Write, Re-write, Rinse, Repeat

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Thirty-nine revisions to get the words right? I couldn’t believe it.
I thought great writers had golden pens. As soon as they started writing, the words flowed and everything fell into place. Did Hemingway really need thirty-nine revisions of the final page just to get the words right? The answer is yes, and that happens to be the number one secret of great writers—rewriting.
The greatest writers are great, not only because they have a way with words and not only because they have great ideas, but more importantly, because they carefully craft their writing into a final draft that reads better than the first ever possibly could.

The above is an excerpt from a FABULOUS post by Joseph Putnam, which is highly recommended reading for all new writers.

The bolded out sentence is my emphasis. That was me about 6 years ago, when one day, my husband, a corporate honcho and a non-writer, broke it to me: no one gets it right at the first attempt, all writing is re-writing.

I’ve got the lesson down pat for short stories, and in some cases, rewritten a story about 25 times, before it went on to be pubbed in an anthology.

Now, 28000 words into the first draft of a novel, I need to re-learn that lesson, just let go and write. And then Re-write, Rinse, Repeat.

So, dear writers, what is the most number of times you’ve re-written a piece, a story, a novel?

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Add Yours
  1. Cheyenne Campbell

    My query alone for my first completed manuscript (which I'm still querying, 3 years after I started this process) has, in Scrivener, no less than 45 versions. And that's just since I started using Scrivener. I'm happy with where it is now, but worried about how many more rewrites the MS itself needs. And it's had quite a few already!

    But it's impossible to describe how wonderful it is to look back on past versions of any of my writing and see how far it's come. It may have a long way to go yet, but that process is integral.

  2. Lance Adams

    I don't think how many times you rewrite matters as much as the process of rewriting. For a long time I counted line edits as rewriting when re-writing should include re-reading the material, outlining, and development.

    You can rewrite a page or chapter twenty times only to realize you don't need the page or chapter for the plot. Currently I'm rewriting A Voice I Heard, a psychological thriller novel and working on a series of blog articles about the rewrite process.

    Interesting comments! I hope you have a great week!


  3. Denise Covey

    I've been rewriting my first novel for 3 years, but a lot of the time it just lies there in my subconscious. When I take it up again, it sings to me. Meanwhile, I have so many other projects on the go, but they all get several rewrites before they're submitted.

    Hemingway is my inspiration. If it took him that long, why not us?

  4. Loree Huebner

    I have rewritten and revised one of my novels many times…4 times in the past year alone by request.

    I even shortened it 7,000 wds to submit it under the requested word count. Now that was a huge challenge to keep the story but lose some of the word count.

    I learn so much every time I go through it.

  5. Michele Shaw

    I couldn't day since I rewrite constantly as I go. By the time I'm finished, the number has to be HUGE. Kinda scary, but necessary for me. I'm a tweaker through and through!

  6. Annalisa Crawford

    I haven't counted, but I have a novel that's been rewritten since 1992 – it's been a novella, a short story and a novel; and then gone back and been all of those things again. I've now decided it's probably best to retire it.

  7. Catherine Noble

    Everything I've written so far needs to be rewritten before it will be let loose! I don't mind, as I'd rather be happy with the end result, rather than wishing I'd changed bits once it's too late! 🙂

  8. wordyliving

    I have this story or character, rather that started out about 7 years ago as an idea for a fictional biography. Then changed it to short a story that got never written past the first 2 paragraphs. Then I decided it's a novel material. Then added another main character. Then stopped. Then started to write it as a screenplay which I'm in the middle of. I'll never get rid of him. 🙂
    – andrea

  9. José María Souza Costa


    Passei por aqui, para lê o seu blogue.

    Admirável. Harmonioso. Eu também estou montando um. Não tem as Cores e as Nuances do Vosso. Mas, confesso que é uma página, assim, meia que eclética. Hum… bem simples, quase Simplória. E outra vez lhe afirmo. Uma página autentica e independente. Estou lhe convidando a Visitar-me, e se possível Seguirmos juntos por Eles. Certamente estarei lá esperando por você, com o meu chapeuzinho em mãos ou na cabeça.
    Insisto que vá Visitar-me, afinal, o que vale são os elos dos sorrisos.


  10. Angela Brown

    I have one story where I've re-written the beginning almost 9 times, SO FAR. Not sure how many more it will take but it will be worth it to get it right 🙂

  11. scott g.f.bailey

    My novel The Astrologer was rewritten about seven times, each version radically different from the previous. I made multiple revision passes for each version (I am in fact just now doing some last-minute changes before sending it off to the publisher), so I've been writing and rewriting that book since 2007, I think. I've written other books along the way, too, which have all been rewritten and rewritten and then rewritten. I've trained myself to only move forward in first drafts, never going back to edit/revise no matter what. After the first draft's done, though, I seem to work endlessly. I tell myself that every revision is an improvement, not just a change.

  12. D.G. Hudson

    I totally rearranged my first five chapters after a few revisions and that took another few months to get organized. (Like rearranging the pieces of a puzzle.) This same novel has been through about 10 revisions. It's better for that, even if frustrating for me.

    http://dghudson.blogspot.ca/ Paris Postscripts (latest)

  13. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    I rewrote my entire first book, but the original was old and horrible. Some scenes it takes a few tries, but since then I've not had to rewrite entire chapters or anything. Just lots and lots of adjustments!