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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Revising your writing again? Blame the Modernists

How self-editing became the first commandment of literature

It’s tough to get a room full of writers to agree on anything—the best wine, the best Shakespeare play, the best time of day to work. Perhaps the only belief that today’s writers share is that to produce good writing, you have to revise.

This principle appears everywhere—in classrooms, in newsrooms, in writing guides, and especially in author interviews. “I’ve done as many as 20 or 30 drafts of a story,” Raymond Carver once told The Paris Review. “Never less than 10 or 12 drafts.” Joyce Carol Oates, who is so prolific she leaves other authors shaking their heads, has said: “I revise all the time, every day.” Even comedian Jim Gaffigan, author of the new book “Dad is Fat,” recently urged NPR’s listeners to “keep going back and rewriting things to make it clear.”

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