Diana Athill was born 21 December 1917 and died 23 January 2019.
Diana Athill – On Writing
- Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear).
- Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no inessential words can every essential word be made to count.
- You don’t always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they’d be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it’s the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)
‘My flat is small, so I work on the table in the living-room. I always scribble first drafts in longhand, then type on my laptop, print out, revise, re-type, scribble next bit and repeat process, hoping that the final print-out of the whole won’t need revision, but it usually does.
Something that has always surprised me about other people’s work habits is how often they chose to have their desks by a window looking onto an agreeable view. For me that would be fatal. I can shut out some distractions when working, but not the temptation to watch what’s going on out of doors.’
Diana Athill was a British literary editor, novelist and memoirist who worked with some of the most important writers of the 20th century. Her books include An Unavoidable Delay, a collection of short stories and two ‘documentary’ books After a Funeral and Make Believe. Stet: An Editor’s Life is a memoir of Diana Athill’s fifty-year career in publishing. Granta has also reissued a memoir Instead of a Letter and her only novel Don’t Look at Me Like That.
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