You don’t have to rewrite with a toothbrush

A quote that is all over the Internet compares rewriting to “scrubbing the basement floor with a toothbrush”. The quote is a great deal more available than information about the writer to which it is attributed, Pete Murphy. We think this must be the Peter Murphy who wrote JOHN THE REVELATOR, an acclaimed coming of story in southeastern Ireland.
Here is a quote from that Peter Murphy which sounds a little like he might have written the toothbrush one too. He is describing his writing process:
“Spew onto the screen, shape, edit, printout, make notes, cut, rework, insert, reshape, printout again, make more notes, re-insert, re-cut, repeat, ad lib to fade. I’d love to eventually get back to longhand. A cramp in the hand sharpens the mind.”
A cramp in the hand, toothbrush scrubbing, see the similarity? In both cases, he, if it is he, makes the point that writing is hard, hard work. And so it is.
But perversely, we love rewrites. It has a lot to recommend it. For one, you have to have finished something – a book, a chapter, a story – to rewrite it. There is some comfort in that. You’re already immersed in it and the framework, that there is a framework, is not in doubt although it may need work.
In revisiting words and scenes that were set down at some earlier time, you may surprise yourself by liking them. If you don’t, you are coming at them with some perspective and will more easily see ways to improve them. We take great pleasure in reworking material because we can see it get better and we get a lot of satisfaction from that.