Rewriting is a waste of time

For the last two months, I’ve been working fulltime on an update of a book I wrote several years ago.

More precisely, I’ve been working on an update of the first 20 pages of that book.

Yesterday I said to myself, "Self, what would you tell a student who had this problem?"

Self answered, "Don’t rewrite; revision."

writer at typewriter tossing pages into trash

Revising is a last-century technique.

As a teenager, I followed my English teacher’s dictum and revised my writing again and again and again until I had beaten it into a lifeless mass of words, with nothing to show for my effort but a wastepaper can full of crumpled paper.

Later, as a newspaper reporter, I discovered that once I had my lead paragraph the rest of the story would fall into place.

For years I eschewed rewriting.

If I started a piece that didn’t work, I looked for a different approach to the topic, a different perspective.

And I taught my writing students not to waste time rewriting, but to find a new vision.

But every so often I forget.

I revert to the behavior Mrs. Clark drilled into me.

I try to rewrite my way to clarity.

It never works.

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