Did I rewrite this? Sure did.

By Tom Pfeifer

I was riding the bus with my friend Jenn awhile back, talking about our work passions. She said she admired my ability to write. To paraphrase:

“I like to write. But it never comes out well.”Hands typing on a keyboard

To which I replied with a James Michener quote:

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”

Every professional writer I know is an excellent rewriter.

I apply three golden rules to everything I write:

1)    Write, then rewrite, and, if necessary, rewrite again.

2)    Print it out and read it out loud. Then rewrite.

3)    Have someone with good editing skills take a look at it. If necessary, rewrite again.

Only then is a piece ready to be released to the world.

There is no set rule of how many rewrites a piece should go through. I rewrite until I’m satisfied it is the best it can be, or a deadline forces me to push the send button. I’ve written pieces with which I was satisfied after the first rewrite. But unless I’m posting to Facebook or Twitter, that’s rare. (Yes, I do edit my posts before I post.) For short pieces of 1,000 words or less, most of what I write goes through a minimum of three rewrites before I think I’m done. A rewrite could be as simple as tightening up some sentences. It could be as involved as moving some paragraphs around for better flow. Sometimes I’ve found the nut buried in the piece and rewrote it with the nut as my lead. And that doesn’t count the partial rewrites I do within a piece as I’m writing it.

I wrote an 800-word column this weekend that went through several massive rewrites. After the first write-through, I realized I needed other research to plug in. I found it and plugged it in. It still had a hole in the flow. I researched some more and added it to the mixture. Then I moved words, sentences, and paragraphs around, deleted some now superfluous material, and massaged it until it felt and read right.

Once I thought I was finished, I printed out the piece and read it out loud. One of my old editors used to tell a story about a visiting editor walking into his newsroom. Asked if he could pick out his best writers, the visiting editor said, “Sure,” and pointed to three reporters. “How did you know?” the hosting editor asked. “Because their lips are moving.”

Words are meant to be spoken. I don’t write with my lips moving. I’m not that coordinated. But I also don’t send out anything until I’ve read it out loud. You’ll find a lot of typos, dropped words, and flow problems when reading a piece out loud. Oral reading always leads to a stronger piece.

Next, I give it to someone else to read. A professional writer never publishes until at least one other set of eyes have looked it over, as a mentor told me eons ago. I have twin daughters who have been editing my writing for more than a decade. They are now 24 and still love finding the errors of their daddy’s ways. If you don’t have children, find someone else to edit. If the first person you pick doesn’t find errors in at least two out of every three pieces you write, then find someone else. Because you will make errors you don’t see no matter how many times you review it. That’s why God invented editors.

Writing, rewriting, reading out loud, and giving it to an editor may not make you a James Michener. But you will be much more proud of your writing. Then, when someone compliments your writing skills while complaining about their own, you can smile and say: “I’m not a very good writer, either. But I’m an excellent rewriter.”


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. I stumbled upon your blog when adding some related posts to mine today (just about to include a link to this).
    Great post. I recently nominated my dad to be my blog editor and he emails me within a few hours of posting it to let me know if I have missed out a word or spelled something incorrect. Sometimes I can’t believe that he has found something, as I read it through so many times before posting.
    Sandra

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    • Took a look at your blog, Sandra, and subscribed to “My writing challenge.” I’m always amazed by writers who shun editors. You don’t have to accept the criticism, but another set of scrutinizing eyes always makes the writing better. Best of luck in your pursuits!
      tom

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  2. […] Did I rewrite this? Sure did. (tompfeifer.wordpress.com) Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponDiggRedditLinkedInEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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  3. […] Did I rewrite this? Sure did. (tompfeifer.wordpress.com) […]

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  4. Hi Tom, enjoyed your article. Yes, it is a very good idea to have others read your stuff. Went through a website analysis and the guy said, “correct the typos.” I was appalled I had five errors. Wrote a book, had two editors review it – and I still found errors after the book was published. Wow. But they were not copy editors; they were substance editing. Guess there is a difference. Look forward to talking with you. Lorraine

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  5. This is ridiculously brilliant.

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