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Why Starting Over on a WIP Isn't Exactly a Bad Thing

So there you are, typing away at the first draft of your latest WIP, and something just doesn't feel right. Maybe you realize what it is; a lack of genuine voice, a character that you aren't quite sure you truly understand, a missing plot point that could fix all those things and more.


"I'll fix it during editing," you tell yourself for thousands, maybe tens of thousands of words, because damn it YOU WANT A FIRST DRAFT TO MAKE ALL SHINY AND PRETTY AND READY FOR GO TIME!


So you keep going, like a boss (because after all, the only way to bust out a crappy first draft is to just do it, right?). Even though you are getting through the story, you can't quiet the horrible nagging feeling that tells you the book could need some serious reconstruction during the first round of editing, and of course 'reconstruction' is a nice way to say 'I will probably be rewriting entire portions of the book.' It's a scary (and time consuming) thought, so you attempt to keep trudging on for the sake of making good time.



But once you come up with the perfect solution, the fix that has the power to mold your story into exactly what you wanted it to be, it can become very hard if not impossible to ignore. Then before you know it, you'll find yourself at a point where your gut instinct is telling you to start over.



START OVER?! But you just did months of preliminary work! You just wrote x-amount-of-words! WHAT A WASTE.



Except not. There's no denying that you needed to be led to that big 'aha!' moment somehow, and you just spent quality brain time exploring the characters and the story and the world. You are already familiar with the pieces, and now you've got the glue. Starting at zero words can seem really daunting and intimidating and even embarrassing, but you can bet all your pogs and Pokemon cards that it'll come easier to you this time.



And suddenly, a project that has had you scratching your head and losing sleep at night for months has the potential to be completed in a much shorter amount of time than you ever thought yourself capable of. So while you are technically starting over, you're really not, and you'll see the proof in your rapidly rising, brand new word count.



Of course first drafts always suck, but don't let that rule let you slip into a lazy daze that will leave you with a revising list so long and detailed you feel as though you are about to start over anyway.



-Have you guys had any experiences, good or bad, with starting over on a WIP after you've already put a fair amount of work into it?-
Amy Lukavics

Amy lurks within the forested mountains of Arizona. When she isn't reading or writing creepy stories, she enjoys cooking, crafting, and playing games across many platforms. She is the author of Daughters Unto Devils (Harlequin Teen 2015) and The Women In The Walls (Harlequin Teen 2016).

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42 comments:

  1. Yup, wrote the first draft in 3rd, then rewrote it in first.

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    1. I swore I learned from my first rewrite from 3rd to first, and I'm essentially doing it again in a different story changing from first person present to first person past tense. Why I do this to myself, I don't know. I hope with time comes experience and wisdom!

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  2. My contemporary historical Bildungsroman was started over from scratch last November, reconstructing what I could from memory, after losing the first of the two files the discontinued first draft to some kind of disk bug 16.5 years prior. Upon having it miraculously resurrected some months after finishing the second first draft, I was so glad I'd had to start from scratch.

    It was no wonder I always got a very creepy, depressing feeling when remembering that supposedly long-lost first version, since it's like a Grimm's fairytale on acid, with excessive purple prose, obnoxious moral preachiness and pontificating, essentially telling the reader to feel sorry for the MC, and a rather childish, black and white view of the world. There was no way I could've even halfway salvaged that mess. At least I remembered the names and the approximate starting ages of the characters, and the general outline. Since I was no longer beholden to working with the original from 1993-94, I was able to take the characters and storylines in much more mature, interesting, multi-faceted directions.

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  3. Yep! I'm now on the third version of my story. I'm going with "third times the charm" motto...

