Even Jefferson had second drafts

After a writer is successful, and their works enter the canon, we quietly assume their  work could not have been written any other way. That is until we study how they made their famous works. One reason I made the time-lapsed video of writing an essay is to show how much change is involved in writing even short pieces.

Here you can see one of Jefferson’s drafts of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. He wrote several, and reviewed the document in detail with the Committee of Five. It’s unclear how many revisions or discussions they had, but it’s clear the document is a product of thoughtful revision.

You can see the full transcript of the above version of the Declaration.

4 Responses to “Even Jefferson had second drafts”

  1. Sean Crawford

    Well Scott, as you know, a writer you have mentioned, John Gardener, believed in extensive rewriting.

    What has helped me both to edit my own stuff and to “see” a page as needing editing was having a full page of editing marks on the wall. There are, for example, marks to tell a typesetter to reverse the order of words or clauses.

    Recently I have come across marks for an essay editor such as “expand this paragraph.” These new marks I am resistant to learning. Sigh! It is time, once again, to have less ego and more professionalism.

  2. Chia YH

    Very good point about the revisions. The thing I noticed about many people and myself some years back, is that most of us focus too much on the finished product but not paying enough attention to the proces.

    Writing rewriting seen to be the best way to gaurantee that our thoughts are rigorous. The brain, like the computer need to be programmed before it can do anything useful. Despite the thousands of things a computer can perform with superb accuracy and speed, it owed its ability because of the thousands of corrections the programmer had made when writing the codes.

    Your tItle of this article is indeed a ‘wow , why didn’t I think of that’ feeling! Good work Scott!

  3. Peter Hackbert

    Revisions, draft, and edits (applications of the design thinking school of innovation) have become critical elements in our work with students in social media here at EPG. You have provided me another excellent example to show the students. Thanks.



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