Want to improve your writing? Edit it. “Editing” means different things to different people, from tinkering with word choices, to a complete rewrite. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been editing the first draft of a novel; in this case, my “edit” is a complete rewrite.
Never hesitate to rewrite completely. You’ll say it better the second or third time around – don’t bother checking the original. As Jason Fried says about editing in Writing Decisions: Saving space without losing meaning:
The first thing I do when I want to cut out some words is not read the original version. I just write a new one. I don’t want to be influenced by what I thought I had to say before. I want to think about what I want to say now. After I’ve written a new one I go back to the old one to see if there was anything critical I missed.
You’ll Say It Better in Later Versions
Later versions will always be better than your first attempt, whether you’re editing an advertisement, or a book. You know what you want to say, so your writing will be clearer.
Not sure about a complete rewrite? Try it. If you’re writing a book, rewrite a scene, or part of a chapter, and see how you feel. You may well realize that rewrite gives you freedom and options you didn’t have it the first draft, and won’t have if you try to reword the original.
My students tend to be outraged when I suggest that they rewrite completely, expecting it to be hard work. They’re surprised when a complete rewrite is easier than a laborious edit.