Writing is rewriting

When I was young I used to loathe having to rewrite my stories. So much that sometimes I didn’t even want to read them. Because you see, I wrote mostly during the moments of intense inspiration, when everything I wrote seemed perfect. And when I read over the stories, I found many mistakes, many things to change. Somehow, the magic was gone.

And I used to imagine myself, older, wiser, and a better writer. I used to imagine that I would become good enough to write fantastic first drafts, just so I wouldn’t have to write draft after draft. It took me a while to realize that there are no brilliant first drafters.

Oddly enough, now I enjoy rewriting more than I do writing a first draft. It’s an entirely different process. Because it requires are different touch and a different set of skills, to be honest. I have a first draft, a starting point, a basis for my story. You know, like a diamond cutter… yeah, cheesy analogy, I know.

When I was young I used to love writing first drafts. Because I was stupid. Only stupid writers aren’t afraid of a blank page, a page that doesn’t know nor cares who they are. Now, the blank page terrifies me. I can imagine myself taking a deep breath before writing each and every sentence, like a diver. It’s not like that. I walk around the room, I stare out the window, then I write one sentence. Most often, I delete it after staring at it for five seconds. Then I write another one. It’s such an excruciating process.

But rewriting… that’s what makes the difference. You sit down and you have to be the reader. You have to see what works and what doesn’t. You have to see past beautiful writing… you have to analyze the story as a whole, to see what needs more work, what has to be patched up. Plot holes, inconsistencies, style, all that stuff.

And I like doing all that stuff. I like reading my stories aloud, changing this or that. Because, no matter how bad the first draft is, I know I can make it better.

Writing is reversible. I know I can change what doesn’t work. I can add or remove to my heart’s content.

I once told a fellow writer that I have a lot of unfinished projects, a lot of lousy first drafts that I was afraid to work on, and she said that I have no balls. Yeah, that’s what she said. And it’s true.

One of the biggest mistakes any writer can make is to feel depressed because their first drafts are bad. All first drafts are bad, that’s why you shouldn’t let anyone read them. Work on them a little more, read them aloud, do whatever has to be done to change that lousy first draft into a brilliant one.

But I have to admit. Writing a first draft, venturing into a fictional world for the first time, is a fascinating process. Outline or not outline, you never know what’s going to happen, where the story might lead you. When you finish writing your first draft, that’s when the whole process loses a bit of its charm.

Which process do you like best? Writing the first draft or rewriting?

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54 comments on “Writing is rewriting

  1. I totally agree with you…..my appreciation for good authors and writers has grown manifold after wiring my first fiction…..as a reader we might find fault but unlike other art forms the expression doesn’t just needs left but the right dose of right hemisphere of brain too to do justice to your topic or style….I like your style simple, comprehensive and sensible.

  2. Such an outstanding post and it resonates with all writers. I have more first drafts than I should, but we are our own best and worst critics. This was an enjoyable read, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Ann

  3. lenarays says:

    Rewriting! Every time. When I was younger, I’d write endless first drafts just to avoid reading them. Now first drafts take forever to get a few thousand words written…and I still cringe when I read my awkward rough drafts. But once I get into the revision process, I find it so much easier since I have a general shape to work with and I’m not just facing a blank page. I agree that it’s a learned thing: newer writers seem to think of revising as “editing” or “tweaking it a bit,” while more experienced writers see the first draft as just the beginning.

  4. You make rewriting sound enjoyable – I have been dreading it but maybe I need to look at it differently – thanks

  5. Great post. I used to hate rewriting, but now I appreciate it as part of the process. I now just want to get that first draft finished!

  6. Yes, even as a newbie I am finding this out. I have hit that publish button so many times with my journal entries because they are more personal than public, but even after reading them I find mistakes or things I missed and have to add. I am trying to rewrite every post now, but try not to critique myself to bad durning the reading process.

  7. Great post! I totally agree with you. My first novel draft that I wrote and abandoned 7 years ago was really really bad. When I showed it to my editor recently (I’ve published two non-fiction books so I had the guts to show it to her) she frowned. She then asked me to revise it, and I did. Her comment after that; “It looks like your revision is written by someone else.” But she laughed when she said it, so I took it as a compliment. Haha.

