Author Quotes: Crichton.

“Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” –Michael Crichton

This is the quote I turn to when I start to wonder if Serpent in a Cage will ever become a book. I’m sure some of you have read on my travails with this particular piece; those of you who haven’t need to know just a few key facts. It’s my big fantasy opus to launch a whole fantasy series, it’s my pride and joy, and it has been through a total of three full rewrites in the past twelve years, give or take. Just when I think I finally have it, I read through the draft, gawk at how awful it is, and restructure it yet again and start from the beginning. Lather, rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat again.

Sometimes, I have serious doubts as that this is a project that will ever reach completion, but then I remember that not all books are meant to be written quickly. As a matter of fact, some of the best books aren’t. And it’s okay if it requires multiple revisions and rewrites, because, as Crichton says, books aren’t written; they’re rewritten. I haven’t made it to the seventh rewrite quite yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I got there. Will I be able to accept this fact that it may never be perfect eventually? I hope so. I just have to keep reminding myself of this and not give up, and, one day, after the seventh or eighth or fifteenth rewrite, it will finally be mostly ready. Ready enough.

Do you typically find that you don’t write your books so much as rewrite them? How many revisions do your pieces tend to go through before you feel it’s ready? Do you often feel you could do more before sending it out, or do you feel pretty confident once you’ve gone through it a few times?


  1. Michael Crichton was the most eclectic author I can think of. He’s written in SO many genres. One of my favorites!

    I don’t rewrite like that. I’m one of those “edit as you go” authors. I know most people say to turn off the inner editor and just write, then edit later. I just can’t do that. I’m constantly tweaking as I’m writing. It makes writing go a little slower, but there isn’t as much to fix later on. That’s just how I do it. 😛

    I think you’ll find, as you get used to this being your REAL job now, the extra time will make a big difference. I’ve waited patiently for SiaC. LOL. I think you’ll do it. Just remember…no book is ever going to be perfect, no matter how much you tweak. There comes a time where you just have to put it out there. It might be scary, but sometimes you just have to step off that cliff.

  2. I’d like to say no, I don’t rewrite and rewrite and rewrite… But, then I thought about it. Slow Revenge, the novel I have *this close* to publishing, I first wrote back during the summer of 2004. Yes, 10 years ago. That first version wasn’t even 50k, I think. And it was crap. I wrote it again back in 2012. This was a much better version, and I haven’t actually done a full rewrite on that one just a lot of edits.

    The western I’m working on now is on it’s third/fourth version. It started as flash fiction that I turned into a short novella. I wasn’t pleased with that version and rewrote it which became a long novella/short novel. After some feedback from my CP, I’m doing a major(but not complete) rewrite and it will likely be a longer novel than the last version.

    I’ve rewritten Flames of Redemption, another novel, once and am planning some major revisions next month on this. And one of my NaNo novels I started rewriting back in February then set it aside to get Slow Revenge finished up.

    So, I guess I do rewrite quite a bit. And I, uh, should probably finish some projects.

  3. Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007), a novelist, short story writer, and literary critic, who was married to the poet Robert Lowell, once said something very similar to the Michael Crichton quote at the top of you post — something I always really liked, because I went through much that same thing with the first novel I ever wrote. She said:

    “It’s one of the things writing students don’t understand. They write a first draft and are quite disappointed, and often should be disappointed. They don’t understand that they have merely begun, and that they may be merely beginning even in the second or third draft.”

    My first published book went throughout fifteen drafts, and it took me over eight years to finish. I was bartending most of that time — though near the end of the process, when I knew I was getting close, I quite my job and went out on the road, working alone in cheap motel rooms across West Texas and New Mexico. It sounds a little over-romanticized, I know, and yet it worked. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you’re completely alone and without interruption.

    About six years ago, a guy I know, who teaches literature in college, finished (in less than a year) the first draft of his first novel, and he paid me to edit it. That draft was an unmitigated disaster. It was horrible, excruciating. (This, mind you, is someone with a Masters degree in literature, who had already had a non-fiction book published with Simon and Schuster.) I told him that his first draft needed to undergo a wall-to-wall rewrite. I was quite specific in what he needed to do, chapter-by-chapter. I gave him detailed, handwritten notes. But you know what? He fought me on it. I told him it was even worse than he knew. I told him that after the initial wall-to-wall rewrite, he’d probably need to do it again. And again. I even wrote him the Elizabeth Hardwick quote I just posted in this comment. He didn’t accept that. He began submitting his first draft and made a fool of himself. It not only never got a second glance: it received some very caustic comments, from which he never recovered.

    He’s since forgotten all about it and hasn’t tried his hand at novel-writing again, although he’s published since then a number of essays (all of which paid good money) and even won a big award for a small book of poetry.

    As acting is reacting, as reading is rereading, so writing is rewriting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s