The power of a good rewrite

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Posted 3/14/17 (Tue)

What A Joke
By John Bayer

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Writing is rewriting.” When I decided to make my living (if you can call this living) as a writer, I came to understand just how true that phrase is. The first draft of anything we write is usually terrible: littered with typos, grammatical errors and clunky sentences. 
Most every piece of writing is improved by doing additional drafts. We all remember the beautiful opening sentences of Charles Dickens’s classic A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” 
Would this book have become a classic if Dickens had stuck with his first draft? “When you average it out, the times were so-so.”
There are other examples from great literature. Moby Dick didn’t always start with the line “Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville’s original opening line was, “There’s something fishy going on around here.”
Songs, too, have been improved by a little revision. “I’ve got you under my skin,” is a much catchier and more romantic title than the original, “You’re trapped below my epidermis.”
The Beatles famous line “I am the walrus. Goo goo g’joob,” would have been a nonsensical mess if they had gone with their original, “I am the walrus. Doo doo g’doob.”
And it’s hard to imagine Carly Simon having as big of a hit with, “You’re so vague. You probably think this song’s about someone.”
Politicians have long known the value of rewriting. Franklin Roosevelt probably would not have motivated a nation with his original line of “We have  nothing to fear but packs of hungry wolves.” And it’s doubtful that people would have been impressed with Truman’s insistence that “The buck does not continue once it reaches this place where I am located.”
All my Dakotan friends know that Teddy Roosevelt wrote, “If it weren’t for my time in North Dakota, I never would have become president.” Most don’t know his rejected first draft: “If it weren’t for my time in North Dakota, I never would have known there could be blizzards in May.”
Some famous sayings have also evolved (been rewritten) over time:
“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” was originally “Don’t count your eggs.”
“When in Rome do as the Romans do” used to be “When in Rome, make time to visit the Colosseum.”
“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” once had the addendum “but it’s just grass so who really cares.” 
So the next time you log onto Facebook to tell someone, “Your defiantly a good fiend” remember the power of rewriting before you hit send.