How self-editing became the first commandment of literature
By Craig Fehrman
to get a room full of writers to agree on anything—the best wine, the
best Shakespeare play, the best time of day to work. Perhaps the only
belief that today’s writers share is that to produce good writing, you
have to revise.
This principle appears everywhere—in classrooms, in newsrooms, in
writing guides, and especially in author interviews. “I’ve done as many
as 20 or 30 drafts of a story,” Raymond Carver once told The Paris
Review. “Never less than 10 or 12 drafts.” Joyce Carol Oates, who is so
prolific she leaves other authors shaking their heads, has said: “I
revise all the time, every day.” Even comedian Jim Gaffigan, author of
the new book “Dad is Fat,” recently urged NPR’s listeners to “keep going
back and rewriting things to make it clear.”
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