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On Rewriting

Sometimes beginning writers say they don't believe in rewriting because they're afraid they'll "lose the spontaniety" of the first draft. This is naive; rewriting means making the work better by adding, deleting, and revising; what worked well in the first draft stays--that's the effective spontaneity. Most professional writers know the heady sense of control that comes with the revision process--this is where one knows one has mastery of the writing craft. Note the following comments. 

"It is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is common in all writing and among the best of writers." 

- E. B. White 
"I don't write easily or rapidly. My first draft usually has only a few elements worth keeping. I have to find what those are and build from them and throw out what doesn't work, or what simply is not alive." 
- Susan Sontag 
"Half my life is an act of revision; more than half the act is performed with small changes." 
- John Irving 
"I revise the manuscript till I can't read it any longer, then I get somebody to type it. Then I revise the typing. Then it's retyped again. Then there's a third typing, which is the final one. Nothing should then remain that offends the eye." 
- Robert Graves 
"I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times before I was satisfied."
- Ernest Hemingway 
"I do a lot of revising. Certain chapters six or seven times. Occasionally you can hit it right the first time. Most often, you don't." 
- John Dos Passos 
"I can't write five words but that I change seven." 
- Dorothy Parker 
"I have rewritten--often several times--every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers." 
- Vladmir Nabokov 
"First drafts are learning what your novel or story is about. Revision is working with that knowledge to enlarge or enhance an idea, or reform it." 
- Thomas Wolfe 
"A thing may in itself be the finest piece of writing one has ever done, and yet have absolutely no place in the manuscript one hopes to publish." 
- Carolyn Forche 
"Read over your compositions and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out." 
- Samuel Johnson 
"There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I'm greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed." 
- John Galbreath 
"I rewrite everything, almost idiotically. I rewrite and work and work, and rewrite and rewrite some more." 
- Laura Z. Hobson 
"I retype everything four, five, and six times--critical passages more--and everything, say three times." 
- James Michener 
"Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped."
- Lillian Hellman 
"Only amateurs don't rewrite. It's in the rewriting that writers bring ALL their knowledge--basic craft, technique, style, organization, attitude, creative inspiration --to the work." 
- Gloria T. Delamar 
"Writing a first draft is like groping one's way into a dark room, or overhearing a faint conversation, or telling a joke whose punchline you've forgotten. As someone said, one writes mainly to rewrite, for rewriting and revising are how one's mind comes to inhabit the material fully." 
- Ted Solotaroff 
"The waste paper basket is the writer's best friend."
- Isaac B. Singer