Starting Over

Happy Friday, everyone!

In explaining my absence, I also get to talk about something that not many writers or editors want to admit — that sometimes, there is benefit in simply starting over.

Over the course of the past month or so, we’ve been moving house! We weren’t looking to move, particularly since it hadn’t been long since we rounded up the last of our renovations on our old house following a flood, and were at last getting to enjoy them. But, as often happens, an opportunity presented itself that we simply couldn’t pass up, even if it meant that we were back to the days of living out of boxes while we transformed yet another house from top to bottom.

I use the word ‘transform’ deliberately to highlight the attitude we chose to take with such a daunting project. When we think of starting over, it’s incredibly easy to be discouraged and focus solely on the negative — all the reworking, how tired you’ll be, and so on — rather than the positive end result and moreover, the possibilities inherent in being given a blank slate.

For example, our old house was subject to several restrictions when we renovated: size, budget, who was available to do what at which stage, what materials were available, and even small cosmetic things like the hardware and hearth stone colors that were already there that we didn’t want to change. With our new house, however, we didn’t have as many restrictions — we had much more freedom to create the home we wanted.

The same is true of our projects, including our written ones. That document you’ve been working on relentlessly for the past few months, that never seems to turn out how you want it? Perhaps it itself is restricting you. But how do you know that starting over is really what you need to do? Here are some potential reasons:

  1. The presentation of your thoughts is not as clear as it could be. This is often the case of first drafts written without an outline under the ‘just get it onto the page’ method — a perfectly valid method. If on reading through you seem to jump around a lot, with one subject being cut off by another and reappearing three pages later with little to no warning, this may be a sign that a rewrite is in order. Frequently this is easier rather than trying to untangle the original.
  2. The format of the piece isn’t suitable. It may work, but it may not suit. This is more often the case with creative projects — a traditional stanza-ed poem working better as a prose poem, or a novel really wanting to be a script, for instance — but can crop up in others, such as classroom activities being more effective as interactive rather than a lecture.
  3. External restrictions or changes. These are frequently unexpected, such as a client (or instructor) changing a deliverable, or can be simple oversights such as initially misreading instructions and having to correct oneself.
  4. Project loss. Whether a harddrive crash or something more catastrophic, this is the most obvious (and unfortunate!) reason you’d need to restart.
  5. Something incredibly intrinsic to the project is faulty. Usually, this presents itself as a single component that influences the entire project, and to try to force it to work is either too difficult, would take too much time, or will negatively impact other aspects of the project. For example, no evidence to back up one’s thesis proposal, or a plot hole in a work of fiction.
  6. The overall idea itself simply isn’t working. This is of course one of the hardest and most frustrating reasons to accept, because it often feels like a personal attack. However, it can be the most freeing. Unshackling yourself from a limp idea opens you to far stronger ones.

Even if you’re not encountering problems, experimenting with rewrites — particularly with smaller projects — can not only be useful practice, but can yield unexpectedly good results. A great exercise I remember from college was to write an initial piece, and then cover it and attempt to rewrite it purely from memory. The ideas or images that stuck were clearly the strongest ones, and thus could inform a strong third draft.

Remember, no matter the reason one is faced with a restart, being open to as transformative an opportunity as starting over should be looked on with enthusiasm. You may be surprised by how much you like the new end result compared to the original!

What are some of the reasons you’ve had to restart a project? Did you embrace it, or was it a struggle? What was the end result compared to the original?


~ Taegan