All writing is rewriting

Here, trimmed but not rewritten, is a piece from Wyatt Mason at Harper’s.

Exactly what I’ve gone through, even to the readers who suggested a change from third to first person narrative. (I had the not-uncommon suspicion that first-person narrative was the sign of a beginner.)


Humming a song

(I can’t get no… satisfaction)

An artist is never truly satisfied with his or her work. That is why they keep creating. They are searching for that perfect piece. The piece they will never find. But during the journey many a wondrous things are created…

Aside: I recently read a book which was written entirely in second-person, and there were about half-a-dozen protagonists. It was strange to “be” Sue in one chapter, and then Jack in another. Interesting experience though.

Anyway, it is for this reason that I make frequent use of the snapshot feature. My Pre-Scrivener writing archives are littered with cases where the third or fourth rewrite bugs me, and I wish I could go back to an earlier revision that no longer exists.

Tweaking is good; first drafts always suck, but sometimes the fourth edit is worse than the first!

Are you saying that first person narrative is for newbies only, and frowned upon by all seasoned scriblers?
If so, why? Do tell.

I have heard a slightly different variation: Most people who first meet the task of creative writing (usually in some early level of education) tend to pick first-person narrative because of its comfortable feel. After-all, that is how we interface with the world, at least those of us who are lacking in copious quantities of alternate personalities (Vic!). I typically hear people say that it is, contrary to how it seems, a bad choice for a beginner to make, because it is more difficult to craft a story without any kind of omniscience. So I guess I could see, since many new writers do select first-person, it could be a “sign” of such—but as an actual difficulty level, third-person omniscient is probably the “easiest” in terms of making everything work at a structural level.

I’m not sure that it is true that people start with first-person, at least from my experience.

All of the books I can remember from first reading through to early schooling are written in third person, in my experience. It is usually “John can jump” and “Spot can run”, not “I can jump and run”. I know most of my early “creative writing” in primary school was 3rd person.

I think first person becomes more prevalent in high school with the hideous “personal essays” they make you write from year 8 through to year 12 English exams. “I went to the party and we got so drunk and it was the best night ever because I kissed this guy, but then I threw up… I’ll never drink again.” That is where the worst writing is done, and where most people learn first person.

I don’t think first person is a sign of an amateur - there are a lot of very good books written in first person, and I have an equal liking for first and third person.

It may be true, however, that more bad writing is done in first person.

No. The operative words were “had” and “suspicion.”

That is to say, I did at one time consider it a possibility.

On the West Bank of the Atlantic, “Call me Ishmael,” is enough to dispel it, as is “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”


How about a story that is in First Person but all the characters refer to themselves in Third Person…

My apologies young Philip, I misread your last line. Could`ve been inder the unfuence.
Take care

I think that one is called Synecdoche, New York.

Looks like another Kaufman Masterclass:,_New_York

Yes, and a beautifully done one at that; saw it last night.

Narrative point-of-view complexities aside, it is apropos to the rewrite notion as well. Though touching the surfaces of life in many ways, a recurring (ha) theme is the continual self-editing and external-editing that defines the way we view the world. The author’s (or in the case of the film, the playwright’s) need to edit, comes from a deeply human function of awareness. We fiddle with everything, until even our most concrete memories become wild distortions of self-referential mayhem. Kaufman just took it a step further, breaking the fifth wall you might say, by in a manic sense, trying to sew up all of the broken fourth walls around him.

Charlies not the only Master, in this thread. Youd make a brilliant critic, A. :wink:
Take care

I struggled with this, and I’ve avoided first person for similar reasons–not that I think it’s inherently less professional per se, but that it seems it would be too easy to slip into an inadvertent bildungsroman autobiographical voice when writing in first. Just because in my world it’s always been all about me me me anyway. :laughing:

For years in a previous incarnation I was the chief copyeditor for Bantam’s Choose Your Own Adventure Series, which I believe was the first series to make use of the second person to create a specific genre–kids’ interactive adventure stories. It was lots of fun if you didn’t weaken.

As for rewriting and slashing with the meat cleaver, I experimented with the word count feature on Scriv this morning, putting all my documents (read scenes) together to see where I stood, and to my horror discovered I have churned out 55,000 words of what I hoped would be a 100,000 word (MAXIMUM) novel, and I am not yet even a third of the way through my rough outline. :cry:

Does Scriv perhaps have a slash-and-burn feature I haven’t come across yet? David, could you get on to Keith about this for 1.5?

Bless you, my child. This will save me a BUNCH. :laughing:

Now, can you design me an avatar that includes my rather rambunctious Arabian filly (as in, I’m not riding in the ring with you and that wild animal) and some form of hatchet cum scalpel that would solve my problems in the arena AND on the desktop?

Many thanks.

As an exercise in “try the sort of stuff you tell your students to try,” I once wrote a couple stories which did not use “the” at all. Several writer friends read them – without having been told the gimmick – and commented on a sense of abstraction, just right, one said, for magic realism. On the other side of the coin, some forms of the language – thinking particularly of KJV, where much of the style is imposed by translators intent on maintaining the original thought – use “the” as a rich and quite necessary intensifier.

Still, one quick way to edit copy is to eliminate every third “the,” half the prepositions, and three-quarters of the adverbs.


This is really interesting - sorry to barge in after not being around for so long, but life and all that… I am on about draft 101 of my first 10,000 words of the WIP. I am writing in 1st person. I always write naturally in 3rd person and I was quite surprised that the consensus seems to be that noobs write in 1st - I find it harder,

A great exercise (one I did at school) is to write a story about two people meeting. Write in 3rd person, then re-write in 1st from 1 pov, then in 1st from the other pov, and finally, re-write in 3rd again. It si stunning how much better the 2nd 3rd person pov will be. Mind you, given time constraints you might want to make it a fairly short story…

great exercise in pov and re-writing though.