  8. I too have thousands of beginning drafts, literary unfinished. I love writing, i hate reading over drafts. Whenever I do reread I always tend to reestablish the passion for which I began to write in the first place, that is y I started my blog. My plan is to gradually finish my writings, express my repressed thoughts, and make a difference not just for me but for my viewers also.

  9. Sabina says:

    When I was young I used to write fiction stories, and, like you, I always loved the writing and the exploring a new story and new characters much more than refining them. It just seemed boring, and I wouldn’t find anything I was dissatisfied with because I wasn’t giving enough weight to the revision process.
    For the past few years I’ve done video blogging on YouTube, and so much of the creation in that format is the editing, and I came to really enjoy deciding which takes were better and how to splice together what I filmed to accurately match my thoughts.
    Now, as I return to writing (I’ve left fiction behind, but I write for my blog and for my college’s magazine), I truly value the revision process.

  10. I enjoy the first draft, but I tend to do more organizing during the rewrite. I roughly outline before 1st draft, write furiously, allowing the characters and story to remain malleable. However, once I reach the second draft/rewrite, I organize my story in a way that makes sense to me, so it adds to what i’ve written without feeling the pressure to “add” more–although adding more or cutting is inevitable. Putting things in order gives me a sense of timeline and how I want the story to unfold. Whether this works, or it remains a waste of time is yet to be determined. :)

    Thanks for the post, really enjoyed it!!

  11. Thank You Cristian. Great read. I can relate. I feel tired a lot of times rewriting everything. Funny thing is I know exactly what I want to express, it is just difficult to put in writing..drives me nuts. But, I found my inspiration in music. It calms my chaotic mind. I love perfecting the first draft–takes lots of patience from the challenge it gives and attention it demans. When I have a blank page, I stare at it for a long time while listening to alternative rock..then sky is the limit.

  12. Good writing is like disrobing. it’s putting yourself out there, with a transparency and an honesty that is found nowhere else.

  13. Sasha says:

    I am just like you. I hate looking at that blank page. It is in crafting the details where my joy of writing is at. It is nice to hear even such seasoned writers as yourself have to edit–I would have believed you had you said it all came out perfectly the first time!

  14. butterflyny75 says:

    I enjoy fine tuning in the editing process.

  15. Haha, yes. I like the observation that you used to like your first draft better because you were stupid. I can really identify with this!

  16. Sara Lewis says:

    I guess I’m still in the immature stage of writing because I’ve always preferred writing the first draft. And I known exactly what you mean by “moments of intense inspiration.” I love the feeling you get when you find something new to write about and sail into it right away, but rewriting? It usually seems more like a chore to me.

  17. I can relate! I used to write in short bursts when I first started writing, and I was always deterred by the editing process. Time is a writer’s best friend :) As I have grown older, my creative process has only improved. My outlook on life is totally different. It’s not all about the end result. The process itself is a work of art. Thanks for posting. I enjoyed it.

  18. Writesy says:

    Great post. I feel myself shifting more towards the first draft being the best. Once I’ve finished it, there’s the relief that I’ve managed to complete it. Just that in itself is a wonderful feeling, sometimes more than the content. The re-writing reminds me of how much hard work writing is. I’ve only written short stories so far, and in the past, being foolish, I barely edited them. I think now, being aware of the process of both first drafts and re-writing, I’m learning to spend more time to write and to edit, so it’s to the best standard I feel satisfied with. It takes time, but I’m sure it’ll all be worth it in the end.

  19. Mary says:

    Wow thanks for this wonderful post….. I have the same issue and never ventured out of my first draft which was always so bad. This is very helpful for me…

  20. Christopher Lampton says:

    Years ago I came up with what I called the “Carving an Elephant Theory of Good Writing.” It was based on this (bad) old joke:

    Q: How do you carve an elephant out of a block of stone?
    A: You carve away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.

    My Carving an Elephant theory said that, to produce good writing, the first thing you have to do is get a bunch of words down on paper (or your video display), then carve away everything that doesn’t look like good writing.

