Revising and Rewriting


Today is “R” Day in the A to Z Challenge and my theme is Ernest Miller Hemingway (EMH).

Like any great author, EMH spent much time revising and rewriting his drafts. Some advice from EMH:

Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself. That’s the true test of writing. When you can do that, the reader gets the kick and you don’t get any. You just get hard work and the better you write the harder it is because every story has to be better than the last one. It’s the hardest work there is.

From his 1958 interview in The Paris Review

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.

In July 2012, another edition of A Farewell to Arms was published including 47 alternative endings to the novel. The cover used was the original design first published in 1929. According to Seán Hemingway (a grandson), the true number of rewrites for the book was 47.

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Many alternative titles for the book were also made by EMH and these include Love in War, World Enough and Time, Every Night and All, Of Wounds and Other Causes and The Enchantment.

Other advice on revising and rewriting from EMH (mostly from a letter to Arnold Samuelson, a young writer who showed up on EMH’s doorstep in Key West):

The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before.
When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest.
Every day go back to the beginning and rewrite the whole thing and when it gets too long, read at least two or three chapters before you start to write and at least once a week go back to the start.
And when you go over it, cut out everything you can.
… it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.

  12 comments for “Revising and Rewriting

  1. April 21, 2016 at 12:42 PM

    There is a lot of work, and you can’t get out of it — gotta love an honest writer of such caliber. Yes, creatives of all kinds must suffer, I’m afraid, for their art — he nailed it. And that last bit — shouldn’t sound like a story read, but something that really happened. Vitally important in good literature, and he made the ‘look as if it really happened’ part easy, when it’s anything but.
    Glad to see you’re back up, technologically.

    • April 21, 2016 at 12:53 PM

      Thanks, Silvia. The issue was Jetpack and a bad update.

  2. April 21, 2016 at 12:44 PM

    Very interesting!
    Sudha from
    Everyday Muse

    • April 21, 2016 at 12:53 PM

      Cheers, Sudha!

  3. April 22, 2016 at 10:53 AM

    writers who write a book in a month should read Ernest’s advice. Indeed writing is hard work. His work is mandatory reading in college Lit for a reason.

  4. April 22, 2016 at 11:52 AM

    Oh yea…….the mechanics of writing blogs. Having the story and writing it takes 3 minutes. Editing, re-writes, research, more re-writes, bad vibes, new ideas……..4 hours.

    I hear you Denise and Ernie………whoops; re-write……Ernest

    • April 22, 2016 at 1:58 PM

      Hahahaha, ZD$%, I mean ZD45. Unfortunately in my case, that is TRUE.

  5. April 22, 2016 at 1:57 PM

    Excellent advice from a writer who took his calling quite seriously. Many of his ideas that you presented here are universally relevant. I especially like his advice to “convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.” The true elements of writing are revising and rewriting. Thanks for sharing these wonderful thoughts!

    Gail’s 2016 April A to Z Challenge
    S is for Save Our Planet

    • April 22, 2016 at 2:01 PM

      Gail, thank you so much for reading and commenting! When it came to his writing, EMH was very serious. Since he could not use his mind to remember and write, he left this world.

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