Writers on writing, and rewriting

Write well: writers on writing, and re-writing

Following the earlier post Setting Clear Objectives; You have identified your target reader, know your big idea, have defined the structure, and immersed yourself in the subject.

Writing provides the opportunity to reflect, revise and polish. The words tumble out, sometimes in perfect order, but usually somewhat raw. Following are some thoughts from experts in the process.

Expect revisions

“When I say ‘writing’ – O believe me, it is rewriting that I have chiefly in mind.”

– Robert Louis Stevenson

“There’s no reason you shouldn’t, as a writer, not be aware of the necessity to revise yourself constantly. More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina. I can rewrite sentences over and over again, and I do… And I think what I’ve always recognized about writing is that I don’t put much value in so-called inspiration. The value is in how many times you can redo something.”

– John Irving

“If you can’t or don’t revise, you’ll never develop your story’s potential. A quality novel has fully realized characters, a well-constructed plot, and smooth prose, but these rarely happen in the first stages of writing, only through rewriting. To achieve these goals, you need patience. You need an artist’s eye. You need objectivity. And the good news is, you will acquire and hone these attributes through the revision process. True writing is rewriting.”

– Beth Shope


“Everything is planned. I spent a long time outlining. It’s the only way I know to get all the ducks in a row… The research is the easiest. The outline is the most fun because you can do anything. The first draft is the hardest, because every word of the outline has to be fleshed out. The rewrite is very satisfying, because I feel that everything I do is making the book a little better.”

– Ken Follett:

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right – as right as you can, anyway – it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.”

– Stephen King

“When you write, you should be loose, ambitious, and open-minded. Follow your creative instincts. Let the words flow. Let the story take you to unknown lands and unbelievable fantasies.”

– Ravi Shankar Rajan


“Communicating, remember, does not consist in setting forth or down a message, it consists in propelling a message into the lifestream of others. Keep every sentence, every phrase, every word   moving toward your purpose.”

– Sue Nichols

“The more concrete something is – the more you show rather than tell – the more likely people are going to remember something and share it with others.”

– Johah Berger

“The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.”

– E.B. White


“They must be the right words shaped cunningly to pass men’s defences and explode silently and effectively within their minds.”

JB Phillips

“Use the point of your pen, not the feather.”

– Jonathan Swift

“Communication often fails simply because the reader does not feel the impact of the writer’s mental energy.”

Baxter Hathaway.

“Bottle up your message long enough to give it power. When amateur communicators say the first thing that comes to mind, their material pours out in long wordy sentences with featherweight verbs and trite, obvious sentiments. A skilled communicator dams the initial flow. Until he can phrase it with strength and release it in an altered but more powerful form.”

Sue Nichols

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Anton Chekhov. 


“A writer is the eyes, ears and nose of the reader – the reader is his own brain.”

– Mark Hellinger

“She does this without the overtones of preaching but herself a seeker, echoing – only clearer and stronger – our own still small voice.”

Cover jacket of Anne Morrow Lundberg’s Gift from the Sea

“Ordinarily communicators do not need to moralize. Lure and build evidence, then spin out at the end as one human to another.”

– Sue Nichols

Read everything you can on your subject. Make sure you bring value to the reader.

borrowed from Blake Snyder’s books on screenwriting.


You are in the best position to improve your writing. Although an editor brings another perspective they must also tread diplomatically on your ego and you know the material best. If you are writing to deadline in a newsroom you may be only able to break for coffee. For a novel you should let it sit for six weeks and do something else to gain a new perspective.

“Just know enough grammar to be able to communicate properly and make your work readable. People who are insane sticklers for perfect grammar are rarely great writers.”

– Ravi Shankar Rajan

“I’ve revised six times, seven times, thirteen times. But there’s a line between revision and fretting, just working it to death. It is important to know when you are fretting it; when you are fretting it because it is not working, it needs to be scrapped.”

– Toni Morrison

Shani Raja’s 9 step editing system

  • quick read through
  • separate the points
  • make sure each point makes sense
  • delete the nonessential
  • each point is unique
  • create sections / categories and separate the points
  • the sections flow together
  • arrange the points into the sections
  • make it read well (simple clear and elegant)

From an interview with Ernest Hemingway.

Interviewer: “How much rewriting do you do?”Hemingway: “It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.”Interviewer: “Was there some technical problem? What was it that had stumped you?”Hemingway: “Getting the words right.”