Surprising, Edifying and Reassuring,
This review is from: A Piece of Work: Five Writers Discuss Their Revisions (Paperback)
I came to this book circuitously through a Professor in economics, Deirdre McCloskey. She refers to it in her book Economical Writing when she tries to encourage prospective economists and other writers to revise, revise, revise. Having done so, she recommended the book as a window into the ways in which 'acclaimed' writers revise their work. I found a second hand copy of the book and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
In the book, Woodruff interviews five writers: Tobias Wolff, Joyce Carol Oates, Tess Gallagher, Robert Coles and Donald Hall. Woodruff selects a work or several works from each writer, interviews the writer and discusses their work. He also presents the drafts and revisions that the writer went through while doing the work. Moreover, in the case of Donald Hall the reader is also privy to the letters from the New Yorker editor that he received about the poem under discussion. I found the book fascinating, edifying and reassuring. For whatever reason, I thought Oates's interview the least interesting because she seemed to evade questions and respond oddly to Woodruff's interview, whereas Tess Gallagher's was a trove of insights and Robert Coles's was fun and reassuring.
In all, I'd say I felt reassured by the interviews, mainly because (at the time of this review) I am writing my dissertation and consistently confronted with the prospect of tinkering with what I've written, trying to revise it for clarity, and trying to improve it as much as possible before my eventual hand-in. The challenges that the writers reported in their interviews, both in terms of producing the work from the outset and editing it after its genesis made me feel quite relieved and reassured about my own place as a 'writer' of a PhD and as someone moving into a career where writing will be such an intrinsic part of what I do. I hope that I can do justice to my reading of the book and produce decent work in the future. To do so, I shall revise, revise, revise. Wish me luck. Read it and maybe you won't need any.
I gave the book 4 stars rather than 5 simply because of Oate's interview and her apparent evasiveness (or something else that I can't comprehend). Maybe her inclusion was meant to show just that kind of response. Nevertheless, I wish she could have shared more and been slightly less evasive.
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