Lessons from the Lives of Writers: Robert Louis Stevenson

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For the remainder of the summer, we will be addressing writing topics—such as rewriting, criticism, etc.—through anecdotal evidence. After all, while it’s nice to discuss topics theoretically, it’s much more interesting to learn about how real writers tackled different issues. The first case study is Scottish Victorian author and globetrotter, Robert Louis Stevenson.

During the December of 1885, Stevenson had a nightmare that chilled him to the core. It took him back to his days as university student in Edinborough where he’d been a model student by day and an experiencer of life by night. In the dream, however, Stevenson was not one person living a double life, but physically two people, living two lives—a metamorphosis made possible by ingesting a chemical compound.

The moment Stevenson woke—his dream still burning in his mind—he began to write. Three days of feverish writing later, he completed the first draft of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

This is where things get interesting. Stevenson asked his wife Fanny to read the finished draft, wanting to receive her input. And her judgment was anything but encouraging. Fanny declared the story to be simply horrible and that it meant nothing. Accepting her evaluation, Stevenson promptly threw the draft into the fire.

Since we all know the story of Jekyll and Hyde, we can assume that Stevenson did not give up on his dream story even after incinerating the first draft. Almost immediately, Stevenson set to work again. This new draft was finished four days later. And three days after that, he completed the final revisions as his publisher began preparing for a January debut of the novella.

And the rest, as they say, was history. Jekyll and Hyde became an instant popular and critical success, which continues to define our notions of monstrosity to this day. All because Stevenson listened to some harsh criticism and refused to give up.

But what do you think?

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6 thoughts on “Lessons from the Lives of Writers: Robert Louis Stevenson

  1. To those who practice such, it might, but let’s view things from this angle, I have X amount of energy to be a better writer, why waste part of it beefing another writer, why not learn something from him/her to make what I know better?

    Liked by 1 person

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