The importance of rewriting was impressed upon me many years ago, through a story told by Professor Robert Reilly. Bob purported his story to be a true tale. Bear in mind that it occurred decades before email submissions of manuscripts.

A freelance writer received an assignment from a magazine editor. Over the course of two weeks, she researched the story topic, conducted several interviews with experts, wrote her draft and made an appointment to see the editor. When she arrived for her appointment, the editor greeted her, offered her a seat across from his desk and thanked her for the manuscript. If it was agreeable to her, could she return the following week and they would discuss it. The writer agreed.

During the following week, she labored on other assignments. On the appointed day, she met the editor and again sat across from him. The man gripped her manuscript in his hand and asked her if this was the best she could do. She took the rolled sheets of paper from the editor and told him she could probably tighten it up a bit. He said that would be fine and asked her to bring it back in a week so they could talk about it.

The next week she worked on her other assignments, but also spent a day or two reworking the manuscript for the editor, rearranging the order of some of the material. The week passed more slowly, it seemed, but she kept her appointment with the editor. He received her manuscript and asked her to return again in a week, when they would discuss it. She nodded.

Working on other assignments proved more difficult for her as she brooded about the manuscript she had submitted. Her work had never received such a reaction and she admitted to herself that this bothered her. This time the week crept by and she was relieved when the day of the appointment arrived. When offered a seat in the editor’s office this time, she declined. Again he held the manuscript in his hand and repeated the same question: “Is this the best you can do?” She snatched the article from him, saying she would rework again. They agreed she would return it in a week.

Every day of the following week, she wrote and rewrote the article, examining every word, every sentence, and every paragraph. When she returned and submitted the manuscript, the editor asked her to come back in a week so they could discuss it.

She worked on nothing for seven days, consumed with angst about the article. Such questioning of her writing was unprecedented. When she sat across from the editor, and watched him hold her manuscript before her, asking her if it was the best she could, she spat: “Yes, damnit. It’s the best I can do.” The editor smiled at her and said: “Fine. Now I’ll read it.”

I doubt I’ll ever forget that story.

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