On My Method of Writing

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Title: On My Method of Writing is a line from the essay which is officially titled: "Messages From the Beach 2003"
Creator: Anne Rice
Date(s): August 24, 2003
External Links: Messages From the Beach 2003 #2, Archived version
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On My Method of Writingis a 2003 essay by Anne Rice in which Rice talks about the internet as a "Public Record," how fan reviews and comments affect sales, and how she refuses to be edited in any way even by her own actual editor.

Some Topics Discussed

  • perfection
  • Rice's view that her writing shouldn't be edited
  • ego
  • the role of an editor and rough drafts
  • the book "The Queen of the Damned"

Excerpts from the Essay

Do you think that the Internet has created another dimension of what we loosely call The Public Record? Do you feel the multiple sites on the Internet -- the book sales sites which offer reviews of books, the chat rooms, the reviewing magazines which post their reviews, etc. -- do you feel they are creating and shaping a new stream into the Public Record, and do you feel they have given the Public Record new muscularity or vigor?

Of course this question assumes that we already have a Public Record being fed by newspapers and periodicals, and when it comes to books and how they are received, I'm not so sure we have a very accurate public record at all, really.

But let's suppose that we do, and let's suppose that the Internet does feed it, and let's suppose that even this site: AnneRice. com actually feeds it. If that is the case -- for you and for me, and for that Public Record, I want to make some remarks about my methods of writing. If they clarify things for those who are curious, and if they should help anyone who is writing, very good.

On My Method of Writing:

I have been writing most of my adult life, of course, but very steadily since about 1970. It was around that time that short stories, and novellas began to pour out of me, pretty much without cease. And it was in 1973 that Interview with the Vampire poured out, and thereafter I never stopped creating novels, the novel being the natural form for me.

My method of writing is to develop the novel sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph and page by page with heavy rewriting and reshaping and editing as I go along, a method thoroughly developed from the beginning, so that even in the earliest times, while working on an electric typewriter, my office was littered with rejected quarter pages and half pages, and three-quarter length pages until I had the perfected page in order to proceed to the next page.

You might say I was word processing before word processors. But the point is, I never worked in drafts. I never sat down and wrote a "first draft" of anything. I wrote only through slow and polished and highly edited evolution, discarding as I went along until --- by the very end -- I had a completed and polished and deeply thought out and, above all, deeply felt and executed manuscript. One version of that manuscript existed, and nothing more. There was never a sloppy first draft or second draft or third draft.

Now once I was accepted by a publishing house, and I began to make a living from my writing, I did fall into the situation where I would hand in partial manuscripts in order to receive part of an advance payment, but these were not first drafts -- they were versions -- which usually lacked the ending. My editor at that time would give me her comments -- what characters she responded to most, what puzzled her, what she thought was unclear and so forth -- and I would respond to those comments, very often with changes. But what was handed in was never a raw draft. I don't create such drafts. It's unthinkable for me. I can't proceed that way.

And though I am devoted to my editor, I always had mixed feelings about this process of receiving her comments and responding to them.

After the publication of the The Queen of the Damned, I requested of my editor that she not give me anymore comments. I resolved to hand in the manuscripts when they were finished. And asked that she accept them as they were. She was very reluctant, feeling that her input had value, but she agreed to my wishes. I asked this due to my highly critical relationship with my work and my intense evolutionary work on every sentence in the work, my feeling for the rhythm of the phrase and the unfolding of the plot and the character development. I felt that I could not bring to perfection what I saw unless I did it alone. In othe words, what I had to offer had to be offered in isolation. So all novels published after The Queen of the Damned were written by me in this pure fashion, my editor thereafter functioning as my mentor and guardian.

As always, I continued to work with immense focus, critically editing and polishing the words, only proceeding in the work until I felt that the most had been exacted from each element, editing and re-editing the words with enormous scrutiny and exactitude. Naturally, when I had switched from typewriter to computer around 1983 or so, I took to the computer very well, and this aided me in moving back and forth through the chapters, perfecting them, bringing them closer and closer to my ideal of what they could be, and sharpening and honing them into what I wanted.

But never were drafts of anything produced. My methods would never allowed for anything so sloppy to have been done. I'm too compulsive for that method. I understand why it might work for another person, but I must control the manuscript much more tightly. By the time I reach the last paragraph of a book, everything else is in line behind it, and giving birth to that last paragraph. I go back and back over that last paragraph countless times, getting up out of bed in the middle of the night to go in and redo that last paragraph, but all the rest is polished and edited right down to the last. And then the completed version goes off to the publisher.

That is my method.

Why am I telling you? Perhaps to assure you -- those of you who might want to know -- that the writing you are reading is quite deliberate, that it is informed and it is conscious, as well as being the result of intuition. It is the result of all that I am -- my education, my mystic sensibilities, and the student in me. It is poured out fearlessly, and then edited, and re-edited, and subjected to merciless scrutiny. It represents, and always has, my finest efforts.

Because I am viewed in some circles as a "popular writer," some of my most experimental work is some times dismissed with amazing laziness and derision. To experiment with the novel form has always been important to me. "Breaking the Frame" was one of the main themes in 20th century literature as many of you well know. I greatly respected Thornton Wilder for his revolutionary play Our Town, which did this in theater, and other works which did this are legion. That most of my readers love this -- Lestat's shattering the illusion of the novel -- makes me happy.

That's the process. There are no drafts. There is intensive editing. And that's the way it is. You are not presented with a single sentence that has not been read and re-read, and read again and again.

You are not presented with anything that is not the culmation of what ever I may possess in the way of talent and will. There you have it. And I thank you for bearing with me. I think this is enough for now. A novel yet unwritten is calling to me. Keep sending me your messages. I receive transcripts of your phone messages here from New Orleans. I send you my love.