The Secret of Good Writing

Many students have the mistaken belief that the best writers get it right the first time, and that only poor writers have to bother with drafting, rewriting and tinkering.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Professional writers and expert writing tutors agree that the secret of good writing is rewriting — and then rewriting some more.

William Zinsser, author of several internationally acclaimed classics on the craft of writing, puts it well:

William Zinsser

Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost. The idea is hard to accept. We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can’t believe that it wasn’t born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 percent that it wasn’t. (William Zinsser) 

Good writers know that very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time or the fifth time. … [R]ewriting is the essence of writing … [P]rofessional writers rewrite their sentences over and over and then rewrite what they have rewritten (William Zissner) 

A small detail, you may say—not worth bothering about. It is worth bothering about. Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there. (William Zinsser)

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For those who remain sceptical, here are a few more quotes, from people who know what they’re talking about:

Noah Lukeman
Noah Lukeman

There is no such thing as a great writer; there are only great re-writers. As you’ve heard before, 90 percent of writing is rewriting. If first drafts existed of some of the classics, you’d find many of them to be dreadful. This process of rewriting draws heavily on editing.  (Noah Lukeman)

The huge difference between everyday writing that everybody does and serious writing is the proportion that is re-writing. I’d estimate that for non-writers, rewriting accounts for maybe 10-20% of their writing. For serious writers, it accounts for anywhere between 50-90% depending on how critical the particular piece is. (Venkatesh Rao)

Writing can be a painful process of rewriting, rewriting, and more rewriting … This rewriting cycle develops both your writing and your thinking, moving both toward clarity and power. (Joshua Schimel)

Just focus on making every sentence, every paragraph, every page the very best you can make it. Then, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite until the work is even better! (Suzanne Lieurance)

“Good writing is bad writing that was rewritten.” (Marc Raibert)

“You have to write a lot. And you have to rewrite what you wrote a lot more.” (Holly Black)