Tag Archives: first draft

Getting It Right the First Time

To Revise Or Not To Revise, That Is The Question…

Recently, I’ve been hearing a barrage of arguments from two different points of view – those who believe a good writer will efficiently produce a clean draft on the first go, and those who believe in multitudes of revisions. They both make good points, but I’m far more inclined to agree with the first.

Those who argue for revision state, “The first draft of anything is shit” (to quote Ernest Hemingway – apologies for the language.) I can’t argue. First drafts are… very rough. Sometimes you don’t know exactly where you’re going. Sometimes you’re forcing words out because – well, because true writers write, even if they don’t feel like it. And when you come back to read what you wrote it just looks like awful, awful stuff. Actually, it’s a relief to know Hemingway’s first drafts were as terrible as mine are. And that I can just rewrite the thing and throw away the original before anyone ever sees it.

But then, the other side of the argument is shouting that to make a living as a writer, you have to produce. You can’t waste days rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. Once you get good at your craft you will produce a decent draft the first time. In fact, they argue that rewriting only steals away the freshness and originality of your words.

Two writers I’ve come across who say to aim for as little revision as possible are Dean Wesley Smith (see this post), and Crawford Kilian (“As an efficient craftsperson, you should know how to complete a salable manuscript with little or no revision…” – Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy)

As for those who tell you to revise – just Google “how to write” and you’ll probably get millions and millions of people who tell you this. Including John Dufresne, who says, “Any writer who tells you he wrote his story in a draft is a liar or a loafer.” (The Lie That Tells a Truth) Oooo, the fight is on!

I’ve always naturally gravitated to not revising. It frustrated me if I couldn’t get it right the first time. For me, if it wasn’t right at first, revising didn’t seem to make it any better. I’ve gotten better at revising since then, mostly because academic papers for university come out pretty garbled if you don’t revise. But I still prefer as little revision as possible. I’m scared of stealing away my “freshness” (if I flatter myself I have any).

In the end, every writer has to find his or her own way. You’ll always have to revise a little, and some authors I enjoy were addicted to revising (yeah, I’m talking about Tolkien again…) It also depends on exactly what you’re writing, and whether you’re trying to make a living off of it.

What side of the argument do you agree with?

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Filed under On Writing