The Difference between Re-Writing and Editing


What’s the difference between re-writing and editing?

 Everyone knows that re-visiting a first draft has the potential to improve it. However, it’s also possible to end up with a piece that sounds and feels dead on the page. Contrived. Flat. Devoid of its original sparkle. I believe this happens when a writer make one of the biggest mistakes I made in my early career, re-writing and editing at the same time.  I didn’t know that the re-drafting process encompassed several aspects. It didn’t help that other writers often use these two phrases interchangeably, but mean slightly different things. 

I’ve found that my pieces come out best when I separate the redrafting/editing process into two distinct phases that come after the initial first draft. So here’s my take on it.


I define re-writing as the following process. Once I’ve written a first draft, which is basically a conversation with myself about a subject, I put it away for a day, few days, preferably a week. Then I re-read it with fresh eyes, which makes it much easier to see what I was trying to tell myself. Or, as frequently happens in poems, I started on one subject and then segued into a more interesting subject or perspective. Once I’ve read through my first draft and identified the core of it, I re-write it again with this spine in mind.

Sometimes I discover on first reading, that my piece already has a good spine. This can happen because I am writing to a particular brief, or because I have nearly 30 years experience and it was a good writing day. But there will still be parts where I need to dive deeper, and that’s what  this read-through helps me identify. I won’t re-write it from scratch, but I will flesh out the weak areas.

This re-drafting phase may go through several repetitions. I may re-write from a different point of view, change tense, or start earlier or later in the scene. I play with these to see which make the piece stronger.


Once I’ve re-written, I leave my piece again for a day or so, before coming back to edit.

Now my aim is to trim away the flab, and nitpick grammar, line breaks and sentence structure.

One of my favourite ways to tighten a poem is to go through with a highlighter, and run it over any phrase which is not directly related to the senses. In other words, any explanation. It can be challenging to do this; we writers love to explain ourselves. But strong sensory images, made of bricks of detail, evoke an emotional response in the reader. One that helps your story lodge in their memory. Explanation is scaffolding, and you can’t see the building properly when it’s obscured with poles and planks. 

I’m not saying I get rid of all explanation. I use a highlighter is so I can still see the original text. Then when I read the piece back without the highlighted phrases, if a part of the piece doesn’t make sense, I can add in a hint of explanation or a link phrase. Here’s an example from an excerpt of an early draft of my poem ‘Consider the Cupcake’. Read the first version out loud, and then the second, which has most of the explanation removed, only leaving enough to link the images.

Consider the Cupcake

Consider its curves

Its twists and turns,

Consider the glint of light

On its sprinkles.

You salivate and the first thing

You want to do is lick off its frosting

Respond to its whispering

‘Go on, try me.’

So beguiling.

And you think

Yes. I deserve this.’

 I’ve had a tough day.

There’s a vague gnawing

In your stomach, a cake-sized void

That needs filling.

An emptiness

You can’t put a name to

But you hate it and don’t

Want to feel it anymore. 

You want to feel sweeter,

More peaceful, more satisfied

And you’ll try anything

Especially if it will work quickly.


Consider the Cupcake (take two)

Consider its curves,

its twists and turns,

Consider the glint of light

on its sprinkles.

You salivate, want to lick off its frosting

Respond to its whispering,

‘Go on, try me.’


There’s a vague gnawing

in your stomach, a cake-sized void…

( edit: the rest of this stanza was cut because it was all explanation. Eventually I re-wrote it, using imagery and sensory detail to show what I explained.)


Can you see how much tighter this stanza is without all the explanation? Of course I need to tweak a couple of lines so they make sense, but it’s already sharper. Listen to the finished version here, and you will hear that I also changed some of the imagery. By taking away explanation, I was able to go back to the re-writing stage and drop deeper into myself to come up with better images.

Re-Writing and Editing: Removing Modifiers

Another way to cut the flab is to remove modifiers such as ‘really’ and ‘very’. If I take away a modifier, and the word seems too weak, I need a better word. For example, instead of ‘Tom is very strong’, I might write ‘Tom is powerful.’ Or I might replace it with an image; ‘Tom’s biceps bulged like ripe melons.’ 

Finally I check for repeated images. I often find myself taking several runs at describing a place or a person, and then discover that I’ve said the the same thing in three different ways. In that case, I only keep the best one, and save the others for another poem.

I leave grammar checks to last. Because I like to play with tense and point of view, my grammar will change several times in a poem, so I wait until the end to make sure my tense endings are consistent. In order to get the right rhythm, I will also move commas and full stops about. At this point, I get an outside party to check it, because I will have stared at the poem so much, I won’t see obvious mistakes.

I don’t think of this process as linear. I may go back and forth between re-writing and editing a couple of times. This way I fix quality of content and structural problems separately, allowing me to keep the original energy of the piece in tact.

Tina Sederholm is a poet, performer and editor. If you would like help with re-writing and editing anything from a poetry collection to a novel to a newsletter, you can contact her here.

Her latest book, This is Not Therapy, is out now. Buy it here.