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  4. I've written two completed novels and had to start over on both of them. More than once. The book I just sent to my agent last night had two fresh starts. I threw out 30,000 words, then another 30,000. It happens. Sometimes that's the only way you figure out what the story is, and I'm ok with it. No one said writing was easy! ;)

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    1. I love this comment because it happened to me. I threw out the same amount of words the first time and rewrote it during a NaNoWriMo. Then I worked on it for half a year, sent it to a particularly harsh beta reader (on purpose) who tore it apart. I threw about 60,000 words away and rewrote it again at another NaNo. Very different plotline and way more interesting.

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  5. Perfect time to come across this. I'm at 50,000 in novel #3, and something feels a little sour. I might work things out, but if I have to start again at zero--looking at it like this--doesn't seem like a failure.

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  6. I've done this already once with a WIP and now I'm wondering if I need to do it again. Haven't made the commitment yet though, starting a new project instead.
    I'm not scared to do it, I love starting over actually, that's my problem. I want to make sure I'm restarting because it needs it, not because I can't see the minor fix it could need instead.

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  7. I've had good experience with starting over. I wrote a novel three years ago, trunked it, wrote two more, then rewrote the first one in a completely different way and was much happier with the story. And since I already knew the characters inside out, it came a lot... not easier, but a lot more naturally.

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  8. I'm working on a project right now that is on its third beginning. The first time I began it, I wrote it with a certain character in the story as the protaganist. I had the hardest time with it... I backed up and rewrote character sketches, and realized that I was wrong. Character A wasn't the center of the story... it was Character B. So, I frogged the whole thing and started over from Character B's perspective. I wrote it that way for a long while, but it still was slow-going... something wasn't quite right. I put it away. Something still wasn't right, but I wasn't sure what it was.

    I took it back out recently with intent to start again, but I knew my first fix hadn't done it. So before I did anything with it, I re-outlined the whole thing and turned it over in my head a LOT. Eventually, I came to the decision that neither one was the center. It was the conflict between them that was the center, and that everything spun off of that conflict... If I was to tell the story correctly, I needed to keep BOTH characters center.

    And that has been the spark I needed. I scrapped the entire bit of Take 2 I'd written and started over AGAIN. This time, it's flying out, which as been great. It's right this time... and I never could have gotten to this point if I hadn't been willing to start over. Umm, twice. :)

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    1. That's so tough! I have a story in the drawer that is essentially your same experience. I really want to go back to it when I complete something else that actually works. :) I guess it's a matter of perspective on whether it's a waste. You can always learn from editing.

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  9. I've never started over, probably because I look at it as a daunting task. I do admire people who can scrap what they started with and start afresh.

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  10. I'm seriously considering starting over, as I've tried and tried to fix things in editing, and I keep ending up with an even bigger mess than before. I would love for someone to give me a good shot of courage to start a brand new file... :)

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  11. Yep. I was so excited about my WIP but writing it became...a chore. It didn't sound right, didn't feel right at all. I ended up hating everything I wrote. So I stopped. Reevaluated. Started over. It was sad, but I ended up using small bits of what I originally wrote, and felt SO MUCH better with how it came out in the end.

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  12. Gaah! Loved reading all of these. I can definitely relate to that feeling where working on the book begins to feel like a chore...that's usually the best sign that *something* needs to be renewed!

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  13. I've started over, re-worked, re-wrote so many times I've lost count. Seriously. The biggest problem for me right now is finishing the damn thing. Which doesn't seem to be happening because I'm such a perfectionist, I can't help but edit, edit, edit all the way and I can't get to the end cos I'm busy editing!

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  14. Yep. I deleted 35K on my current project and started with a blank page with no regrets. Now that I'm revising it, I couldn't be happier with the decision. Those deleted words were not wasted, but were an exploration of story and character. When I started over I had a much better understanding or who and what.

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  15. I'm planning on doing this with a project I started almost 2 years ago. I've never fully finished it and I think it's because there are just too many things that went wrong with it that manually going through it won't do. I'll probably keep or reword some of the stuff I've already written because I think some of it is awesome, but for the most part everything will be new. I'm also going to create an outline for it, which I didn't do in the first place, so along the way I don't get lost. It sucks that after two years I realize this, but it's probably for the best.

