No, Once is Not Enough

After awhile the sparrow fluttered in and chirped its objection with all its might…

The blackbird, dark and mysterious, shook its feathered head and…

“Not in this lifetime,” parroted the bird…

Quoth the raven, “Never more!”


Want to be a writer?  Write.  Then rewrite, revise, and edit.  If you need to, wad it up and start again.

Some years ago, I was a minor faculty member at a prestigious writer’s conference in Southern California.  In a general session, attendees–who had paid handsomely for the privilege of being there–listened as a well-known sci-fi writer waxed long about his illustrious career.  Then he said, “I never rewrite a single sentence!  No true writer does.  A good writer puts the story down properly the first time.”  Pointing out at the rapt audience, he added, “If you have to rewrite, you are not yet ready to call yourself a writer!”

Say what?

Later I spied the fellow in the diningroom, sitting down to his lunch of crab Louie and wine.  I stuck the liverwurst sandwich I had brought from home back into my purse and marched up to him.  “No rewriting?”  I said in a somewhat accusatory tone.  “Come on!  Is it true that you don’t revise your work?”

He laughed.   “Of course not,” he said.  “But that’s what new writers want to hear.”

I beg to differ.  New writers want to hear the truth.  And the truth is, write your words as they come to you.  But after that, go back and rewrite them.  Weigh each one.  Is the verb active?  Is the noun specific and descriptive, able to stand strong without adjectives?  Might you replace a run-down old house with a shack? Instead of ran really, really fast might you say sprinted?  Instead of the boy took his pet could you say Freddie carted his alligator along

If William Shakespeare had been giving the keynote address at that conference, he would likely had said, “How poor are they that have not patience!  What word was ever found but by degrees?”*

* I changed only two of the Bard’s words!

 “The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Mark Twain




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5 responses to “No, Once is Not Enough

  1. I’m absolutely with you on that one. I suspect Mr Sci Fi’s advice would have been more relevant in the days of the typewriter.

  2. Incognita

    The re-writing is the fun part!

    I can’t stand writing a first draft. It’s so much work, and you have to figure out what you want to say, and if, in fact, you have anything to say in the first place.

    This is a real problem for me. Nothing to edit.

    • Seems that we all have our hard parts of writing and we all have a part that comes more easily. I’ll bet when your work is finished, it is beautiful!

  3. Ian Bennett

    During an interview Ernest Hemingway once confided to George Plimpton 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, “I wanted to get the words right.”

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