Thursday, October 10, 2013

Runny Writing

I really enjoyed this post from Alison Flood at The Guardian about Dickens' original, handwritten draft of Great Expectations. I think it provides a prime example of how authors can focus on getting the story out first and worry about the finer details later. Great Expectations, of course, is an oft-taught classic by one of the most highly esteemed English authors who's ever lived. Seeing the sloppy writing crash into the margins, spelling out many sentences that didn't make it into the final draft is key evidence that great writing is the product of great editing.

Photo of Great Expectations manuscript courtesy of Cambridge University Press.
So fret not about getting it right the first time: no one's holding you to a hole-in-one standard. Just pace yourself and be aware of the amount of work that will be required in the long run. Oh, good, a metaphor! Let's explore:

Publishing is a marathon. It's a long way from start to finish. Great writers, like great runners, know the race is won through pacing, stamina, and support, not just a big, long burst of speed. Many books are begun with an epiphanic explosion of inspiration in which the writer leaps from a standstill into a dozen-page-at-a-time writing trance. Some people finish books still in this trance, but most never make it into the third chapter. The thing about publishing, though, is that it encompasses so much more than just writing. It requires revisions and editing, soliciting, a platform, marketing, distribution, formatting, and a plethora of other tasks depending on the publication in question. Losing steam in those later, tedious stages can result in just as much of a failure as giving up fresh out of the gate: crossing the finish line is the only goal that counts.


  1. These are words I need to live by. Word by word, it will be done. Thank you for sharing. If the greatest were not perfect, I should check my perfection tendency at the door. It only gets in the way.

  2. Preach it! Bridge-builders and surgeons have to get it right the first time; the rest of us have the luxury of unpublished drafts. :)