Shut Up, Hemingway


“Writing is rewriting.” — Ernest Hemingway


Yeah, yeah, I know the story about the last chapter of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms—that he allegedly rewrote it 39 times before he was satisfied with it.

I say “allegedly” because I’ve also read accounts in which he rewrote the last page 39 times, and others in which he rewrote the entire book 39 times. More likely he drank 39 cocktails, shot 39 clay pigeons, caught 39 marlins and rewrote the same word 39 times.

Why am I blathering on about Hemingway’s editorial habits? Because I’m in the middle (exactly the middle) of the SEVENTH draft of my new novel, and I’m getting a little tired of rewriting. I want to be…oh, I don’t know…WRITING something new, otherwise known as CREATING. I’ve been poring over individual sentences for two weeks, and the resulting effect on my eyes and brain is similar to snow blindness.

Recently I read a quote by bestseller Michael Crichton about rewriting and his sense of despair about it. I was impressed that he’d gone on the record about this dreaded subject because I’ve found that a lot of very successful authors like to keep the production of their works a mystery to convey that it really isn’t all that hard. This is what I call the “writer as auteur” or the “folks don’t want to see how the sausages are made” school of thought.

Anyway, here’s what Crichton had to say (which doesn’t bode well for me—there will probably be an 8th draft—I’m used to it):


“Books aren’t written—they’re rewritten….It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”


Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go decide whether to use a loose or periodic sentence in the paragraph I’m working on.

Hopefully I won’t have to rewrite the f-cker 39 times.

Before I go, I want to leave you with an entirely different kind of Hemingway quote—one that shows he wasn’t always Mr. Serious Writer:


“Got tight last night on absinthe. Did knife tricks.” —Hemingway, in a letter to a friend



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By Chris Orcutt

Writer — The Dakota Stevens Mystery Series, Short fiction, Plays — Editor & Speechwriter for Hire — Avid Golfer, Chess Player & Awesome Wood-Splitter — Twitter: @chrisorcutt

Comments (4)

  1. John Seals April 28, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    Maybe each unto his/her own “style” is a better rule. It’s hard to believe that Stephen King has done a whole lot of rewriting with the prodigious volume he turned out over the years.

  2. emclaire January 11, 2013 at 4:14 am

    3 or 39 f–cking times, it was worth it! Just finished A Real Piece of Work & loved it. From there, I found your blog. So happy to have discovered a new author on Amazon. I have to wait until tomorrow to start the next book or I’ll be up all night! Best wishes for a smoother way completing the third book.

    • admin January 11, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      Thank you so much for the kind comment, and I’m glad I’ve made you happy by giving you a new author to read. By the way, if you were up for it, it would be great if you posted short reviews on Amazon of A Real Piece of Work & The Rich Are Different—but only if you really enjoyed them. Thank you for your support. —Chris

  3. Rambler December 21, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Her name escapes me, but I remember seeing a story about a prominent poet who said she sometimes revised a poem 100 times.