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Nothing Wrong With a Quickie

September 18, 2012

S.J. Perelman, the legendary humorist, considered it a good day when he could finish writing one page. Most days were spent on a single paragraph. He believed that easy writing makes for hard reading.

He’s one of the writers I admire most, but I never subscribed to his theory that a sentence written quickly probably wasn’t good, or one that was labored over was necessarily great.

While writing “The Champagne Ladies,” I’d sometimes meet my daily quota of words within an hour, read what I’d written the next day, and think: pretty damn good. Nothing superfluous, everything advancing the story and characters.

I reached a point in the book where I wanted to depict the character Ben Podlowski seeing a girl he had a crush on with another guy. The scene where poor Ben, heartbroken, lies on his bed at night, listening to a sad song on the radio about lost love, trying to convince himself that everything was OK and someday he’d find a girlfriend, took up two pages (about 500 words). I spent four hours writing them, another hour rewriting, and marveled at how I had captured Ben’s despair.

During a revision I read the scene and thought: What the hell was I thinking? This has no place in the book. It’s not in character, it doesn’t add anything to the theme or story.

It took me two seconds to delete five hours of work.

Writing quickly or slowly is not the issue. It’s what you write quickly or slowly that matters. I toiled five hours to produce what amounted to a load of crap. Other times I worked an hour to produce something I was proud of.

Staying focused on plot and character is the key.

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