On writing

Writing is in essence rewriting, and that is the trouble with the blank page. To put it slightly differently, what I am asserting is that the activity of writing properly speaking, writing that is more than the unmediated and unreflexive placement of words on a page (automatic writing, email, the world’s everyday business), takes place through editing, that is, it must have raw material in the form of words that are already there. The perversity of this view recalls Derrida’s assertion that writing precedes spoken language, and the logic is the same. Especially for writers, for those accustomed at length to weighing and pruning their words, as a daily discipline, the primacy of editing (though so often acknowledged in accounts of authorship) is likely to be concealed because it first takes place before hand touches pen or pen paper. Coherent sentences flow fully formed, as if dictated, effortless. But like any such process, with long practice, it is partially internalised. Partially.

Thomas Mann put it more succinctly: a writer is someone who finds writing harder than others do.


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