I am always fascinated to discover how authors I admire approach the process of editing and revising their work. Here are some thoughts on the subject by Tobias Wolff. As well as producing short stories, novels and volumes of memoir, Wolff lectures in creative writing, which makes his observations on the craft both practical and inspiring. I particularly enjoyed his comments on his relationship with Raymond Carver and his account of Frank O’Connor’s endless tweaking of his stories, even after publication. Follow the links after the quotes below to the full interviews. 

“I revise constantly as I’m writing . . . These are not holy texts. This isn’t the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is work that as long as it’s available to me to make better, I will.”

“I think you almost do have to cultivate a kind of split identity as a writer. One, you have to be this free spirit who allows the work to come out and not to be critical of yourself too much when you’re writing or you’ll paralyze yourself, constipate yourself. And then after it’s down, you have to become this cold-eyed editor who hates you and wants to find fault with your work. You consider every sentence guilty until proven innocent.” (Panhandler magazine)

“I’ve always had very good experiences with my editors . . . I find it immensely helpful to be given different ways of looking at something I’ve done . . . I guess the point is, as you go on in this life you become aware of the folly of thinking you did something all by yourself. We’re held up by others all along the way.” (Paris Review)

“I don’t think that anyone can be taught to be a writer. Absolutely not . . . What you can do is help people become good editors of their own work . . . I can think of no better way, in fact, to learn to appreciate the complexity and infinite possibilities of literature than to try to write some yourself.” (Missouri Review)

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