The Art of Rewriting

October 18, 2021 by Eileen Wirth

“I write s••••• first drafts.”

I got this advice from my friend whose novels get reviewed in The New York Times. I urge you to incorporate his insight into following a writing process that both takes the sting out of rewriting and does wonders for combatting writer’s block. 

Begin by creating a “holding place” document on your laptop or somewhere else to store your drafts. Then plunge in. Write a s••••• first draft without worrying what it sounds like. Throw everything into it. Even if it’s a hot mess, no one will ever see it. Try to have fun.  

Print your draft then move your copy to your “holding place” document. You’ve kept your great ideas alive for potential use as you move on from your s••••• first draft. 

Review your print copy and make sticky notes containing key ideas, one per note. Play with arranging them in a different order on your desk until you have a structure that works. Then start your second draft. 

Much like a sculptor working in clay, start shaping your piece. After a break (hopefully for exercise instead of a snack), come back and see what’s missing, what’s out of place, and what to delete. 

You might move the entire second draft to your holding place or just sections of it, but things should be coming together. 

Have at it again and refine your work, especially the wording. Read your piece aloud and rewrite any phrasing that you can’t speak well—because your ear will catch things that escape your eyes. 

Leave your work again and come back a fourth time to polish details that have escaped you. Repeat as needed.

When you build rewriting into your writing plan, you’ve nothing to fear from a lousy start since it is unlikely to survive anyhow. 

Just remember the key to great writing is staring with a s••••• first draft!

Got a question or topic on creativity you would like Dr. Wirth to address for The Greenhouse Journal? Shoot her an email at

Eileen Wirth

Dr. Eileen Wirth is a professor emeritus of journalism at Creighton University and is an author specializing in Omaha history. She was a reporter at the World-Herald and a PR Writer for Union Pacific before joining Creighton in 1991. Eileen’s books include The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Historic Omaha Houses of Worship and From Society Page to Front Page. She is on the board of History Nebraska and a member of the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Women’s Journalism Hall of Fame, and the Omaha Press Club Hall of Fame. She also has been active in numerous groups particularly the Omaha Public Library.

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