How much rewriting is enough?

Status
Not open for further replies.

Amma

Member
Joined
May 12, 2008
Member Type
English Teacher
Dean Koontz, if I remember the spelling of his name correctly, writes popular horror fiction in the United States. Years ago he wrote that for every page of a book he gets published, he has written 9 drafts on average. In other words, every page is rewritten and rewritten and rewritten. He considers this part of the writing process.

Why would anyone rewrite that much? If the goal is a piece that catches the reader's attention, is consistently interesting, flows smoothly, and is intellectually and emotionally powerful, but the writer has to rewrite and rewrite to get the piece up to that standard, he just puts in the time and energy and does it.

I remember that in high school, rewriting a book report just to make it legible seemed a nuisance to me. But reading this comment by Mr. Koontz changed my whole attitude about rewriting. Since then, I've always considered the rewriting process as equally important as my original ideas. And I don't complain, no matter how long it takes to rewrite a piece. I just keep working.
 

susiedqq

Key Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2008
Member Type
Academic
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
I don't know if you can compare his need for 9 rewrites with your book report rewrite.

He has plot, character development, flow, and setting (research) to consider. Plus, he probably has an editor breathing down his back - also doing rewrites.

He had to start from scratch; you get to write about the finished product :lol:
 

Amma

Member
Joined
May 12, 2008
Member Type
English Teacher
Dear Susie,

Of course writing a novel has a different set of tasks than does writing a book report or anything else, such as a letter, resume, magazine article, autobiography, and so on. But with each piece, the goal remains the same: to best express what you have written.

I mentioned what this writer said about knowing beforehand that he'll make many rewrites because the remark was a revelation to me. At the time, I had no idea that a serious writer considers rewriting again and again an integral part of creating something. And this writer makes it clear that he always expects to rewrite many times.

From reading different writers' comments on writing, I learned that the process of rewriting, if it's done a certain way, is a major part of becoming a skilled writer. But with my dislike of rewriting, I was unlikely to improve my writing skills. In fact, if writing well was a goal of mine, which it was, my attitude needed a major overhaul, and Mr. Koontz furnished me with inspiration to change my outlook and my habits. Over time, I got to the place where rewriting is fun for me. I lost the feeling that every page, paragraph, or idea I had written was a precious gem that could not be altered or cut. Everything I said became a means to an end, and not more than that.

I started reaching out to friends, asking them to read what I had written and make comments, telling me why they would make certain changes. At the time, one of my friends was a professional editor, and that helped a lot. But any person who speaks the language well and will take the time to think deeply about your piece can help. I also started reading what I wrote out loud as a speech, both to myself and others, paying attention to logic and exact words and their position in the sentence, any need to move words or sentences around to improve overall logic and power, replacing words and phrases to create a better flow and rhythm to the piece, and so on. In working like this, I came to the place where rewriting is as much fun for me as writing the first draft, and, perhaps, even more. This was a 180-degree shift from where I began!

One note about reading a piece to friends. Pick people who really can help, people who think logically and know the language at least as well as you know it. And avoid going to people who tend in general to be critical, judgmental, or less than positive. You don't want someone to hurt your feelings or your enthusiasm about your writing. But, overall, I would really encourage you to give what you write as a speech.

The first time you do it, you are going to spot problems with the piece you hadn't noticed. For example, gaps in logic will appear right away. You'll know that you have to add more information. Long and unwieldy sentences stand out clearly. You'll know that you would never talk the way you have just written, and you'll shorten your sentences. You'll spot missing transitions between sentences, a problem with logic. You'll know that you need to fix that problem and insert good transitions.

In fact, if I were going to recommend any single method of improving writing skills, I would say that every piece always needs to be read aloud, if to no one else but yourself.

And, as done on this site, in the beginning, asking people how to improve single sentences seems very effective to me. 1. The amount of work involved does not overwhelm the person helping. 2. The number of corrections are few enough that, in one sitting, the writer can take in all the new information, and in a short period of time improve her writing skills. 3. Then, of course, she needs to write some more, put into practice the new skills she has just learned. 4. And as her skills improve, she can increase the length of the piece without risking overwhelming with work people who want to help. This seems to be an excellent method to me!

Another good method is getting books that break down written pieces into single sentences and small parts. The original piece and the revision are contrasted, with the reasons for the changes givenin full. Books like this can help. But that's exactly what's being done on this site.

I was thinking last night that books on conversational English might help. Casual conversation is different from formal, written English, and studying them as separate skills might help.

I think watching movies in English with subtitles would help, too.

