The Immutable Laws of Writing, #4

The Immutable Laws of Writing, Number 4: There are no one-draft writers.

For any writing that matters—and, if you’re a bit of an obsessive wordsmith (like me), for any writing at all—the journey from none to done will include revisions. There are no one-draft writers.

“Writing is rewriting” has been said so many times, I want to question its truth on that basis alone. So let’s state it another way: good writing requires rewriting. Writing is a creative act, and creativity is far more than the flash of a great idea. Creativity is the hard work of moving from idea to well-executed solution.

Such is true of writing, and the longer the piece, the more work, time, and rewriting it takes. I don’t know about you, but I never send even a simple  email message without taking a second pass to make sure it says precisely what I want it to say, and nearly 100 percent of the time, I make at least one change.

We are a society obsessed with going from none to done, from zero to zenith with barely a stop in between, but I don’t think we’re seeing the process clearly. I think we’re seeing the journey as much too easy, and I’m not sure it’s even our fault. I think we’re being sold on simplicity that’s not there. For example, “couch to 5K” running programs make sense, but couch to marathon? Is it a worthy goal to go from not being a runner at all to finishing a marathon in six or nine months, even if that means walking the majority of it? (My answer: no. Becoming a regular runner and living a more healthy lifestyle are are worthy goals, and they don’t require that you punish yourself. The marathon can wait until the body is actually ready to run the race, not stagger home in seven hours.)

Or, closer to our topic is the misunderstood world of self-publishing. The ability to publish a book or ebook with literally just a few clicks has led many, many people to finish writing the first draft of a book and to consider it done. Click: I’m a published author! Good for you! But did you know your book is almost certainly terrible? Not just full of typos, but actually terrible writing.

In case that’s not emphatic enough, allow me to beg: please, please, please don’t finish the draft and head straight for CreateSpace or KDP. You’re not nearly done. Your name will be on this. Don’t you want it to be be as good as you can make it? That means you must get back to work.

Why? Because good writing requires rewriting.

Plan to rewrite, and more than once. Your first draft will be horrible, terrible, very bad. And that’s okay. More than okay, actually: it’s expected. Why do so many writers think that all the words they put down must be brilliant?

There are times when it’s good to get it right in one take, such as when working in a blue book on a college exam, or writing inside a birthday card. But guess what? If you had the ability to rewrite on those occasions, you would almost certainly get it better the second time. And better still the third time.

This may not seem like good news for the budding novelist. You may be wondering: How many drafts, then? There’s no hard-and-fast for this, but it’s at least three for short works, and possibly more like 10 or 20 for long ones. If revising and rewriting are not something you enjoy, then perhaps writing book-length is not for you, because there are no one-draft writers.

But there is good news in this. The good news is: there is no need for writer’s block (see Immutable Law #3). You can lower your standards and just write that draft, allowing it by turns to be good or terrible. No worries; you’ll fix it later.

Please. Promise me.