Paul Thomas Anderson (born in 1970) is one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation. Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, and Phantom Thread are five of my favorite films of all time. And lucky us, because he’s provided great quotes over the years to inspire your writing.
Here are five of them!
1. Writing is like ironing. You move forward a little bit and go back and smooth things out.
This is absolutely true. Writing is like ironing in a way. You move forward, find some progress, get your words down however long the writing piece is, then you go back and smooth everything out in revisions. Sometimes you have to smooth things out only a little bit. Sometimes you have to smooth things out a lot. The important thing is doing lots and lots of both to find your ultimate success.
2. I don’t miss scenes at all the way that I used to miss them when I was younger. It’s actually quite fun to get rid of them now.
The first time you ever have a cut a scene of your novel, you might feel sick for hours afterward. I know I was every time I cut something substantial from those first few books. All that work… gone forever. That wonderful writing… gone forever. But as you get older, and you write more and more novels, cutting scenes or chapters doesn’t hurt as much. Because you know you’re doing the necessary work to make your manuscript its best.
3. It’s a gamble you take, the risk of alienating an audience. But there’s a theory — sometimes it’s better to confuse them for five minutes than let them get ahead of you for 10 seconds.
I’d never heard this quote before, and I kind of love it. It’s better to confuse an audience (or in my case, a reader) for a few pages than to let him or her get ahead of you for lots of pages. That, to me, is one of the kisses of death in a novel. If I see exactly where the story is going three chapters ahead. As a reader myself, I’d rather be confused for a few pages than know where the story is going. It’s something I’ll keep in the back of my mind as I write my next novel.
4. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that every time you go to make a film, you’re desperate to either do it better than you did it last time or to not repeat yourself.
This is one of the hardest things about being a novelist, especially when you’re like me and you’re attempting your twentieth novel this summer. I can’t handle failure anymore. I can’t handle writing another book that might be mediocre or disappointing. From here on out I want my work to be better than anything I’ve written before, and with that mentality, of course, comes a level of panic and anxiety. I messed up on my nineteenth novel a few months back and have had to work hard in revisions to make it right.
I want the twentieth book to be great, better than any novel I’ve written before, without repeating anything I’ve ever done before! But I can’t possibly write something good thinking like this when I’m drafting. And you shouldn’t either. Just do your absolute damn best every time you write a book or a short story. And then see what happens.
5. I am always looking for that nuance, that moment of truth, and you can’t really do that fast.
I’m a big believer in two things. First, you should write the first draft of your novel or short story fast. Truly faster than you ever thought possible. Certainly do the preparation before you get started. Write character bios. Write an outline. Have a strong understanding of where the novel begins, where it goes, and how it ends. (You can change these things later, but at least have some idea before you start writing the first sentence.)
Second, after you’ve let the manuscript rest for awhile, you should start your second draft… and slow down. Fix any big problems you see, sure, but you also need to go slow so that you are able to designate and finesse those moments of nuance and truth. Revise too fast and you’ll never find them, never bring them to the surface.
So try it next time you take on a writing project. Write the first draft fast, and then revise slowly. It’ll help your writing considerably, I guarantee it!