On rewriting

How many times have you re-written material for a book? I’m beginning my second draft and reading back parts of the first – it sounds so shitty, it’s making me want to give up.


First drafts are garbage. You should literally throw them away and start from scratch. Second drafts are shit. No one should see them. Third drafts are bad, but you can start showing them to people you trust for critique. Fourth drafts you can send to agents, publishers, and other professionals. Fifth drafts are starting to get good, especially if you’re working with an editor, but they can always get better… you see where I’m going with this.

Writing is rewriting. It never ends, and you can’t give up. You just have to keep hacking away at it. Also, realizing that your first draft is shitty isn’t a bad thing. It’s a gift. It means you know what needs changing, and it means you’re a real writer, because only an amateur thinks the first draft is any good.


18 thoughts on “On rewriting

  1. Nerdlinger says:

    Never throw anything away, either to remind you of how far you’ve come or to nick one or two turns of phrase that are good but need to be transplanted to a whole ‘nother text.

  2. rjmdsmr says:

    Ironic that the only typo I have ever seen on this site is on this post. Not hating on ya, just pointing it out, Coke! You’re the best <3

  3. J Lynn says:

    Great advice. For me, I love editing. But getting that first draft out is like giving birth to a pair of 10-pound twins alone in a remote cabin, so hard.

  4. Strangely Rational says:

    It’s funny, but I’m probably too much of a rewriter to be able to write a book.

    As I am writing this post, I have already rewritten the first sentence a couple of times, deleted the second sentence, and have rewritten this one several times before even getting to the end. (And I just now added a word.)

    When I’m done with a paragraph, I go back and make a few changes. I might erase it all and redo it. When I finally get to the end of my post, I will go back, shift around some sentences and paragraphs, redo the transitions to match, delete things, and so on. Oh, and did I mention that I proofread it every time I make a change? Even that’s not good enough, though, as I must also proofread the whole thing again at least once before posting it. And then again after. (The “edit” button is my friend.)

    And this is just a discussion post!

    If I did try to write a book – or let’s face it, even a chapter – there wouldn’t be anything resembling separate drafts. It would be just one work in progress forever. Which is unfortunate, because there are some things I’d really like to write about. Maybe someday I can find a way to stop getting bogged down in the details! Until then, I should probably stick to editing. At least that’s one area in which being obsessive can be a strength.

    • WhoAmI says:

      i’m pretty sure that’s actually how you write decent stuff, do your thing and don’t overthink your overthinking mate

    • CharChar says:

      Honestly, this is a completely workable approach. Coquette’s advice is good for those who speed-write, but–like all advice regarding creative endeavors– it’s not entirely universal, and shouldn’t be interpreted as such. I am a published writer with a reasonable degree of success, and while rewriting is important, most of the rewriting I do before I send a manuscript out to my editor is done in precisely the same style that you describe here. I don’t write separate complete “drafts”, but the amount of revision I do during the process probably amounts to an equal amount of work. If you ever do write a book, try writing one draft in your preferred style, then let it sit for a bit and go back and read it through from the beginning, revising as you go. At that point, it might be ready to send to an agent or editor. It generally is for me, anyway. Perhaps not, but there is a point at which obsessive re-writing can be self-defeating, so try to be cognizant of that. And you’re going to have to make additional revisions during editing, copywriting, proofreading and even typesetting as it is. This is, of course, assuming you want to go a traditional publishing route. If you prefer to self-publish, that’s a different kettle of fish altogether. Good luck!

  5. Tilinga says:

    I’ve read somewhere that Shirley Jackson wrote “The Lottery” in two hours, and she only had to correct minor typos before submitting it to the newspaper where her short story got published.

  6. Jess says:

    I like this sentiment a lot. It reminds me of an English class I took in undergrad where my professor emphasized something similar– to read is to reread.

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