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Article
December 6, 1965

THE WRITER AS CRITIC

JAMA. 1965;194(10):1130. doi:10.1001/jama.1965.03090230098030

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Abstract

Authorities, genuine and imagined, have published innumerable books and articles purporting to teach good writing skills. It is no surprise that these authors differ on many questions of method and technique. But certain fundamental rules are widely acknowledged. Of prime import is the admonition, have something to say. And next to this in importance is the alliterative rule, revise repeatedly.

Some people still believe that writing is easy for the gifted few, and impossible for everyone else. The fact is, writing is a painful task for all; and good writing requires far more agony than bad, because good writing requires frequent revision. Furthermore, successful revision demands that most illusory virtue—honest, dispassionate selfcriticism.

It seems so easy to change words in the mind, and so difficult once they are set to paper. There is nothing more difficult for the writer—whether physician or novelist, poet or researcher—than to learn one bitter lesson:

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