A beautiful day for a rewrite

April 19, 2023

On the rare occasions when someone asks me, “How do you write so well?” my response invariably includes the idea that my first drafts aren’t much better than anyone else’s, but that I have a superhuman willingness to edit and re-edit and re-re-edit my drafts until, eventually, they become good.

I believe this strongly, yet compelling examples are hard to find. Who wants to track an essay’s changes to see how, in the course of a hundred adjustments, an unpromising narrative gradually gains coherence and forcefulness?

Well, I just came across a blog post — Freddish, the special language Mister Rogers used when talking to children — that gives a wonderfully compact illustration of this editorial alchemy. The original text is only one sentence long and seems OK: “It is dangerous to play in the street.” Yet a careful consideration of the goals and the audience reveals that there is much to be improved!

I don’t love every step of the 9-step process, but I’m not an expert in writing for young children, and besides, quibbles about individual steps don’t really compromise the overall argument that getting the words just right is difficult, yet worth the hassle.

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