If I look closely on this site, I may find a place where all these hints are listed.

I wish everyone the best of luck with this project. I admire what everyone is doing here.
 
Last edited:

Soup

VIP Member
Joined
Sep 6, 2007
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
English
Home Country
Canada
Current Location
China
Over time, I got to the place where rewriting is fun for me. I lost the feeling that ever page, paragraph, or idea I had written was a precious gem that could not be altered or cut. Everything I said became a means to an end, and not more than that.
You've got it!
 

Charlie Bernstein

VIP Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2009
Member Type
Other
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Ernest Hemingway rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms 38 times.

When someone asked him why, he said: "To get the words right."
 
Joined
Mar 17, 2009
Member Type
Student or Learner
Was "A Farewell to Arms" a reference to erosion of his bodyparts as a result of excessive writing?
 

Charlie Bernstein

VIP Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2009
Member Type
Other
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Was "A Farewell to Arms" a reference to erosion of his bodyparts as a result of excessive writing?

If it was, I'd hate to imagine what missing-in-action body part "The Sun Also Rises" referred to....
 

thedaffodils

Key Member
Joined
Apr 26, 2008
Member Type
Other
Native Language
Chinese
Home Country
China
Current Location
China
Ernest Hemingway rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms 38 times.

When someone asked him why, he said: "To get the words right."

I read about an anecdote about Ernest Hemingway. His son presented his writing to Ernest Hemingway. After reading, Ernest Hemingway commented, "No bad..." but he switched 'first of all' to 'first' in that writing. :cool:
 

wise owl

Junior Member
Joined
Jun 14, 2009
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
Russian
Home Country
Russian Federation
Current Location
Israel
I agree that rewriting is necessary, but there are no rules regarding the scope of work or how many times a piece needs to be rewritten. I've never dedicated much thought to it until recently, when I started to write my own blog. Now, I consider rewriting as just another form of writing )) "Putting the words right" describes most precisely the process I'm going through. I can see a distinct difference between the roughness of the first piece and the smoothness of the polished, final piece.
By the way, Lev Tolstoy has rewritten "War and Piece" quite many times. Now this is what I call dedication )))
 

RonBee

Moderator
Joined
Feb 9, 2003
Member Type
Other
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
The short answer to how much rewriting is enough:
until you get it right

Of course, nobody can tell how many rewrites that will be. The writer has to decide that for himself/herself.

:)
 

amackovjak

New member
Joined
Sep 13, 2009
Member Type
English Teacher
Amma mentioned there are books that break down individual sentences and show a possible revision. Does anyone have the title of a book I could get that does that?
Thanks.
 

konungursvia

VIP Member
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Member Type
Academic
Native Language
English
Home Country
Canada
Current Location
Canada
The short answer to how much rewriting is enough:
until you get it right

Of course, nobody can tell how many rewrites that will be. The writer has to decide that for himself/herself.

:)

I agree. After spending ten years writing almost nothing but French essays and articles, and one French book, I wrote a book in my own language, English. It was easier, in a sense, but I was surprised how many times I printed a hard copy, and re-read it, only to find there were lots of changes I needed to make.

It took me about six or seven re-writes to get it right.
 

BobK

Harmless drudge
Staff member
Joined
Jul 29, 2006
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
UK
Bottom line: however many times you do it, that many times + 1. ;-)

b
 

telaviv1

Member
Joined
Apr 14, 2010
Member Type
Other
In my experience one can keep on rewriting for ever, the trick is to do it effectively and to know when its not making any difference.
 

vickylee

New member
Joined
May 13, 2010
Member Type
Student or Learner
My essay is always rewritten 5 or 6 times. I have to try my best!
 

sarah bin

Member
Joined
May 30, 2010
Member Type
Student or Learner
The short answer to how much rewriting is enough:
until you get it right

Of course, nobody can tell how many rewrites that will be. The writer has to decide that for himself/herself.

:)

yes ,u r right
I like ur comment
 

youandcorey

Junior Member
Joined
Oct 19, 2010
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
Japan
Trying to capture your thoughts on paper is like trying to grab a certain drop of water as the river rushes by. So a certain amout of re-writng is inevitable.
 

damefrank

Member
Joined
Sep 21, 2009
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Danielle Steele's latest novel had 7 mistakes within 4 pages. A well-known author with the best of editor's. Perhaps someone should have spent more time with it!

I went over my own book no less than 25 times and still find mistakes today. Re-writing means re-reading. As there are a thousand ways to 'do things right', same may be said for a good story.

I would certainly support no less than 3 re-writes, absolutely...without doubt.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top