Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

Starting Over is Essential to Your Creativity and Success

Have you ever been ready to throw your work in the air and give up? Who hasn’t? Hey, maybe starting over isn’t such a bad idea.

Yesterday I was talking with a friend over coffee when he told me he doesn’t get it. “What don’t you get?” I asked him. He explained that every time he starts a creative project, writing a book in this case, he comes to a point where he realizes he must start over because it’s just not good enough or doesn’t make any sense.

As he was explaining his face took on an exhausted and frustrated look. I recognized it instantly, because I’ve seen it so many times… in the mirror…


My friend was suffering from a common issue that most all of us go through when we find ourselves starting over.

We tend to think it indicates our work isn’t good enough or that we have somehow failed, but the reality is that starting over isn’t about either of those things.

It’s not anyone’s fault that we see it this way, because over the last hundred years the industrialized world has become all about standards and measurements, with little to no patience for the creative process.

In fact, until the previous decade creativity had been practically removed from most people’s lives.

Do it right the first time became the mantra, and standards were put in place to insure you did do it right the first time.

But now that the world is once again changing, more and more people are going back to their creative roots and the process of creativity must be rediscovered.

It’s kind of scary, I know. But it’s okay.

It’s okay to start over. (Tweet This if you’ve ever started over).

We’d all like to start a project and see it to fruition in one go, but the reality is we need to start over.

The human mind is designed to contemplate, to learn, to grow and to seek out and find solutions and new ideas.

Whenever we begin a new creative project it’s usually from a vague idea, a mere inkling of what we really want and it takes working it to discover if an idea has any potential to blossom.

The first draft may seem like a garbled mess, but it’s really the way the brain works through thoughts and ideas.

Our brains work this way all the time without us taking conscious notice of it.

Quiet your mind and try to follow your thoughts and you’ll discover they seem scattered and random. That’s why meditation can be so difficult.

As creatives we are fortunate (or unfortunate, you pick) to see our confusing thoughts in writing or on a canvas, and it can be disturbing.

When you start a creative endeavor, be it writing a book, painting a picture, or sculpting a portrait, it’s absolutely natural to start over, putting aside the first effort, and second, or even the third until the right words, the right colors, or the right shapes finally come to you.

This is why we are taught that it is better to let go when writing the first draft, because when you try to control and edit it you’re disturbing your brain’s natural process, and as a result you become frustrated.

We must go to the edge of quitting.

It’s happened to me many times after writing several drafts that when I am about ready to quit and throw my keyboard into the trash, the idea suddenly begins to take shape in a coherent form.

When this happens my writing becomes like a symphony and the angels sing.

I often wondered in exasperation why I always seem to go to the very edge of quitting before I start writing something that makes sense.

Because that’s the way the brain works.

We might not understand how our brains are putting ideas and thoughts together to form our concept, but we do know it feels exhausting and it’s hard to trust that somehow it will put everything together to create something that matters.

Each time we start over, or begin a new draft, the message becomes clearer and it is the process of starting over that makes this possible.

Consider Thomas Edison – why is he famous?

Is Edison more famous for his inventions or for how many times he started over and did not give up?

Thomas Edison’s story is so inspiring and motivating because it tells the truth of human nature about how we learn and grow, and ultimately, hopefully, succeed.

We make mistakes (or we call them mistakes) and we start over, but without doing so success would not be possible.

The next time you start a project try not to worry too much about whether it will unfold perfectly or not. Just know that you are on the right track you if you feel compelled to start over again.

Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

~Thomas Edison

Don’t give up.

It’s okay to become frustrated and exhausted. Go for a walk or get a drink of water, and then start again.

If you’re a writer, never throw away any of your drafts. 

They may seem like a mess, but if you wait a few days and read them again you are likely to find gems, a delightful word here and a beautiful sentence there, and you may discover the writing is not as incoherent as you thought.

Here’s the thing, you’re never really starting over, you’re simply taking the next step in the creative process.

Take. The. Next. Step.

What have you started over lately? Share in the comments.

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

Did you like this article?

Get future articles delivered directly to your inbox and you’ll also receive an extremely popular eBook included with signing up, all for free. More free stuff to come for subscribers only, so don’t miss out. Enter your email address:

Audacity-banner-G610 Proceeds from sales of the book support the Positive Writer website, writing contests, giveaways, and other events. Thanks for your support.
  • Renia Carsillo

    This is great Bryan! My sweetheart rolls his eyes every time he has to move the boxes of old journals, college articles, and half-finished manuscripts around, but I go back to them over and over for inspiration or completion.

