How to Rewrite Old Content and Make It New Again

How to Rewrite Old Content and Make It New Again

Some days, I find writing from scratch rather difficult. I can’t think of what I want to say. I outline a post, but then it doesn’t feel right, and I delete it. I finally get started on a topic, but halfway through I decide I don’t like what I’ve written, and I scrap the whole thing.

Some days, creating doesn’t come easy.

On those days, re-creating does.

You don’t always have to come up with something brand-new. Why not take something old and make it new again instead? Yes, you can rewrite old content, spare your brain, have some fun, improve your business… and your efforts will pay off handsomely.

You’ll get fresh results and new reactions from an old piece that’s long been forgotten.

Satisfying, that.

Choose any old page or post from your website or blog. No writing is ever perfect, and anything you write could always use improvement. Personally, I recommend going way back to your earlier days. You’ll find lots of garbage there you can work with.

I won’t deny it: the first few minutes of re-reading your old article will likely make you cringe. “I wrote that?! God, that’s terrible… I can’t believe I published this.” All its warts and faults will leap out at you.

Take a minute. Have your cringe-session. Yes, you wrote that. Yes, it’s terrible.

Then get over it. Move on.

You’ve grown in experience and skill levels since then. Use both, and look closer. Look past the misconstrued sentences and random babbling and grammatical errors. That old piece had good bones. The message was worthy. The idea was solid. It may not have been very well written, but it still has merit.

You can do something with this.

Set your emotions aside. Get objective about this. Imagine you never wrote this piece, and you’ve just been hired to make it better. What would you rework? How would you edit this? What needs improvement, and how would you go about making that change?

Here are a few suggestions of where you could start:

What’s the Mood?

Examine your text and determine if it conveys the right mood. Can you feel any emotion? Is that emotion right for the goal? Should the piece convey fear, or worry, or stress, or joy? Play it up – make sure readers feel something when they read this piece.

While you’re at it, switch out some words. Replace them with better ones that best represent the mood you’d like to convey. Use a thesaurus. Try “challenge” instead of “effort” or “endeavor” instead of “work”. Have fun, and enjoy yourself.

What’s the Style?

Was this piece supposed to be authoritative and firm? Or friendly and welcoming? Maybe you were aiming for hip and cool back when it was trendy, but now you realize that the language doesn’t sound very calm and confident after all.

Alter the style. Soften down a hard tone. Strengthen language that sounds weak to make it firm. Try shortening sentences to make them punchier or add length to them so you can smooth them out. Add adjectives for some color, or remove all the adverbs and see how that feels.

What’s the Structure?

Is there any structure to this piece? Do you have a headline? A hook? A good call to action? Bullet points? Is your piece overlong or too short? Are paragraphs chunky and fat, or do they need bulking up? Do ideas flow well from one to the next or go off on tangents that no one can follow?

For many writers, older work was often riffed off on a whim, so adding structure to the piece might bring it a new level of professionalism. Try a journalistic style of who, what, why, when, how, or look up copywriting formulas like AIDA and QUEST and use them in your piece.

What’s the Point?

A lot of old writing comes off as very fluffy and indulgent in today’s straightforward trends. Short, concise and to the point is the way to go, so examine your piece for fluff you can cut. Could you write the same meaning into a sentence only using fewer words? Probably.

Be merciless. Chop out unnecessary words, industry jargon, and repetitive sentences or redundant phrasing. Say one thing well in only so many words versus saying the same thing over and over in many different ways. See how much you can cut while retaining your core message.

What Would You Change?

You’ll definitely rework some pieces to the point that they’re world’s apart from the original, and it’s likely that most content will end up in this group. Improving old content doesn’t always mean it needs a full rewrite, though. Not every sentence has to change.

You’ll also find a few gems on your old content quest – the kind of work that’s pretty darned good to begin with. Maybe only a third needs a rewrite. Maybe just a few words need to be changed. Sometimes switching 3 words out of 50 makes all the difference.

