Who’s On First?

November 3, 2022 § 27 Comments

By Regina Landor

A new magazine recently accepted one of my pieces for publication. It had been a long time since I had any of my work published and my first thought was, Really? That piece? It’s a story I wrote during the pandemic about an argument my husband and I had which resulted in our sleeping in separate bedrooms. Was I really ready to invite my friends and family and possibly multiple strangers into my bedroom at the very same time? I must have been. 

It was only after I received a congratulatory email that I gave the story a closer look. I closed my computer before I rounded the end. I groaned. I couldn’t read it. A paragraph stood out that was all wrong. Not only did I feel I sounded arrogant, I felt that some of the tone in that paragraph may have been hurtful to my husband. I had to get a hold of the editor. Publication was in three days. 

I attempted to reach him on four separate social media platforms. I asked him if I could send him a rewrite of the paragraph which began, “During a dinner-time conversation….” on page six. He didn’t reply. I finally made a decision: it was more important to me to get that paragraph right than it was for me to be published. If I can’t change it, I’d like to withdraw the essay, I wrote in another email. I said I was sorry. 

To my great relief, he responded, apologizing for the delay and very kindly telling me to send the updated version. He said he would read both versions and then they’d make their decision. 

Within the hour he wrote back. He preferred the original. It built “a vibrant and immersive scene…” The second version of the paragraph “weakens the strength of the scene.” 

He offered a compromise. If I were willing to keep the original opening of the paragraph on page six, he’d be fine with the other changes I wanted to make. I was relieved. But I was surprised that he saw something in my original draft that I didn’t see. I condensed the paragraph and thought I was making it better. But he thought my first draft was better. I agreed to the compromise—we would keep the original opening words of the paragraph on page six, but I would change how the paragraph ended—and that was that. The story came out the next day.

The exchange confirmed something for me about my own writing. Often, my first drafts are better. I know we’re encouraged to write multiple drafts. Anne Lamott lays that out—after who knows how many drafts—in Bird by Bird. But I’m often blind to what works and what doesn’t work in my own writing. It helps to be in a writing group. But sometimes what comes out of my fingertips the very first time just works. 

Last month I sat in an airport terminal and typed on my phone—with my thumbs!—a Facebook post about having just deposited my first-born son off at college. I’d written the piece in my mind already, while lying in bed the night before, and while walking that long distance through the airport and away from my son, my body numb with letting him go. I only needed to type it out. Sitting in my seat in the airplane, I did a quick check for punctuation, then managed to hit “post” before losing connectivity as the plane roared to life down the runway. I needed to hear from my friends and loved ones when I landed on the other end. My need for love and support was urgent. Grown men cried. From that first draft, I tapped into an emotion that so many could relate to. Somehow, I managed to hit it out of the park. 

It is possible for sparks to fly with our spontaneous acts of writing first drafts.

Once, as a teacher, I sat in the audience of my school’s guest speaker, the children’s author Linda Sue Park. She spoke to the elementary school children about the variety of writers. I remember her saying that there’s not one, single way to be a writer. Even though she addressed a group of children, her words stayed with me. There may be as many methods of writing as there are writers, she said. I hope I wasn’t the only one in the audience who took in her words. 

A long time ago I read an op-ed piece—I’ve forgotten the writer’s name and the paper—about rewriting one’s work. She wasn’t a fan. At least, she was making the point that not everything needs multiple drafts. She was so convinced of her theory, she told her readers that the very piece we were currently reading was a first draft and she wasn’t planning on rewriting it. 

That’s pretty much how I feel about this piece. Sure, I’ll go back and reread what I’ve written. I’ll change a word here and there and reorganize a few sentences. But it’s a first draft and I’m probably not going to write a second. I feel like I accomplished what I set out to write this morning.  


Regina Landor, preschool teacher, lives in Maryland. She and her husband raised their two boys overseas, in Serbia, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. She wrote a book called Forever Traveling Home about life in the Foreign Service and moving overseas with toddlers. Her second book, Marry Me Stop, is about her mother’s life and lapse into dementia, and how she lived with Regina and her family in Bangladesh. Regina likes Maryland, but misses the monkeys in Dhaka.

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§ 27 Responses to Who’s On First?

  • Bravo! You did it. And in a beautifully flowing seamless way. Thank you.

  • Regina Landor says:

    Aww. Thank you! That’s a very encouraging first comment!

  • jillnkandel says:

    It doesn’t happen often, but when it does there’s a magic to it. An honesty that hasn’t been muddled with our good intentions.

  • Amy Zlatic says:

    I love this! Sometimes I feel in my gut that my first draft is good, but then all The Experts talk about working through multiple drafts and taking months to hone a piece and I doubt myself. It’s so nice to hear that maybe, just maybe, the first draft simply works on its own with very few tweaks.

  • camilla sanderson says:

    I love your article, and I love the way you’re challenging the dominant patriarchal paradigm that writing has to be painful and re-worked, and re-worked, and re-worked, so much so that it often loses that original fire and energy. I invite you to read this Substack post on a similar theme: https://camillasanderson.substack.com/p/the-inner-patriarch

    • Regina Landor says:

      Thank you for your response! I didn’t really think I was “challenging the dominant patriarchal paradigm”—but I’ll take it! Love that.

  • I think the secret lies in knowing what needs to be left alone and and what coukd benefit from rethinking and rewriting. Not easy to figure it out . Reading what you wrote aloud can help

    • Regina Landor says:

      Yes, so true. It’s often the biggest challenge—knowing what to omit. That often happens when I read my pieces out loud.

  • amandalerougetel says:

    A piece of writing is a ‘first draft’ only if it needs reworking. Sometimes, the story flows fully formed and effortlessly from my brain through my fingers onto the screen: FINAL, the first time round. Those times — rare, but possible — are, indeed, magic, as Jill Kandel says above.

  • Carolann Curthoys says:

    Thank you, Thank you. I always feel like I HAVE to rewrite and then I often can’t think of any way to change what I have first written. Frustrating!

    • Regina Landor says:

      Maybe this post, and these comments, will free you from feeling that way. I hope so! Thank you for your comment!

  • Gary says:

    I am seldom ever satisfied with what I have written and I believe it could always be better. I think it’s a chronic condition most writers endure, one way or another. So, this speaks to me and my condition. Now what?

    • Regina Landor says:

      You probably have more patience than I do as a writer. I agree with you that most good writers probably feel there’s always a better way of saying something. For me, sometimes I feel I just want to say it, and not struggle to find a better way of saying it. Other times, I struggle very hard at finding the best way I can of saying it. I guess it depends on what I’m trying to say!

  • I love this story and your perseverance to honor your truth! ❣️

  • Vickie says:

    So true about sometimes rewriting the beauty and honesty out of something.

  • JennieWrites says:

    So sometimes first draft are just fine….Thanks for that refreshing viewpoint.

  • BJ says:

    I’ve had a very similar experience. Go with your gut!

  • I love this. I am pretty certain I needed to read this. I got chills just to the part where you wrote you had already written the piece in your mind first. How often I do that and then fail to jot it down right that instant…how often I lose the raw, organic, oh my goodness I think that’s good feeling”; if I don’t immediately sit down and write those thoughts/words out. When I try to recall them, they aren’t ever as good…
    That real first draft, gone. There’s something so real about the original. Thanks for this. Where can I find your airport piece? ~Lisa

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