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Rewriting/ Quotes by other writers

Sometimes beginning writers say they don't believe in rewriting because they're afraid they'll "lose the spontaneity" 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. Not sure who wrote the above intro but the quotes below are worthy of sharing. Enjoy!

"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

How do you feel the task of rewriting? Do you do a lot of it? Share your comments, please. Thanks!


  1. One more quote you must have -- but I disremember who said it. The gist of it is that you must keep every draft, so you will be able to tell exactly when you killed it. ; )

  2. What a great idea. I am so sick of the drafts I usually toss them out. I've often though it would be fun to compare them from the beginning to the end.
    I may have some of them but certainly not all.

    I already have several tote boxes of stories. Whew.

    Didn't know when I got into this that it was so addicting.

  3. Yes, I do a lot of rewriting, especially lately. I wish I had got the idea for this short story I am working on sooner. Hope I get it revised to my liking before Tuesday. As a matter of fact, Barbara, my story is different, but one of your posts is what inspired me to write it. The one about your mom's visit after she was gone.

  4. I'm not a writer, however the wisdom in the quotes is inspiring. Sometimes we believe the really good writers, artists, actors, whatevers, are brilliant all the time, the first time around. It's being scared of failure, or looking foolish to the experienced that stop many for instance..from just tying something artistic. I think sometimes it's the failures, the rewrites, the do overs that separate the good from the great.

  5. Wonderful quotes...I use to dream of being a writer.

  6. Barb, love your essay! Good to be back

  7. Rewrites are what makes us better than we used to be. Thanks Barb for a great post.

  8. Janet's right -- that post about your Mom's visit was a prompt as well. I'm still working out who I want to visit with, but I'll definately blog my own version of that someday.

  9. This is so true with me.. I rewrite a lot but sometimes I find the first to be the best.. The trash can is my best friend though, my husband says sometimes I try to hard and I've found that he is right. Writing one now that's like none other I've written, don't know yet how it's going to turn out but one thing I've learned when I push myself I don't get anywhere. Thanks for posting this It sure helps to know I'm not alone..

  10. It's great to read quotes on rewriting from famous people. It's nice to know that it didn't come easy for them, too! I've read how different writers do things differently - some write one day, then start the next day by rewriting the previous day's work. Others write the whole story, book, article, etc., THEN rewrite. I haven't written anything in awhile (besides my blog), but I tended to write a little, then rewrite.

  11. I'm in the middle of a major rewrite/revision of my book, so reading these quotes is really helpful. I've tried to skip the revision process and write exactly what I want to say the first time, but it never ever works out that way. Just like life, it's all about process. :-)

  12. I borrowed your E.B. White quote for my blog (, where I come clean about having to revise my novel -- again. Great post, and so true.

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