What Would Jane Austen Do?

The other day I was typing in what I have been writing in long hand and was worrying about how my characters didn’t seem very fleshed out and how very much I was letting my book down and that if I didn’t immediately go and retrain as a plumber my life will have been in vain.

You know. One of those days.

But then I came upon an essay about Jane Austen.

It is by Judith Lee from Rutgers University about Virginia Woolf and her thoughts about Jane Austen.

This is Virginia Woolf describing Jane Austen’s process of revision:

“To begin with, the stiffness and the barreness of the first chapters prove that she was one of those writers who lay their facts out rather badly in the first version and then go back and back and back and cover them with flesh and atmosphere. How it would have been done we cannot say – by what suppressions and insertions and artful devices … [W]hat pages of preliminary drudgery Jane Austen forced her pen to go through. Here we perceive that she was no conjurer after all. Like other writers, she had to create the atmosphere in which her own peculiar genius could bear fruit. Here she fumbles; here she keeps us waiting. Suddenly she has done it; now things can happen as she likes things to happen.”


So firsts drafts are hard for even the likes of Jane Austen? So good to know. Now excuse me while I get back to mine.

Oh, word count 5500 ish.

But hey, even Jane had off weeks.

photo by Johnsoax (flickr)


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4 responses to “What Would Jane Austen Do?

  1. Your timing with these posts is as perfect as usual. I just went over my first chapters, and ugh. It’s comforting to know that even Jane Austen had nad drafts.

    (about 3,050 words this week, but I didn’t keep ’em all . . . )

  2. ninakillham

    Hey, Sarah, yes, it was a huge comfort to me. Yet I can’t shake this sneaking suspicion that hers couldn’t have been as bad as mine… 🙂

  3. Victor schonfeld

    This helps me too, Nina. Plus the reminder about the benefits of writing long hand. My fountain pen shuts down my inner critic, or at least blindfolds him for a while, but I still struggle to ignore his urgings that I transcribe and rewrite before I should.

  4. ninakillham

    Hi, Victor, thanks for writing. Yes, I find long hand does seem to blunt the self-criticism a bit. Maybe because it’s all more languid, sitting in an armchair, talk/writing to myself….

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