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Never expect mission-perfect prose in the first cut

By Leo Valiquettewriting

Ernest Hemmingway once said in an interview, that he rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times because he was having trouble “getting the words right.”

Effective writing is about much more than appropriate comma use, subject-verb agreement, passive versus active voice, or avoiding exclamation marks and adverbs. These details are important. They are the nuts and bolts of writing, the technical stuff that, if diligently policed, gives prose its final polish.

But the essence of great writing is much more subjective. Great writing engages, entertains and educates. It distills ideas, opinions and concepts into provocative new forms that find resonance among audiences they haven’t before.

As Hemmingway’s timeless example illustrates, great writing seldom emerges in the first draft, no matter how skilled the writer. It is an iterative process. Review and revision by wise readers who are representative of the intended audience, as well as eagle-eyed editors, is crucial. Review and revision is the difference between good and great.

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