The Difference Between Writing and Editing

by Jeanette the Writer
published in Writing

What are revisions?

An edit by any other name would be just as damn difficult.

But seriously. What do we mean by “writing” and “editing”? Are they really as black and white as the separate words make them appear?

Yes, and no. 

Writing and editing are forever intertwined, causing debate and confusion over what these two activities mean. In some cases, people treat them as a single process. (FYI: They’re definitely not.) But it’s also impossible to totally separate the two.

So, let’s define each of these processes and compare them to be sure we’re writing and editing to the best of our respective abilities for each task. 

What Is Writing?

My fingers move across the keyboard to obey my brain which is generating thoughts in the form of words that the computer is recording—that’s writing. Put simply, “writing” is the act of initially getting words onto the page. It’s the process of crafting ideas and characters and worlds out of nothing but randomly firing synapses in our brains. 

Writing is HARD! Creativity can be a fickle muse and block our ideas from ever making it on the page. When we write, we want to be in the zone and focused solely on the act of creation. Editing is a bit different.

Okay, so, What Is Editing?

A word or sentence already exists on the page and I am now evaluating that word/sentence to determine if it is exactly what I want and expressed in a clear manner—that’s editing. Seriously, anything past putting the initial word on the page is absolutely considered a revision, not writing. Editing, therefore, will comprise the bulk of what you do to a story or manuscript.

Like writing, editing is difficult but in different ways. Our minds need to move from the function of creation to a more logical function of evaluation and decision making. A lot of writers will tell you this is the harder task.

Why Should Writing and Editing Be Separate?

Now that we understand what writing and editing are, it’s important to recognize where these two processes are intertwined so we may separate them again. Does this sound familiar?

You sit down to write. After a couple of paragraphs, you get stuck, so you look back at those new sentences and start tinkering with the word choice or the punctuation. You add on a few more paragraphs and then realize what you just wrote conflicts with something else somewhere in the story. So, you scroll back to that place and start rewriting that scene. Once that’s done, you move back to your current spot and type out a few more paragraphs. Stuck again, you look back and reread and start tinkering…

This is an example of what happens when we mix the writing and editing processes. Most people will tell you this is a bad idea. Writing and editing should be separate for a reason. That reason mostly being efficiency.

Even the most dedicated plotters will have sections of their work that need to be cut. Going through your work too early for smaller edits like grammar and punctuation will be wasted if that scene never makes it in the final book.

There’s also the idea of “context switching.” When we change from one task and move onto something unrelated, our brain needs time to reset itself which can lower efficiency. While writing and editing seem closely related, the mindset you need for each (creation vs evaluation) is vastly different. Therefore, switching between the two wastes time as your brain tries to catch up.

Why We Can Never Fully Untangle Writing and Editing

Although keeping the writing and editing processes separate is often good for efficiency, it’s not truly possible to untangle them fully. During the initial writing—even if you don’t edit the words on the page—your brain is still making decisions about what words to put down, evaluating them before choosing one. And during the editing process, you will likely need to switch on the creativity and come up with new words or ideas to fill in gaps or add plotlines. 

Despite our best efforts, we will never be able to truly separate writing and editing. The best we can do is recognize where they overlap and be mindful of separating them again when they do mix.

Tell us in the comments: What about you? How do you define “writing” and “editing”?

Jeanette the Writer is a freelance editor and writer based in Dallas, TX. When not at the computer, you can find her crafting, teaching a scuba diving class, or posting pictures of her cats on Instagram. Visit for more info and follow @JeanettetheWriter on Instagram and Facebook.

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