“I’m not a writer, I’m a rewriter”

I’m deep in the last phase of revising the book, and came across these two quotations about rewriting.

First is David McCullough, from an interview in the Paris Review:

I don’t understand people who sit and think what they’re going to write and then just write it out. My head doesn’t work that way. I’ve got to mess around with it on paper. I’ve got to make sketches, think it out on paper. Sometimes I think I’m not a writer, I’m a rewriter. When a page isn’t working, I crumple it into a ball and throw it in the wastebasket. Always have. Our son Geoffrey, when he was a little boy, would come out where I work and look in my wastebasket to see how many “wrong pages” I had written that day. If the basket was full, it had been a good day. I’d worked things through.

Then there’s John Irving on rewriting, again in Paris Review:

Finishing, like beginning, is more careful work. I write very quickly; I rewrite very slowly. It takes me nearly as long to rewrite a book as it does to get the first draft.

Of course, there’s also Louis Brandeis’ famous (famous in the sense that lots of people quote it, attribute it to him, but don’t say where it comes) line, “There is no great writing, only great rewriting.”

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