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 there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
(Ernest Hemingway, “The Art of Fiction,” The Paris Review Interview, 1956) 1
The act of revision is an absolutely necessary part of writing, no matter what kind. Essays, stories, novels, books all require that the author not be satisfied with initial drafts. “Re-vision” means to re-see, or to look at the work from another perspective. This idea is something I try to teach my students in College First Year Writing classes, and it is crucial that I apply the ideas myself to my own work.
When I look back over my writing of the last few years, I can see that I employ this practice. I wrote at five-seven drafts of the chapters of my dissertation for my Ph.D. in English, and I continue to revise with the novels I am currently writing. At this point, I have done seven drafts of my first novel, the supernatural thriller Evil Lives After; I am currently working on the third draft of my second novel, a young adult speculative work. The third is still in the initial first draft phase, but later in the year, revision will begin. I am not sure if I will ever reach the levels of Hemingway with 39 drafts of an ending to a novel!
Of course, the writer can revise in several ways. Do we do a complete rewriting of the draft trying to deal with everything, or do we focus on a particular aspect of the novel, for example structure or characterization? I do not pretend to know what each writer should do. I suspect that it varies according to project and writer.
What I am certain of is that we must continue to work on the writing, trying to see it in new ways and looking for various problems to fix.
1. From http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/rewritequotes.htm 3/28/2015.