A Thousand Words To Create One Sentence

They tell a story of when the novelist Thomas Wolfe  lived in New York on First Avenue. Late one night the writer Nancy Hale, who lived on East 49th Street near Third Avenue, heard a kind of chant, which grew louder. She got up and looked out of the window at two or three in the morning and there was the great figure of Thomas Wolfe, advancing in his long countryman’s stride, with his swaying black raincoat, and what he was chanting was, “I wrote ten thousand words today – I wrote ten thousand words today.”

Well, wait until his editor Maxwell Perkins got hold of it!

Maxwell Perkins would arrive at Wolfe’s Village apartment, where Wolfe wrote standing up, using the top of the refrigerator as his desk, and Perkins would take boxes of handwritten prose away, saying, “you’re done now.” Perkins would then shape the material in a novel, much like an artist might turn stone into art.

Perkins also was the editor of Hemingway. Now, Hemingway wrote 50 words a day when the writing was “going good” as he would say. Hemingway was also a great self-editor.

Here is what Hemingway wrote to Maxwell Perkins in 1945, “It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics.”

See, Lincoln was our first minimalist writer.

One last comment on writing, this one on how difficult it is to write if you’re serious about it. Once the fine novelist and short story writer John O’Hara [Appointment in Samarra, From The Terrace] was asked what he wrote that day and he replied, “Well, this morning I put in a comma, and this afternoon I took it out.”

Keep writing. Or better yet, keep editing

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