Thank Heavens for Second Drafts

Still at work on The Secret Language of Money, and I unexpectedly found the opportunity to employ a few more of my favorite quotes on writing. Dave Krueger, my coauthor, is writing about a remarkable study in the UK on how varying one’s habitual ways of doing almost anything can lead to all sorts of positive changes in other, unrelated aspects of one’s life. In the study, people did things like read different books and act more extroverted, or more introverted, than they normally would, and they ended up losing weight—even though they weren’t trying to—and keeping it off even months after the study was over. I was editing along like a good boy, and all at once my fingers took off on their own again. (Those pesky little digits.) Here’s what they typed: E.B. White, Pulitzer Prize–winning editor of the classic writing handbook The Elements of Style and author of such beloved children’s books as Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, wrote a single sentence about writing that has served as a lifeline for every writer that followed: “The best writing is rewriting.” Ernest Hemingway put it a little more bluntly: “The first draft of anything is crap.” Though expressed differently, both statements mean essentially the same thing: you don’t have to get it right the first time. And thank heavens: because this is true not only for novels and short stories, but also for the chapters of your life. Another writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, once said that in the process of creating good writing, you have to “murder your darlings.” Sometimes the aspects of ourselves that we most need...

Up from the Abysm of Pish

Yesterday was Inauguration Day, and we heard some fine speechifying. I thought I’d honor the day by collecting some of my favorite quotes on writing and including them here. Given that we now have a president known for his eloquence, it seemed appropriate to include as the caboose on this train of thought some soaring prose on Warren Harding, one of our least eloquent. “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.” — Mark Twain “Writing is easy. All you have to do is stare at a blank piece of paper until beads of blood start to form on your forehead.” — attributed to the late Jeff MacNeilly, cartoonist-author of Shoe “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” — W. Somerset Maugham “I write to find out what I think.” — Joan Didion “Yesterday Mr. Hall wrote that the printer’s proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me, and I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray.” — Mark Twain (from an 1889 letter to a friend) “I love writing but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, ‘You may have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over, giftless. I’m not your agent and I’m not your mommy, I’m a white piece of paper, you wanna dance with me?’” — Aaron Sorkin “He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me...