Cadets at the United States Military Academy have a formula for writing:
RD = FC
“Rough draft equals final copy.” “Hey. If it’s good enough to get down on paper, it’s good enough to turn in.”
No. No. No.
RD ≠ FC
Rough draft does not equal final copy. And that’s a key to writing well: revision. Let your draft cool. Come back to it with a reader’s set of eyes. Shorten the sentences. Shorten the words. Listen to the language.
In 1958, George Plimpton interviewed Ernest Hemingway about writing:
Plimpton: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.
Plimpton: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
It was in the revision—the rewriting—that Hemingway “got the words right.”
James Michener—the author of Hawaii, Centennial, and Tales of the South Pacific—supposedly said, “You never finish writing. You just run out of time.” Writing is ongoing. It’s continuous.
So your rough draft doesn’t equal your final copy. Ever. Keep working. Keep perfecting. Until—eventually—you run out of time.