The joys of Twitter with Elizabeth McCracken

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a series of tweets collected by Elizabeth McCracken….

Who is Elizabeth McCracken and how did she get to be so smart (and so funny)?

I “met” her last week via Twitter, and have since learned that she holds the James Michener Chair of Fiction of the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. She and her husband, novelist Edward Carey, were previously on the faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. And she is the author of a number of well received books, including: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination (2008) and Thunderstruck (2014).

But my subject today is a collection of tweets after she posted the following “open letter” on Twitter:

Dear published novelists. I (& my grad students) have a question. What is the BIGGEST change you’ve made to a novel in progress, from first draft to last? By which I mean: did you change setting? Time period? Narrator? The thing that would surprise a reader to know it was not always so in the book.

It may take you an hour to scroll through the almost endless list of replies but it is worth the time to read this heartbreaking and awe-inspiring treasure-trove. One of my favourite replies came from the American novelist J. Courtney Sullivan who said she had, “Spent 2 years and 600 pages writing the story of a woman’s wake and funeral. Then realized I needed her to be alive for the book to work.”

My next favourite reply was from British novelist Simon Edge who reported he, “Turn[ed] a gloomy novel about Gerard Manley Hopkins, the drowned object of his desire and five shipwrecked nuns into a comedy.” The book is called The Hopkins Conundrum and I think I’m going to have to read it.

Great thanks to my friend and colleague Hester for having sent this fascinating thread my way.