    • I know how you feel, Renia. I have a cabinet filled with old journals and half-finished manuscripts. Even if they are never finished they still provide fond memories and captured ideas.

  • Cathy

    Thanks, Bryan. I always enjoy your posts and they inspire me. I often give up in frustration if I have to struggle too much and I hate that I do that. Perseverance is the key to so many things in life, not just the writing.

  • I would say that recently I have started starting again. For a long time, I ran from the idea of writing. It scared me, mostly because it is what I want to do so, it was just easier to run and not do it as opposed to sitting down and embracing the words I felt I needed to be putting on paper.

  • Wendy Strain

    I start things over all the time. It’s interesting how often this topic comes up – have had two discussions about it in the past week. I’m a big proponent of the ‘throwaway’ rough draft (not that you actually throw it away, just that you don’t sit down expecting to write brilliance from the start). Thanks for spelling things out so clearly. Now I can just point people here instead of launching into my not-as-eloquent explanation 🙂

    • I think all of us start over more often than we’d care to talk about, but there’s nothing wrong with starting over. It’s necessary. It’s also good, because a first draft is really just brainstorming, and it takes several drafts for it all to start to come together. I still expect brilliance from the start, though, but maybe that’s just me, the dreamer. 🙂

  • This is a great post. I just talked with Hank Phillip Ryan, an accomplished writer and Boston area news reporter at the Midwest Writers Workshop. She talked about the importance of realizing that at the moment you say to yourself “This won’t work” you should pat yourself on the back because it means your halfway there. Everyone goes through this almost every time and it is in the going back and sticking with it that we can each produce our best work.

  • Rick Gibbs

    Thanks Bryan! I went back to square 1 with my blog. I felt I was rushing a bit. I’ve spent the last few months learning to read and write again. I’ve set a goal to read 100 books this year and to write more. I capture the amount I write each day (today about 300). I try to capture everything. I’m a perfectionist, being very impatient about getting it “right” the first time. But, I’m finding, that when I cull through the stuff I’ve captured, I can tidy it up at a later date. I’m also getting some help on design and tech issues. I’m starting over now! I will share the results with you soon! You’ve been an inspiration to me!

    • Sounds fantastic, Rick! Do share the results with me. I’m glad to hear you’re upping your game. Starting this blog was a starting over point for me, too. I think you’ll find most successful bloggers were already blogging for years in obscurity until they discovered their voice and ability to capture attention, then they started over with new blogs.

  • Kat Clements

    I know I struggle with this. I’ve always been told “Do it right the first time” and that puts so much pressure on me that I feel it stunts my creativity. In one of my art classes, we were drawing a still life. I can’t tell you how many times I drew, erased, and redrew that still life. I wanted to hurl the canvass across the room. But our teacher encouraged us and finally I reached a point where I didn’t have to erase…and it turned out much better than my initial attempts.

    Great post! Thank you for sharing what so many creative people go through.

    • I think we’ve all heard the mantra of “Do it right the first time.” and that has created so much pressure and a total lack of understanding for the creative process. Then too many of us blame ourselves for failure when we don’t get it right the first time and give up. No. Don’t give up. You’re teacher sounds wonderful. Encouragement is the key. Keep going, start over, keep moving ever forward.

  • I am actually in the process of starting over right now. I finished revising my manuscript for a YA novel last December, began sending it out to agents, and have finally realized it just isn’t working. I began working on it again last night, from chapter one, and have done some heavy chopping (necessary, but still scary!). Starting over is such a drain, and can be so depressing – I was tempted to just forget it, honestly. I loved this post, and the idea of thinking of it not as “starting over” but as taking the next step in the creative process. That’s so great! And inspiring. With that said, guess I’ll get back to work on that manuscript!! Thanks for the words of encouragement 🙂

  • Norma Jean Lutz

    Great post. It took me years to understand and appreciate the “creative process.” Much sorting is involved. Both in the brain, in the emotions, and on paper (or computer — whatever). To try to skip the process is counterproductive — it means it will take even longer to get to the desired end. (The completion of the written project.)

