Writers are not all the same.
I realize that may come as a shock to you, but it’s true. Trust me. Job One (or something very close to it) for every writer is to find the rhythms and routines that work for you. That may be quite different from what works for other writers. And that’s okay. Say it with me: “That’s okay.”
Still, whatever suits you as a writer, there’s a good chance that keeping your post-draft tasks distinct will help you produce better writing. More specifically, understand and practice what differentiates rewriting, editing, and proofreading. They are distinct tasks that take place after a first draft is completed, and each requires a healthy distance from the creative process, which is why it’s usually helpful to wait a few days between each step.
Rewriting (as many writers do it) refers to a dramatic overhaul, akin to an HGTV house renovation. For this task, you may stand back and look at your manuscript, asking such questions as, Does this accomplish what I set out to accomplish? Does it engage the reader? Does the flow of ideas or action make sense? If it’s fiction, you might ask, Does the story begin well? Is it meandering? Are the characters’ wants and needs clear? Are the stakes high enough? Do they change as the action progresses? And so on. You want to know if any part of the manuscript is boring or confusing, or if some parts are repetitive and redundant (see what I did there?). You might cut chapters, move scenes around, change the order of paragraphs, remove whole sentences or even entire pages, etc. Too many of us neglect this process, assuming that the way we wrote it is the best way for it to be written; and that’s almost never the case.
Editing is usually best undertaken after the rewrite process is complete. It involves attention to details and correction of errors. For example, I run my copy through ten separate self-editing exercises (such as highlighting all adverbs and adjectives with the intention of removing most of them) before I proceed to the next phase. Whereas rewrite is like a house renovation (what Chip Gaines did on Fixer Upper), a good edit is more like Joanna’s tasks—choosing the right colors, hanging pictures, getting the details right.
Proofreading, then, is like the final walk-through before the homeowners are shown their new house. It’s the inspection, once the article, chapter, or book is nearly ready for sending to an agent or editor. Proofreading makes sure that spelling, grammar, and punctuation are all correct, no typos appear, and no missing words haunt the manuscript.
As I said, most of us will be helped by keeping these tasks clear and distinct in our minds and on our to-do lists. And sure, they may seem elementary to some, but I’m often surprised at how few do these post-first-draft tasks and how few do them well. If you’re already doing these things with everything you write, you’re well ahead of the pack. If you’re not, now is the best time to start.