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The Difference Between Rewriting and Rearranging

November 16, 2014 by Diane

hand opening red curtain on white.

When I started out on this rewriting journey, back when I first set up shop behind the curtain, I was hard at work cutting up my Great American Novel into scenes, shuffling the scenes into different positions, and then stuffing them all back into a cardboard box–which had nothing to do with rewriting and more to do with rearranging.

It seems that I haven’t broken the habit.

Same problem, different project.

Last week I had two bonafide copywriting jobs to complete. I searched the internet and the company archives for background material. I interviewed two people over the telephone. Then, properly armed with the information I needed, I wrote the first draft of the first piece.

So far so good.

And then I started futzing.

I moved one paragraph up and one paragraph down. I moved a third paragraph above the first paragraph which was now the second paragraph. Then I changed my mind and put all of the paragraphs back where they began. Sound familiar? This is like redecorating the house by tossing all of the throw-pillows from one side of the couch to the other. This is like redesigning a dress by ripping off the sleeves, stepping back to observe the effect, and then reattaching them. This is like rearranging the furniture to make the living room look better, when the problem isn’t the placement, it’s the furniture. This, my friend, is poverty mentality. It’s saying, This is the best that I’ve got, so I better make do.

After moving the paragraphs hither and yon and around and about I zeroed in on the words and started rearranging them.

Out came the Thesaurus.

In went colorful variations of the same word, only to be removed and replaced and rethought and reworded.

When rewording lost its luster, I returned once again to moving paragraphs around. After an hour of this mind-numbing activity my brain shrank with disgust. Bleary-eyed, I stumbled from the computer.


The difference, dear one, between rewriting and rearranging, is the process of letting go. Of making room. Of trusting that when you clear away the clutter, you’ll find what you’re looking for. When you hack away the brush, a path will appear.

I’m lousy at letting go.

I hang on until I’ve smothered the life out of it.

Let that be a lesson to ye who rewrite.

Takeaways this week:

The timer is your friend. With a limited amount of time, you don’t have the luxury of meandering and wandering and obsessing. If you’re like me, the timer will force you to get the task done. Why? Because you become conscious. The awareness that you’re on the clock propels you into action. Off the clock, you get stuck in the folds of your brain where it’s dark and gooey and noisy. And if you do get stuck in there, the ding of the timer will nudge you out.

It’s fine to rearrange words or paragraphs or scenes, but ask yourself: am I doing this because it reads better, or because I have the false belief that these are the only crayons in the box? Your subconscious will supply you with more colors if you back away, take a breath, open some space on the page, and write anew.




  1. Kerouac used to write the first draft, and then say that was it. He wouldn’t rewrite (or so the legend goes.) I find my best writing is when I’m in the groove and it comes out natural and pure. That tends to require the least amount of rewriting. It seems like if I’m on a piece that I’m rewriting constantly, then the issue is for beyond word choice and how the paragraphs are arranged.

    • Diane says:

      Well said. The important thing for me is to catch myself falling down that rabbit hole before I’m wandering endlessly blind.

      Glad to see you Greg!

  2. Jan says:

    Rearranging chapters can be such a pain! But sometimes it has to be done. Keep on going! jan

  3. Joan says:

    You are a perfectionist, Diane . Writing is so important to you and you want what you put out to be your absolute best! Erin is the same way. It takes her forever to finish a piece and it’s never good enough for her and she’s always positive shel’ll get a bad grade…always to wind up with an A. Your work is the same way. Those of us who are privileged to read your stuff love it! A+ Diane!!

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