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As I work on my current novel - Expecting - I'm deep in the process of rewriting. I tell my students "all writing is rewriting." Truman Capote said "good writing is rewriting." On Writing Well by William Zinsser, renowned writer and English Professor at Yale University, is a succinct, brilliant book on writing and Zinsser includes two pages of his own draft of the book. It is marked up excessively - words changed, deleted, sentences shifted around. There is some edit or deletion on every line. And as I like to point out, it is his fourth draft. So if this (late) brilliant writer and teacher of writing at Yale needs four drafts to get it right, how many do I need?
"We write words, and then they are on the screen, or even more permanent, on the paper. There they are! All our lovely words look so nice - why would I want to change them? I can't take away any of these wonderful words... or can I? I can if I want to write more clearly. I tell my students to delete any words in a sentence that do not add to the meaning of the sentence. Reduce the clutter. Excise the excess. Throw out the baggage." (Zinsser)
Rewriting is hard work, much harder than a first draft. It's fairly easy to get some words down on paper, or on the screen, but it's much harder to hone those words, choose the best ones and discard others, find proper replacements for overused words. Choose active voice instead of passive. Find a synonym. Avoid an adverb. Clarify a subject. Re-write . . . Ay - there's the rub.
After the first draft comes the second draft, then the third, then the fourth and so on. Honestly, as writers we are never "done." Our books are never "finished." We just come to the place where we have decided it's in pretty darn good shape, and let's get it to the agent, or the publisher. And then after more edits the publisher decides that it's "publishable." But we could still go in and change a word, improve a description, add a scene. Writing is hard work, and much of that work is the rewriting process.