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  16. Can I tell you that just reading the title of this blog post made my heart skip a beat? ;) I'm starting over right now, actually. It's daunting but often necessary.

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  17. I've worked on a Wip in third person from two perspectives then started again in first for one character. Kind of an experiment, but worth trying.

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  18. My biggest problem is that, after I do start my WIP over, I'm too afraid to start again. I don't want to write another draft that I'll have to scrap. So I freeze.

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  19. I had done this. While writing my 3rd draft, I found that it was not as good as the 2nd one. When I got to a certain point, I decided enough was enough. I aborted the attempt, did some outlining and brainstorming, and went to writing it in sections.

    Maybe I should outline more often.

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  20. I'm following some of the outlining tips from K.M.Weiland's book, in the hopes of making some of my previous writing and rewriting mistakes. Fingers crossed!

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  21. Absolutely -- I started one manuscript 3 times before I finally got it right. (Turns out the MC had a younger brother I didn't know about, who turned out to be pivotal to the whole story. You'd think he could have told me sooner!)

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  22. Definitely. I've actually re-written the same manuscript 3 times now, but each time it got better, which is the blessing of doing it again and again (even though the rest of it is a pain in the ass!). I'm actually changing it - again - this time from 3rd person to 1st person as I still don't feel I'm quite there yet. And I think it's because the voice still isn't as genuine as I would like it to be. Here's to writing!

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  23. That happened with my first novel. It started off in one voice and then shifted about four and a half chapters in. I wrote to the end in the second voice, 80,000 words. During the first edit I realized how absolutely heinous it was and then trunked it but the idea wouldn't die. So a couple years later I've started rewriting it, nearly from scratch, with a complete reworking of the characters, the world, the plot, everything. And I think it's better for it.

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  24. I wrote my trilogy in one go then realized my first book was all wrong. I restarted it from scratch. It was totally worth it though. It made the other two books so much stronger.
    The joys of writing :)

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  25. I wrote an entire first draft, started editing it, but couldn't get past the second chapter. Then I realized, DUH! I needed to rework the entire plot. The new version feels much stronger and has been coming along much quicker. It wasn't a fast process though. From the first seeds of, "Maybe I should start over" to actually chucking that first draft spanned almost 6 months. Big time case of denial.

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  26. My first book went from third person multiple POV to first person. From cozy to edgy and back to cozy. I'm giving it one more revision to try and sort out all the wrongness because I love the plot and premise. But my execution seems to be consistently missing the mark.

    I did learn how to spot trouble and delete/rewrite much quicker though. The book may never see daylight, but it taught me how to write the next one and revise it more confidently.

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  27. I'm afraid that this very thing might happen to me... soon. I am so STUCK on a niggling plot point at the moment and I'm almost afraid to have the answer come to me because it might mean some major re-writing! But, as you said, if that's what has to happen, then so be it. It'll all be worth it in the end. Right? ...Right?!?

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  28. Happening right now! Got 2/3rds of the way through the first draft and had to stop. I'd been making things up as I went along, but the story couldn't work that way anymore - it needed a lot more thought put into it. So I've been brainstorming like mad the last month, and now with a tweaked main character, new major characters, and the world and magic almost perfected, I'm ready to tackle the story once more from the beginning!

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  29. I spent over three years writing and revising and polishing my novel, then I realized it wasn't working and I had to start over. I'm probably going to keep some of the important elements the same. I just screwed the pooch on the execution. I finished the first chapter of the new version in the wee hours of this morning.

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  30. I completely agree with this post. Last may I was writing my third novel and having my own mini NaNoWriMo, trying to get 50k in a month. About fifteen thousand words in I realized it wasn't working, I didn't understand my world and characters enough. Still, I needed to get that 50k, so I kept pushing. At about 20k, I finally stopped. I went back, cut out about 10k, and rewrote the other half of what I had written. I didn't end up making 50k that month, but what I did write (probably around 35k) is stuff I'm really proud of and that won't require excessive revision when I go back.

