The Draft Is an Anachronism

The prevailing wisdom is that writers ought to write a quick and sloppy first draft and then go back and spin it into gold. This has never worked for me. If I produce a mess, I never want to see it again. I like an empty desk. I like to work on one thing at once. I think the concept of the draft is an anachronism from the time before laptops and word processing software. Or maybe it’s a useful object or valuable totem for less uptight writers.

SARAH MANGUSO

Keep Dialogue in Character

My dialogue is precise. And it’s true. I think out the truth of what the people are saying and why they’re saying it. Dialogue comes because I know what I want my characters to say. I envision the scene; I can imagine them up there on the screen; I try to imagine what they would be saying and how they would be saying it. And I keep it in character. And the dialogue comes out of that.

PADDY CHAYEFSKY

Do What Works

There are so many different kinds of writing and so many ways to work that the only rule is this: do what works. Almost everything has been tried and found to succeed for somebody. The methods, even the idea of successful writers contradict each other in a most heartening way, and the only element I find common to all successful writers is persistence — an overwhelming determination to succeed.

SOPHY BURNHAM

Writing Isn't Meant to Be Sedentary

I spend a good deal of time just in solitude. I’ve always favored studies with a window that looks out into a back lawn, or into some trees, or a garden…. For an enchanted time, I had a window on the 24th floor of an apartment building near NYU, and this was a truly magical interlude, enshrined in the concluding chapters of my next novel, A Book of American Martyrs. A good deal of my imagining time is spent on my feet, however, since I like to walk quickly, and I like to run, whenever possible. Writing isn’t really meant to be a sedentary art, I think. Being in motion is stimulating to the soul.

JOYCE CAROL OATES

Writer's Block Doesn't Exist

Someone asked me the other day about writer’s block. Writer’s block basically doesn’t exist. It’s a way of saying the writing you are trying to do came out so badly you’re not willing to go through with it. So it’s not about being blocked, it’s about being unwilling to persevere with really bad-quality writing. My feeling is you should always go through that, because it’s part and parcel to writing. If you’re digging for gold, you sift a lot of crap.

JOE DUNTHORNE

You Start with Too Much

There is no such thing as somebody sitting down and saying, “Now, all right, I’m going to make a new picture.” Not at all. You have ideas stashed away, dozens of them — good, bad, or indifferent. Then you pull them out of your memory, out of your drawer, you combine them…. People think when it comes to a screenplay you start with absolutely nothing. But the trouble is that you have a million ideas and you have to condense them into a thousand ideas, and you have to condense those into three hundred ideas to get it under one hat, as it were. In other words, you start with too much, not with nothing, and it can go in every kind of direction. Every possible avenue is open. They you have to dramatize it — it is as simple as that — by omitting, by simplifying, by finding a clean theme that leads someplace.

BILLY WILDER

Thou Shalt Preserve the Unities of Time and Place

Thou shalt preserve the unities of time and place, as commended by the High Priest Nicolas Boileau, placing thyself, in imagination, in one time and one place, and distinguishing all others to which thou mayest refer by a proper use of tenses and other forms of speech devised for this purpose; for unless we exploit the distinction between past and pluperfect tenses, and between imperfect and future conditional, we cannot attain perfect limpidity of style and argument.

HUGH TREVOR-ROPER

On Screenwriting

A man sits down at a typewriter with some blank paper on which he types image-describing words, and at a certain point turns around and confronts some four or five hundred people, and trucks and food wagons, airplanes, horses, hotels, roads, cars, lights, all of which he has by some means, untraceable now in its complexity, evoked from nowhere and nothing. Oddly, he ends up with little power over these results of his imagination; they go their own way with not the slightest awareness that they owe their current incarnation to him.

ARTHUR MILLER

No Moral Judgments

When the book is finished I immediately lose interest in the characters. And I never make moral judgments. All I would say is that a person was droll, or gay, or, above all, a bore. Making judgments for or against my characters bores me enormously; it doesn’t interest me at all. The only morality for a novelist is the morality of his esthétique. I write the books, they come to an end, and that’s all that concerns me.

FRANÇOISE SAGAN