May 26, 2021

Writing vs Rewriting

Mike Sacks of the New Yorker recently interviewed John Swartzwelder.

Here’s a link to the full article

Swartzwelder is known as “The Sage of The Simpsons” and is one of the most revered comedy writers of all time. He left the show years ago, but he never stopped working.

Here’s his advice on writing:

Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.” Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight.


I’ve written a half dozen books and in retrospect, this advice maps perfectly to my experience, but I never thought to apply it intentionally.

Interestingly (but perhaps not coincidentally) this is also the same way I code.

First, I write crap code to get a proof of concept working as quickly as possible.

Then, I refactor it until I wouldn’t be mortified to show it to someone who actually knows what she’s doing.

Like Swartzweld’s observation about rewriting, I find that refactoring code is quite relaxing and fun. It can almost be addictive.

Here’s the thing...

Writing is a key component of building a business based on your expertise.

If you find writing to be tedious or difficult, give the Swartzwelder approach a try.