[Blog] Writing, Writing, Rewriting


When I was in junior high, I distinctly remember having a conversation with one of my friends in which we expressed our doubts on whether or not all the famous authors we were studying really meant to infuse their works with all the themes and symbolism that our lit teachers said they did. If I remember correctly, we admitted that at least some of the structuring was done on purpose, but we figured that it had far more to do with the author wanting to write a good story than to make any particular point. Looking back, my only defense is that we were very young and very foolish, and we both grew a great deal wiser in the years that followed. It turns out there’s an awful lot that thirteen year olds (and the rest of us) don’t know, despite their opinion to the contrary.

That being said, I think (hope?) that I had formed that particular belief in part because of a faulty understanding of the way the vast majority of people write good stories– specifically, I had not yet realized that “all good writing is rewriting”. On that first run through a story, whether it’s a vignette or something novel-length or longer, there’s only so much crafting that can be done as you drag the words onto the page and pin them there in something roughly approximating what you had in mind in the first place. Hopefully, you have some idea of the point you want to make, but most of us are going to have to edit, coax, and generally manipulate the words for even longer than it took to write them in the first place if we want them to say everything we want them to. And, of course, some of the things I’ve written that I’m happiest with are the ones I stumbled on and realized after the fact that they worked better than anything else I’d tried, but if it weren’t for rewriting I doubt I’d ever have recognized them.

That being said, it’s entirely possible to get stuck in a neverending editing process. Or, worse, it’s easy to start the editing process prematurely, before the whole rough form of the story has made it onto the page. I won’t deny that restarting before reaching the end is occasionally helpful, but more often it seems to just be a good way to get stuck rewriting the same thousand words in a vain attempt to make them perfect. Nine times out of ten, the parts that actually need retooling will only become obvious once you’ve gotten to the end.

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