Why It’s Okay to Scrap Your Writing and Start Over

The next installment of The Shadow’s Edge has been waiting on its penultimate round of revisions since 2013.  I wanted the story out of my brain and onto paper, so that I could focus on other tasks.  I got it all down, added some things, and sent it to the only beta I trust at this early stage, my spouse.

It came time to work again.  I reread portions of the story, but something wasn’t going the way I wanted it to.  I had gone on too many private journeys with my characters that had little to the do with the main arc.  These were side stories, things probably best served in their own collection to give fans a better sense of canon.  The main arc was shining through, of course, and everything wrapped up the way I wanted it to wrap up at the end, but I had gone off course too often, and honestly, the book got a little too dark for the audience.  Plus, there were so many questions left unanswered, things I worried about being able to wrap up by the final book.

And so the novel sat for years.  I agonized over what to do with it.  I didn’t want to let the stories I loved go, but I also didn’t want to put in the work to explain why I had taken all these tangents, and then somehow circle back around to the meat of the story.  It felt like bad writing.

I discovered a solution to my problem.  It was not the solution I wanted to entertain, given that I had an entire story already there.  Couple this with several other Tasana-centric novels that were abandoned, and you get a lot of unfinished writing that just wasn’t serving the overall narrative.

So I thought about this solution, this dreadful solution, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  I got attached to it.

I had to completely scrap the other book and start over on page one.

I won’t lie.  When I say that I agonized about my writing, I really did.  There were moments where I judged my worth as a creator.  Like anyone, my life is not without its ups and downs, and recent years have had their deep valleys.  In these dark times, my mind strayed to my work.  As Wil Wheaton and others have said, depression lies.  It lied to me, told me that I was a failure at all I did.  It had “proof,” too.  And so there were times when the solution to my sequel problem looked a lot like me giving up.  Scrapping my book and starting over was framed to me as “quitter” behavior by this deceitful entity.  It took some time to dig through the deceit and reveal the light.  Moving on and doing what was best for the story was the opposite of quitting.  It was picking up and not accepting failure as an option.

The direction of the revamped novel would be the same.  I knew where the main arc had to go, but I wanted to go about it in a different way, a way more aligned with my, shall I say, mission statement for the series.  I felt this new way would be more exciting, more epic, and that the novel would be a more appropriate companion book to the one preceding it.

I let that stew for a while, and very recently, I began the first draft.  I know it will be work, and I know it will be some time before I finish this draft, but taking the plunge into this restart has been refreshing.  I’m still saving those old drafts, in case ideas, themes, or characters from them fit somewhere else.  I don’t see the need in literally pitching them.  It’s beneficial to hang on to what you had and use it as a database, or even a benchmark, for your next work.

Sometimes, we are faced with having to completely start over as writers.  Whether our back-up files were lost, our notebooks were left out in the rain, or we just hit a block of our own creation.  It’s okay to start over.  We have to know that it is okay to start over.  The draft stage is a safe place to fail.  Nothing is at stake here, and nothing is lost, because we learned by doing.  We aren’t quitting.  We aren’t selling out.  We are being loyal to our story and becoming better writers.  We can start over.

Until next time.

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