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This question is spurred by some quotes I found connected to George Lucas and the creation/writing of Star Wars that I used in this answer on the “Movies & TV” Stack Exchange site. Specifically this line which I believe comes from a 1974 interview with George Lucas on page 18 of Sally Kline’s 1999 book, George Lucas: Interviews; bold emphasis is mine:

“But I don’t have a natural talent for writing. When I sit down I bleed on the page, and it’s just awful. Writing doesn’t flow in a creative surge the way other things do.”

This usage of “…bleed on the page…” confuses me. To me, when one “bleeds” on the page the implication is a positive thing: They are pouring their passion and life into a project and this is a good thing. But in the context in which George Lucas is quoted as using it, seems to be portrayed as a negative; as if “bleeding” means he’s straining himself too much.

Was this a usage of the phrase “bleed on the page” that might have been more common at one point in the past? Or a usage I am casually not familiar with?

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    I've heard the expression "bleed on the page" refer to when you proofread the work of someone else, particularly when that writing needs a lot of work. That expression comes from the fact that such editing is often done with a red pen. I gave my boss the report, and he bled all over the page – that would mean he made a lot of corrections and suggested updates. Still, that doesn't seem to be what Lucas is talking about here. – J.R. Dec 26 '15 at 8:37
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I feel like he is probably referring to a lack of eloquence and simplified articulation. Like getting "wordy" and using an entire page to illustrate a character's shoe color, where he's determined it less "awful" to do so with a single poetic sentence.

  • Yeah, but I think it’s just so hard—at least for me—to differentiate between “positive” aspects of bleeding (i.e.: pouring your soul) and the “negative” as in taking so much strength you are essentially killing yourself. – JakeGould Jan 3 '16 at 4:48
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Seems my assumption of “to bleed” being a positive thing (i.e.: words flow out of you like blood) is an very silly mistake in some respects. The true meaning is basically along the lines of one straining themselves to get the words out. As explained in detail on Quote Investigator, Walter Winchell attributes this turn of phrase to colleague Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith; bold emphasis is mine:

Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. …”Why, no,” dead-panned Red. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Then there is some slight evidence of a positive meaning from Paul Gallico’s “Confessions of a Story Writer”; again the bold emphasis is mine:

It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.

Another turn of phrase that equated to bleeding was “drop by drop” which was used in an 1855 Harper’s Magazine article on poet Thomas Campbell; yup the bold emphasis is mine:

Campbell wrote with great toil; poetry came from him drop by drop. Sydney Smith used to say that when he was delivered of a couplet, he took to his bed, had straw laid down, the knocker tied up, and expected his friends to call and make inquiries; the answer at the door being invariably, “Mr. Campbell and his little couplet are doing as well as can be expected!” When he produced an Alexandrine, he kept his bed a day longer.

So knowing that, it still seems that the idea of “bleeding on the page” can be seen as a positive thing since—to some—unless you put some of yourself into your work and “shed some blood” the work itself is fairly weak, tepid. That said, generally I believe the positive modern connotation would be the words “flow through you” instead of being “bled” out.

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