    • Agreed, Norma. That’s why it is so confusing as to why it takes so long sometimes.

  • Tammy Schaefer

    Brian, your post came at the perfect time for me. I’m working on my first fiction novel, and struggling with indecision, disgust and fear of failure. Thank you for your words of encouragement. That line “Do it right the first time” haunts me. Thank you for helping me put this into perspective.

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    Oh how I relate so well to this Bryan. What is it about human nature that drives us to believe that our work is a “failure” if it doesn’t look like what we expected? With every “failure” comes an opportunity for success. Thank you for this timely reminder as I work on writing my best.

    • Exactly, Caryn “With every ‘failure’ comes an opportunity for success!”

  • I start over as a photographer every year by purging my portfolio and deleting image files, it forces me to refresh everything with new vigor!

  • Just got to finish this post. And the timing is perfect. I’m not I’m restarting, continuing my book. The first day I was away in Michigan I saw something I really wanted to put in. It will take a reworking. And presto, as I’m catching up with my emails, there is your post.

    Really needed this now. Thanks, Bryan.

  • I just stumbled on this, and it hit me quite hard. I’m an essay writer, and I’m just full of ideas, but the problem is that as soon as I’d start fleshing out an idea, or getting it down on paper, it goes sour. It takes a paragraph, or a page or two.

    By the first thousand words I’ve passed discomfort and doubt and am standing squarely on despair. I go to the edge of quitting, as you said. I don’t quit, exactly, but my projects languish in a file, unfinished.

    This post makes me think that my problem might be that I give up too easily. What a relief; I’d rather have a problem I can work on than a headful of ideas that I can’t use.

  • Pingback: September Links | Pieces of the Puzzle()

  • Such a common problem. I always always always have this. I always have to beware of where I am in the process because for me sometimes ‘starting over’ is a submission to the Resistance. I start over but I start something different, I go through the process of beginning because it’s safer there. That’s not a good kind of starting over, it’s the end of a bungee rope – I allow it to fling me back so I don’t have to plough through the barrier and do the hard work. But then there’s the kind of starting over you talk about. That’s the necessary type, it’s how we do great things!

  • I get so frustrated when I have to start over on something, not just writing. I find myself starting over in the kitchen especially, because I’m a horrible cook. Sometimes I feel like I have just wasted a whole bunch of my time and energy when I have to go back and start over on a project. It can be incredibly discouraging that I couldn’t “get it right the first time.”

    KM Weiland tweeted a quote a few days ago that I immediately thought of while reading this post. “In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to
    become the person you need to become to write that book.”-Junot Díaz. We are works-in-progress, just like our own work. Sometimes we have to go back and re-learn certain life lessons in order to move forward; there’s no shame in that. Lessons tend to stick better that way, in my opinion.

    i don’t need to be ashamed of starting over, then, because I am not the same person I was when I first started the project. The new me can see and do things with the work that the old me could not. Maybe then, starting over can be a new and exciting step in the writing process, instead of a discouraging one.

    Thanks for the post. I feel much better about revising my current novel. 🙂

    Merry Christmas!
    Erica Bennett

  • Anna-Maria Ninnas

    Just stumbled on this old post, really spoke to me. I’d lost my first draft of my dearest, largest project a while back, in fact just before NaNoWriMo. My computer and two of my backups all caught a virus, and turned out my cloud storage, for whatever mystical reason, saved a shortcut, not the original file. While it wasn’t planned for, and had the potential to be restored, and I even had decent chunks of it left here and there, I consciously chose to move on and start fresh.

    Had to be the best thing that ever happened to me.

    I hadn’t realized how stale my writing had grown. I hadn’t realized I’d been rewriting the same parts over and over again for the two years. I hadn’t realized I hadn’t written anything new in ages. Hadn’t realized writing had stopped bringing me the initial joy of it for years.

    This year was my first NaNoWriMo win after a number of attempts, hardly getting half done in the past. That’s while jumbling studies and work and family responsibilities – November and June are always exam seasons here in Thailand. All the things that I swore wouldn’t let me ‘do it’ suddenly were conquerable, though far from easy.

    I wrote in 30 days triple of what write the past year; I’ve created more content that in the past two years. I’ve restored what I’d lost, and so MUCH MORE. Starting over gave me a second breath. A fresh new face. Made me happy to be really writing again.

    Wouldn’t have it any other way.