When DO You Back Up & Start Over?

I am the queen of writing forward. Okay, I’m the queen of telling other people to do that.

Nobody has ever said I don’t have strong opinions. Or that I don’t share them. So what’s happening? Well, as so often happens when we spout off share our opinions, life seems to be coming back at me with a “Oh, really?!” And a “Ha!” And, even possibly, a “Neener-neener.”

I’m considering restarting an entirely new draft of my YA historical without having finished off the last.

Not yet, obviously. I’m still working through Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, and I’m still on the character section–haven’t even started the plot section yet. So no decisions today.

But…remember my reasons for going back to the workbook? My WIP was in such a tangle, I felt totally lost. Believe me, I’m not out of those lost woods yet.

I’m hoping to be, and I’m seeing glimpses of light, and I’m realizing all over again what a tangle of bad knots that last draft is. (Not to mention the one before it!) And I’m feeling like the idea of stepping back into that mess makes me cringe. Plus, the ideas I am having–I can’t see how or where they would fit into what I have on the page, even if I do tell myself I’m still just drafting.

Which, obviously, I will be.

So my question to you is: if you’re a forward-moving writer; if you’re someone who–like me–feels that the best thing you can do is finish off a draft  and then restart…when do you break that “rule?”

When do you leave the earlier mess in a lump, without writing a last page, and start over? When do you let yourself start fresh?

And how has that worked for you?

Advice and words of experience welcome!


  1. Kelley Lynn says:

    I have four manuscripts that are not complete. I’ve never started over with the same manuscript and rewrote, but I have completely abandoned those ms, at least for now.

    Essentially I have so many ideas running around in my head that my current ms has to be exciting enough to keep the others at bay. When that stops happening, it’s not what I’m supposed to be writing at that moment and I move on to the next idea.

    Is that weird? Probably, but it works for me. I have four complete manuscripts (One queried, two sidelined, and one that is starting the query process) and four not complete manuscripts.

    I guess I figure as long as I’m writing and I’m excited about what I’m writing, I’ll continue improving and hopefully turn out good work.


  2. I feel like I have to nail the beginning, and the key emotional scenes before I can finish. And if that means going back and doing it all over again, so be it. (And yes, this is where I usually derail from Nano…)


    • beckylevine says:

      I tend to write straight-through and haven’t had much luck writing scenes out of order, but still…I can’t even think about KEEPING the stuff I’ve written, so why keep going with it. Meh.


  3. I have definitely stopped when a manuscript wasn’t working and have begun writing it again in a new way. In two specific instances, I have stopped and restarted two or three times before I found the right way to write the story. There would have been no good purpose served by continuing down the wrong track just so I could say I had completed a draft.

    My current middle grade novel hit two or three walls, and I went back to the beginning and tried a different tack. I’ve finally found the right voice, the right plot arc, and the first draft is complete. It is a much stronger manuscript, even as a first draft, than it would have been if I had pushed through to the end of one of the previous iterations.


    • beckylevine says:

      Beth, it may be just because you’re telling me what I want to hear, but this really helps. It does feel like I’m struggling to find all those things. Did you plot in between? Work on characters? Play with voice?


  4. I’m stuck right now in my MS, so am taking a break from writing, but am thinking about how to present the material – It isn’t not knowing what to say, but how to best say it. So I started a blog to begin a platform. I’m 2/3 of the way through my rough draft. Once I finish that I will do some serious editing.
    Have a blessed day. By the way I picked up the Maas book and his book on The Fire in Fiction. Thanks for recommending him.


    • beckylevine says:

      I agree, it’s about how to present it. What scenes, yes, but what attitude & voice and what pieces of the story need to show up on the page. Glad you like the books–good luck with the draft!


  5. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I start over all the time. I leave the previous draft hanging and start fresh, but when I hit a part where something from the previous draft would fit well, I cut and paste the relevant piece in, then modify it accordingly. That keeps my new draft clean, but takes advantage of whatever I’ve already written that is still useful.

    That’s the beauty of computers: you can keep copying and modifying and keeping old drafts ad infinitum!


    • beckylevine says:

      You don’t know how good this makes me feel, Jenn, hearing it from you. 🙂 Right now, I feel like there’s nothing to cut & paste, but that might change if I can step away from it and have a better place to try & fit it in. Thanks!


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