    I still think that’s basically true, though I find I don’t have to do quite as much carving now as I did when I was young. Or, at least, I do a lot of the carving while I’m writing the “first draft,” leaving less to do afterward. It depends on how caught up in the heat of the moment I am while writing the first draft. But basically, yes, good writing isn’t just a matter of writing but of rewriting and anybody who refuses to rewrite is either a REALLY brilliant writer or, far more likely, an idiot. And, as you point out, rewriting can be fun. It’s always nice to see polished prose emerge from the uncarved elephant of the first draft.

    But sometimes it’s necessary just to put that first draft aside where you can refer back to it if necessary and start all over again, using what you figured out during the initial writing process to correct what was wrong with it. And then you get the beautiful feeling of writing a draft that gets it mostly right the first time.

  21. I loved reading this. I am not a writer. I struggled through English classes in middle school and high school, even worse in college. I don’t understand the rules so I follow none. But I have totally realized I enjoy going back over my journals that now have become a blog. It does as you say, give you the perspective as a reader and that part is enjoyable. Thank you for helping me realize this process is important for my writing but also how important it is to the reader. Thank you!

  22. Rewriting , because it crush ones selfesteem when one realize that one isn’t as brilliant as you thought all along :3 It exposes ones flaws but at the same time it is invigorating to know that you get another chance to make it perfect :)

  23. shivamu23 says:

    I love writing the first draft and though it can get improved i seriously dont feel like changing it…i kinda feel it loses its originality

  24. I like to think there is inspiration in the first act of writing including phrases which I want to keep at any cost.

    Usually I tinker around with the piece, editing and re-editing. That is the beauty of a computer. Sometimes however hard I try, when I come back to the poem or piece of writing I still can’t get it quite right.This can happen when I come back to it weeks, months or years later. Mostly I become satisfied.

    There is one poem I can think of that I haven’t re-written. it just flowed from the start. There was a thrill in that.

    When I have spent too long on a piece I lose sense of the words and I need a trusted person to provide constructive criticism and tell me if what I have written has an impact.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and letting me think about what it is like. From a child I have loved writing to tell stories, to express myself and to think. It is mostly a private, personal thing, yet I yearn to make it more public with people who might appreciate it.

    I have even spent time editing and re-arranging this comment.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    Best Wishes,
    Julia

  25. derekberry says:

    I love working with my editor to create new perspectives on the scenes that fell flat in the first draft. It breathes new life into characters and stories.

  26. ujuh says:

    I love rewriting better, and have only begun to see why it is a better process than the first draft.

  27. Thank you Cristian for this excellent piece. I feel I can certainly relate to it.

  28. sporterhall says:

    Very nice post! I’d have to say that I prefer rewriting. This is where I can manipulate the words and literally paint any picture I want to convey to the ‘reader’.Rewriting allows you to make your work more colorful or make it blurred and gray, leaving the reader with a kind of question mark as to what you meant. In turn the reader wants to read more.

  29. For me it is all one single process. Great post!

  30. gmatt63 says:

    To be a writer you’ve got to be a decent editor as well, and I’d venture to say, editing is probably more important. The first draft of my play, Rebecca, Too, was absolutely dreadful. The words just sat on the page, with nothing to drive the story. It wasn’t until I’d gone over it a few times, that I realized what it was lacking, and had the breakthrough that allowed me to take it in the direction it needed to go in. After the first staged reading of it, I realized it wasn’t saying what I wanted it to, and rewrote it again.

    A writer can’t be afraid to edit, should never be afraid of criticism, especially constructive criticism (you learn to filter out the noise from the useful comments), and should always be willing to try new things. Otherwise, you’ll never grow as a writer.

  31. Thanks for sharing. I’ve always really enjoyed writing, but I didn’t major or minor in writing, so I’m always looking to learn how professional writers write. I used to just write and then go back and edit it all later, which I hated doing. But, I changed when I started my blog. Now, I’ve learned to think over each sentence carefully and I edit as I go. I keep coming back to sentences and moving them around and then adding more. Not sure if that’s the right way to write, but I found I enjoy it more that way.

  32. barn7777 says:

    I love writing the first draft. When I write the first draft, I do not think about being correct or perfect in grammar, structure, and sometimes sensibility. I write from my heart and what’s on my mind. Sometimes rewriting can be a painstaking process, more so going through it several times. Great Post :)

  33. Fabulous post – really opened my mind towards a different way of writing. Might have to experiment, who knows what could happen!

