Marilynne Robinson writes her books, she does no revision. She writes from the first sentence of the first chapter, and if she gets to chapter six, 250 pages in, and she finds it’s not working, she throws the entire draft out and starts again. Now, if I had to do that, I’d be a plumber. I mean I have to do it the way that Tinkers — which is just like writing little bits and pieces on receipts from book stores and napkins — and kind of clawing and tearing and then kind of collage-ing it together and gluing and stapling it and then ripping it apart and putting it back together, and rewriting everything a 100,000 times.1
That is incredibly inefficient, but through that process of continual distillation and revision, something like the vision of the book begins to emerge out of that — physicist call — they call it emergent properties. The more complicated a system becomes, the more properties that could not have been theoretically anticipated arise out of the interactions of the elements of the system. And to me, that’s one of the reasons why I write, is just to have things come up that I never could have thought up on my own.