow. Even the first draft comes in fits and starts, with lots of rethinking, reorganizing, cutting and adding.

Early on, it’s hard to tell if it’s all going to work out, but with each pass, things begin to take shape and more presence emerges.

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