Kidder and Fitzgerald for the assist

I just read GOOD PROSE: THE ART OF NONFICTION by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. As the cover says, it is “Stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing.” I highly recommend this wise and funny book.

goodprose-coverThere are many gems scattered throughout (and not just for nonfiction writers, but anyone who loves playing with words), and one has been in the front of my brain since reading it:

I remember in college reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Last Tycoon and studying a note that he left in the manuscript: “Rewrite from mood. Has become stilted with rewriting. Don’t look — rewrite from mood.” I reread those lines so often, trying to understand them, that they stuck in my memory. Fitzgerald knew that there are at least two kinds of rewriting. The first is trying to fix what you’ve already written, but doing this can keep you from facing up to the second kind, from figuring out the essential thing you’re trying to do and looking for better ways to tell your story. If Fitzgerald had been advising a young writer and not himself, he might have said, “Rewrite from principle,” or “Don’t just push the same old stuff around. Throw it away and start over.”

I’m getting close to The End (of this draft) of my YA project, and very much appreciate Mr. Kidder sharing Mr. Fitzgerald’s wisdom with me. Maybe it will reach someone else who needs it now.