Writing is rewriting
Ernest Hemingway once confided to George Plimpton during an interview that he rewrote the ending to "A Farewell to Arms" 39 times before he was satisfied.
Why so many rewrites? Plimpton asked.
Because, Hemingway responded, he wanted to get the words right.
Would that newspapers had more Hemingways. We ink-stained wretches can't rewrite every story ending 39 times and still make deadline. But for many of us, a single rewrite would be a giant leap forward, making our newspapers measurably better.
Ask any copy editor or line editor: Revision is easily the most neglected part of the writing process. Whether it's through laziness, hurriedness or the stigma of revision as scut work, far too many of us leave excess baggage in our stories for others to cull.
That's because many writers file not stories, but drafts. They think their first try is their last try, or that their first try, checked for style, spelling and grammar, makes for a complete story. In rare deadline situations, it may. But by and large, such an attitude is folly because it subjects the draft to the writer's needs (clean it up, get it out), not the reader's (clarity and understanding).
And then there's the old newspaper stereotype: Good writers get it right the first time. You're supposed to produce perfection, or at least near-perfection, on the first draft. That's the sort of B.S. that makes writers sweat every word or phrase as they go, putting all their mental energy into revising rather than creating by writing freely. It produces weak stories. In truth, you can't draft and polish at the same time. You might as well try waxing your car while you're hosing off the dirt.
The best writers have learned what Hemingway knew: Writing is rewriting. It's where the story truly takes shape, where the writer marshals just the right words, a fitting image, a phrase turned just so. Everything beforehand is a warm-up.
The best writers don't spit out a draft and fly home. They stay a while and polish the rough diamond. Even on a tedious story, they'll do one thing that's uniquely theirs, even if it's a simple as a well-chosen verb.
That means they search their draft with a critical eye for the nuggets of meaning and power, using the draft's strengths to form a finished story that readers will want to read, that's clear, simple, focused and understandable.
They ask themselves: What works? What needs work? What's there? What's missing?
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------- Could the stories you tell others about yourself ,and the stories you tell yourself about you, need a rewrite? Are they truly your stories, in your voice, written with your words, just the right words, true to your life story as you feel it should be told? Related posts: Resistances To Loving Ourselves; Narrative Therapy. ---------