Here’s a cool side benefit that happens when you rewrite your content: the more you rewrite, the better a writer you become. Rewriting old work hones your editing skills, and that only serves to make you a stronger writer who creates good work from the get-go.

When you create work from scratch, you’ll find that your sentences are already concise. You’ll choose better words for your content right away. And you’ll find yourself naturally infusing your content with the right emotion.

Now that’s what I call good re-writing.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Hi James,

    I love this post. It’s awesome and exactly what I need. I’ve got tons of old blog posts on my personal blog, Miraculous Ladies, that’s crying out for new life. I’m going to use this technique to rewrite.

    Like you said, it’s going to help a lot with my editing skills. I’m excited because I’m changing the niche and I have some content I can rewrite to fit it perfectly.

    One question though. Should I give them a new title as well?

    Thanks for sharing this post. It’s great. :-)

    • Glad you like the idea, June, and I can’t say enough good about it – it’s definitely a technique everyone should try, and you might just be surprised at what you come up with from the exercise!

      You sure can give the posts a new title; it’s pretty likely you’ll change so much about the post that you can even publish it as a brand-new post.

      If you don’t, and you decide to just overwrite what you had, go ahead and feel free to change up the title to something that works best for you. (You’d keep the old URL, of course.)

  2. I know exactly what you mean when you talk about cringing at your past work. This especially happens for me when something from 2008, 2009, 2010 or even last year ends up getting a sudden surge of shares.

    I go and look at it and a rough rugged version of what your checklist starts running through my mind after I click on this forgotten piece that has soared to the top of Popular Pages list.

    And because I’m doing this during one of my A.D.D. wanderings, during a time block when I should be some other kind of work, I mostly just take a quick look and fix the glaring dumb misspellings or grammar mistakes that leap right off the page at me.

    I’ve never really considered spending any serious time reworking old works until today.

    Now, I have a justification for doing this that goes beyond me simply catering to my bruised petty ego. This new justification can be can be classified as a re-writing exercise… the proactive action that will contribute to me being proud of what I see on my site when I’m looking back at it five years from now . . . and having smaller repairs to make on what I’m not so proud of.

    Seems like it’d be a good idea to make this a yearly ritual, reviewing and revising the past year’s pieces.

    Thank you James for giving me a practice that makes me excited about turning my oldies into goodies.

    • Why not make it a ritual now? Pick one a week – say, Fridays. You could even give the occasion a fun name, like Re-Write Wednesdays, or something like that. (I’m sure you could come up with something much better!)

      Because you said it best: this isn’t about bruised ego. We all have that. This is about proactive action that actually makes us better writers, AND gets us better results, PLUS saves our brain from coming up with something new. Hat trick!

  3. I recently had to remove scads of older posts from my blog–something about the comment section having opened a passageway for evil empires to do an end run around my nonexistent security. As I re-read posts from way way back, I groaned, just as you say.Yet, at the same time, my creative brain kicked in. I started making a list of topics and ideas. I was almost happy to have been hacked.

    Well. More like I was able to spin the faintest remnant of a silver lining.

    Thank you for all you do!

    • It’s kind of like looking back on our old high school pictures, and being embarrassed and horrified by our hairstyles and clothes, even though we were cool cats back then, eh?

      And I’m glad to hear about those topics and ideas. I know full well just how much you can do, given a list of those!!

  4. Thank you for a brilliant post James.

    The concept of going back to a piece of older content and rejuvenating the content increases the benefits for all readers. This is analogous to what occurs with technology. For example, if someone purchases a smart phone today there is a very good chance that six months down the road the phone might be lacking newer improved features. Being able to update the content, or phone in this example, gives the end user more value which is exactly what your post did for me.

    I appreciate this site, it is very informative.

  5. James, it’s a great post! Reworking old blog posts is inevitable – I’m pretty sure that at some point every blogger reaches a significant number of posts already written and runs out of ideas. As for me, reconsidering structure and mood are the key points to consider when changing old content. If done properly, it will result in great outcomes.

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  5. […] It worked so well that I recommend this to everyone, actually, and you can read more about it here. […]

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