In his technical method […] Count Tolstoy is like one of the great painters of old. After forming the plan of his work, and gathering a great number of studies, he begins with a charcoal sketch, so to speak, and writes rapidly, not thinking of details. What he writes in this way he gives to Countess Sophia Andreevna to copy out, or to one of his daughters, or to one of his intimate friends, to whom this task may give pleasure. Lyof Nicolaievitch, Count Tolstoy, generally writes on quarto paper, of rather poor quality, in a big, rope-like handwriting, writing about twenty pages a day, amounting to some four or five thousand words. He has no special habits with regard to pens and paper. And when a firm in Moscow conceived the idea of giving to the world a “Tolstoyan pen,” it was discovered that on the subject of pens “Count Tolstoy had no opinion.” He works mostly in the morning, and considers this the best time of the day for work.
When the clean copy of his manuscript makes its appearance on the writing table, Count Tolstoy begins at once to work it all over again. But it still remains very much of a charcoal sketch. The manuscript is quickly dotted over with corrections, alterations, interlinear additions; at both sides, above and below, appear new thoughts and phrases, with inversions and transferences of sentences from one page to another. The whole is copied out again, and once more subjected to exactly the same process. A third time exactly the same thing happens. Some chapters Count Tolstoy has written more than ten times. At the same time, he pays almost no attention to details of wording, and even feels something like repugnance to everything closely clipped in art.
“All that often dries up the thought, and blunts the impression,” he says.
When he has once armed himself for writing, with reminiscences or observations, or with new views on the subject he is treating, Count Tolstoy works steadily and persistently at every chapter, only making short breaks for rest; and when he is in difficulties, taking refuge in a game of solitaire, until he sees his way clear. The intent search after the inner being of every hero he represents, forms at this stage Count Tolstoy’s chief task, and his favorite expression on this subject is: “Gold is found by persistent sifting and washing.”
(Charles Johnston, “How Count Tolstoy Writes,” The Arena, Vol. XXI, No. 3, 1899, pp. 269–270).