It’s hard to get across to new writers that for all the effort and pain they put into writing their poem, their novel, their hip-hoppery, those brilliant scribbles are nothing but a first draft.
I learned the hard way. I wrote a New York Times best-selling novel. As I finished typing a page I would set it face down on the pile of previous pages. When I finished the last best-selling page, I picked up the thick block of paper, put it in a box and sent it off, unsolicited, to a publisher.
The rejection slip came back so fast the mailman collapsed out-of-breath, at my mailbox.
But don’t just take it from me. Garrison Keillor, the novelist, poet and dancing bear says “All good writing is rewriting.”
Or take it from some of the world’s most famous poets. Read through the first drafts below of their most famous poems. Tell me they’re as polished as the rewritten versions that caused our eyes to glaze over in English 101.
Lines written above Tintern Abbey
By William Wordsworth (First draft)
People kept saying
“Wanna do some heavy thinking?
Go up that hill and take a peek
at Tintern Abbey.
Looks completely different
From up there than down here.
‘twill blow your mind
and that of your burro.”
So, here I am on a hill
overlooking Tintern Abbey.
So far, big whoop.
You see one ruined abbey,
you’ve seen them all.
Also, don’t see any tinterns at all.
I wonder if they have
a can down there.
Probably ruined. Sigh.
I might have to find a tree.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
By William Butler Yeats (First draft)
I will arise and go now, because I really have to go
to Innisfree, where I will seek out the nearest throne
and if none be close by
I may have to take a closer look
at yon lake
Charge of the Light Brigade
By Alfred Lord Tennyson (First draft)
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
Forward to the powder room
of the Light Brigade
‘though I may have taken a wrong turn
At the Valley of Death
Stopping by woods on a snowy evening
By Robert Frost (First draft)
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up
with my last eight beers.
A bad moon on the rise
By Sir John Fogerty (First draft):
I see a bad moon rising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin’.
I see bad times today.
Don’t go around tonight,
Well it’s bound to take your life,
There’s a bathroom on the right.
By Rudyard Kipling (First draft)
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can hold your water just a wee bit longer
And if the lines aren’t long and there be TP…
Life is Fine
By Langston Hughes (First draft)
I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn’t,
Too much coffee in my tank
A Red, Red Rose
By Robert Burns (First draft)
O my love’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my love’s like yonder privy
Not one moment reached too soon
By Joyce Kilmer (First draft)
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree
Hold that thought
My back teeth are floating
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013-2015, all rights reserved.