Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do? Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied. Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you? Hemingway: Getting the words right.*I'll say it plainly: rewriting is normal. No, it's more than normal: it is, as William Zinsser has said, essential. Editing your content, and reediting it, and re-re-re-reediting it, doesn't mean you're a lousy writer. It means that you are a writer, and a conscientious one, possibly even a damn good one. You genuinely care about your writing. You understand instinctively that excellent writing involves more than simply keying words into an electronic document, just as great art entails more than merely daubing paint onto a canvas. There's a refining process involved. And something within you won't rest until you've done the job right. Now, if you're one of those rare persons with a gift for cranking out fabulous content with nary a rewrite, bully for you. Really. I know you're out there and I envy you. A friend of mine once showed me a collection of short, humorous reflections she had written about her experiences as a new mother. Each piece was a perfect jewel, and I laughed myself silly reading them. How long did it usually take her to write one, I asked. Oh, about half an hour, she said. Uh, huh. Well, then, how much time did she spend rewriting her stuff? None, she said. She just plonked it out there and let it set. And it was great. It really was. However, that conversation happened quite a few years ago, and in retrospect, I think I was favorably predisposed. Had my friend's material been accepted at the publishing house where I worked, it would have been assigned to an editor, and that editor would still have found plenty of adjustments to make in order to bring a superb start to perfection. So you and I might as well make every effort to perfect our writing by being our own toughest editor. Let's dispel the myth that good writing is anything other than hard work. It may sometimes be fun; it may occasionally be inspired; but it is always demanding and time-consuming, and it involves lots of travelling back and forth down the same road, filling in the potholes as we refine our material. The post you're reading right now wasn't written just once. I've probably written it five or six times, and I'm sure I'll tweak it a few more times once it is published. Right now, though, it's time I ended it. I've made my point. I hope it will help you to make your own content a little better, whether you rewrite it once, or nine times, or thirty-nine times on the journey to "getting the words right." _______________ * Thanks to editor Katya Covrett for bringing this excerpt to my attention in her December 27, 2012, Facebook post.
I remember a time when I was a boy and I climbed a big tree near my house.Of course you remember. When you tell about something that happened to you, you're remembering. Readers understand that; you need not tell them. Just say, When I was a boy, I once climbed a big tree near my house. See? No underbrush to clutter things up. Case two
From these examples, it's easy to see that shoulder harnesses and seat belts save lives.Let the reader decide how easy something is to see. Go straight to the core: These examples demonstrate that shoulder harnesses and seat belts save lives. Or maybe just, Shoulder harnesses and seat belts save lives. Case three
As has already been stated, unforgiveness hurts the person who refuses to forgive at least as much as it does the person who caused the hurt.Readers will recognize when you're restating a concept, and if they don't, then from their perspective, what you're about to say hasn't already been stated. Either way, the opening phrase adds nothing useful. Omit it and begin with unforgiveness. The above three examples all contain material that is peripheral to the topic. It's non-news that requires no explaining, often arising out of an impulse to pad one's writing with filler cliches.