George Saunders, on what writers really do when they write:
When I write, “Bob was an asshole,” and then, feeling this perhaps somewhat lacking in specificity, revise it to read, “Bob snapped impatiently at the barista,” then ask myself, seeking yet more specificity, why Bob might have done that, and revise to, “Bob snapped impatiently at the young barista, who reminded him of his dead wife,” and then pause and add, “who he missed so much, especially now, at Christmas,” — I didn’t make that series of changes because I wanted the story to be more compassionate. I did it because I wanted it to be less lame.
Iteration is the lifeblood of good art and good design. But as many, and now Saunders, have observed, iteration doesn’t always make things longer or more complicated:
I write, “Jane came into the room and sat down on the blue couch,” read that, wince, cross out “came into the room” and “down” and “blue” (Why does she have to come into the room? Can someone sit UP on a couch? Why do we care if it’s blue?) and the sentence becomes “Jane sat on the couch — ” and suddenly, it’s better (Hemingwayesque, even!), although…why is it meaningful for Jane to sit on a couch? Do we really need that? And soon we have arrived, simply, at “Jane”, which at least doesn’t suck, and has the virtue of brevity.