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  31. I have hand-written two completely different drafts of my current WIP, and am now at work on the third (and I hope the final one). On the one hand, I know it's inefficient-- my mom keeps tactfully saying things like, "Well, once you get your process down you might not have to do so many drafts." On the other hand, I feel like there's a lot more depth and meaning to what I'm writing now than there was the first time I explored these ideas. We'll see!

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  32. Holy crow I just blogged about this last week. I've been world-building and crafting the first novel in a fantasy series for over four years now. I was so far done with my final draft that I was prepping it for release. But then a lot of my critique readers showed disinterest in what took place in THIS story though they loved the world. I came to the realization that I started my series in the wrong place. I should be starting with "book 4" instead of where I've been starting all along. The good news is I can take this finished work and dissect it for use in later chunks, so its not as if anything's wasted. Bad news is that I'm staring at a blank page again after feeling so close to completion. I feel wonderfully confident about this decision and its really good for the overall vision of the series. Its just that right now its a slightly bitter pill to swallow...

    Anyways, thanks so much for the post and thanks for letting me commiserate. :)

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  33. Major revisions for me are part of the process. I hate it sometimes. I still want the work to flow out of me in perfect form, but I realize that's just a fantasy and writing a good story is more about perspiration than inspiration.

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  34. My WIP is a complete rewrite of a polished MS I wrote for my thesis in college. By the time the revisions were finished, I didn't like my story any more. I threw out tons of characters (except for three, one of which has changed personalities). The plot has changed completely. The tone, the voice, the style, almost everything. But I could not have gotten to this WIP without writing that first one. So I have no complaints.

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  35. Thank you for the awesome response to my post, guys! I am *so* happy I decided to write about the topic, it's always nice to know that you aren't alone in the twisted hack-job process. <3 <3

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  36. Oh yes. Current project? Written entirely in third person. Then I realized that not only did it need major plot/character/pacing facelifts, it also needed to be in first person. CUE REWRITE. I definitely consider it a positive experience, though. I actually wasn't all that upset that I had to start over. It was more like a YES, I KNOW WHAT'S WRONG AND NOW I CAN FIX IT moment. And the rewrite ended up still needing tweaking (of course), but the bulk of it was solid. No major restructures.

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  37. Your timing with this post is entirely perfect :) I just started a 4th draft of my novel that I've been writing for nearly 4 years. Everyone's been teasing me about it, saying that I just can't write a novel because I'm a perfectionist, but all 13 chapters I had of the last draft were horrendous. Not plot. No point. Telling, not showing. WRONG tense. Poor characterization.

    This new draft provides a new hope. I've learned a LOT since the last draft and I'm going to go for it full force in this next draft. :)

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  38. Great post! Starting over's tough, but it can have a big payoff. I did a few drafts of a manuscript with a shifting point of view between two protagonists before I realized things weren't working. I took some time to just work on short stories for a while and to read a ton about writing. Now, I've not had to write everything over, but I've cut back to one protagonist and ended up taking the plot in some new directions. It's the same basic idea that sparked the story, but it's more complex now.
    I say all this because it's important not to see previous drafts as wasted time. Each draft teaches you something, something you had to learn sometime if you want to write. When you know it's time to start over or make major rewrites, think about how much more skilled you'll be as a writer when it's done.

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  39. Great post. I'm at the point where I know I have to start over. First draft: 90,000 words. Rewrote it completely, now on third draft, 74,000 words. I know it has to go. Started an outline in Freemind. Went back to trying to make it fly. Sit staring at the screen. I know it sucks. It has to go. I gotta start over. Tomorrow. Now, wine.

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Item Reviewed: Why Starting Over on a WIP Isn't Exactly a Bad Thing Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Amy Lukavics