  34. Natacle says:

    Rewriting. I mostly write short stories and I love editing them. Nothing worse than a blank page.

  35. ISpontein says:

    I enjoy writing first drafts during intense inspirational moments. I’m curious to know how my story will be.
    But if someone comes and suddenly tells me to write it, I won’t because I know won’t enjoy it.

    And I like rewriting when I’m free, I don’t have a strong urge to write anything else and I’m not sleepy. :-)

  36. trughost says:

    Sometimes I find myself plagued with deleting every sentence that I write. Feeling that it isn’t legitimate. But then I learned to let go, take a step back, take a good hard look from there, and then go back over confident in my vision.

    • Trughost, that resonates with me. For some reason the feeling is especially strong with similes and such. If I employ a simile or analogy in my writing, I feel as if I’m a wannabe, trying too hard to be “a writer” … typical impostor syndrome maybe?

  37. Wonderful piece of thought!!! Yes, it is one such conflict all writers face in their journey of learning and getting matured as a writer. The expression in the article is an experience which no one can miss out, the degree may vary but one does go through this phase of first draft and the final product.

  38. azerdocmom says:

    “The essence of writing is rewriting.” William Zinsser.

  39. Joseph Nebus says:

    I really like editing and rewriting, but I think that’s mostly because I fall in the deepest love with my prose a little while before publishing, and the editing/rewriting stage is a great one to spend in that time of deepest love. That said I’ve been doing less editing and rewriting as I try to work myself up to writing more text and more frequently.

  40. That’s a tough decision. I like writing the story because it brings the characters to life, but I think I prefer doing the re-writing for 2 reasons: (1) it’s easier, the main story is already there; (2) I get to play with the characters, change them up or deepen their souls.

  41. I write it just once and dearly hope it gets passed by the readers. I do write in short little bursts and fiddle around the word order. I get most pleaure from looking up the variety of countries and the readers on my ‘WordPress’ statistics.
    The worst thing is not writing. It gets so depressing.

  42. Definitely the rewriting, I usually start with a pretty clear plan for the first draft. The rewriting is more exciting for me because then I can look at the story from a fresh perspective. Once the basics are out there, I find myself more willing to question the quality of the plot/dialogue in a story, whether it’s comics, short fiction, or anything else I’ve written.
    I agree that there is joy and wonder to the first draft, but for me, rewriting uncovers more about who the characters are and where they’re going.

  43. I have the opposite problem. I over-rewrite. Although Papa Hemmingway admitted to re-writing 10-15 times before he got it right.

  44. Amina says:

    I can totally relate! Even though re-writing is much, much easier, it is horrible as well. When I write, I LOVE what I write and to change it makes my heart break!

  45. kaleeu says:

    Anyone who is an artist or a creator would resonate with this post ! No matter it’s rewriting or repainting or re-crafting , it takes so much courage to criticize own’s work and find a way to remove the flaws.

  46. I have a love-hate relationship with all of it, every damn part of the writing process. And that’s why I still do it.

  47. simon7banks says:

    With poetry, particularly poetry that is “instinctive” – rather, coming from the unconscious – than rational, rewriting presents a problem. The mood, the inspiration aren’t there any more. But things like unintentional ambiguities or confusions, awkward expressions, unintended rhymes, unhelpful repetition of the same word, unnecessary use of words like “the” and “and” – all those can be dealt with.

    Undoubtedly, though, I prefer the first writing. For prose it’s rather different. New ideas can come up and be incorporated. I can think of a fourth twist to something already three times twisted.

  48. J.C says:

    First draft is always preferable to me; I pick it apart so much on a rewrite, it can be tough

  49. born2blossom says:

    Certainly a fresh perspective to the tedious task of rewriting. I have lousy first drafts myself and I end up changing most of it by the time I finish. Your post feels totally relatable :)

  50. Thanks for sharing your story, atleast now we know the journey is hard and always changing.. Our experiences are what that shapes us into a better blogger/writer :)

  51. vsvevg says:

    I like both, the flow of the initial story and fine tuning it. It’s the 25th edit I don’t enjoy :)

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