How to Resist that Urge to Delete Everything and Start Over

Welcome to hell.


If you have ever looked over something you’ve just finished writing and thought, “This is horrible, I want a do-over,” then congratulations! You are just as critical of your own writing as every other writer out there.

Welcome to hell. Or as some prefer to call it, editing something you just wrote.

This urge to want to scrap everything and start again is possible to resist, but it’s hard. Because deep down you want to have written something REALLY good. And when it doesn’t seem to have turned out exactly the way you thought it would, giving up starts to seem like a completely reasonable option.

Don’t give in! Here’s how to resist this temptation and give yourself a little confidence boost.

Start each writing session with your favorite scene or section

When we’re working on a story, sometimes we end up writing out of order when we’re inspired to write a specific scene or section at a particular time. It’s out of these kinds of sessions that some of our best writing often surfaces. These pieces of writing, therefore, might end up becoming our favorites.

It’s both healthy and motivating to return to these scenes when we start to doubt ourselves. Before you start writing, and once you’re finished for the day, go back and read through your favorite scenes again. Remind yourself that, while not every part of your story is the best you could have done, some of it is good – at least in your own eyes. That matters. It builds confidence and provides reassurance.

Jot down specific things you want to improve and take them on one at a time

When you’re almost finished writing or you’ve already started the editing process, the critic inside you immediately bursts through whatever cage you’ve somehow managed to keep him in so you could write without losing your mind.

He is mean. He is over-critical and he will make you want to quit. Don’t let him.

As you start to find things big or small about your work that you want to fix or change, mark them or write them down. Go through the entire thing without actually changing anything major. Once you’re finished and you have your list, start tackling each thing one at a time. It’s less overwhelming and it helps keep you focused on details you want to make better.

Remember that no first draft is a good draft

You aren’t going to write the perfect draft the first time around. It just isn’t possible. It has nothing to do with your skill level or how much experience you do or don’t have. First drafts are supposed to be imperfect. Part of the writing process is learning from your mistakes – and then correcting them.

Training yourself to write imperfectly is challenging and is a mindset that takes time to get used to. You just have to learn to keep moving forward even when you know something isn’t exactly the way you want it to be yet. It’s a process. There are steps and layers. But it does get easier.

Give your work a chance. It’s not nearly as awful as your inner critic thinks it is.

Image courtesy of Ervins Strauhmanis/

When Is It Okay to Edit As You Write?


We’ve all been there. You sit down to write a few hundred words and end up spending your designated writing time making edits on parts of your story you’ve already written and set aside. Usually, in the writing world, this is discouraged. But not always, and not for everyone.

So when IS it okay to edit as you go?

If you’ve finished A LOT of writing projects before

You’ll hear, if you haven’t already, a lot of experts say you absolutely should not edit until you’ve finished writing. We’ve even given you tips on how to avoid it. This is relevant advice for two kinds of writers: beginners and procrastinators. It does not apply to more experienced writers the exact same way.

When you’re first starting out, the most important thing is to sit down and write. Finishing a story, regardless of the type, is hard. Once you get past that first hurdle, it gets a little easier each time you do it. The more you write, the more trained you are to be able to go back and edit as you write without having to worry so much about murdering your productivity.

If you just need to add a detail you’re afraid you’ll forget

Continuity is not the easiest thing to maintain when you’re working on a longer writing project, especially if you don’t write a story in chronological order. Every once in awhile you’ll realize, in the middle of writing, that the newest addition to your plot doesn’t quite match something small, but significant, that you’ve already written.

It’s okay to go back and do your best to make a quick revision, to make sure you remember it needs to be fixed. You can also mark or highlight it, without actually fixing it, or make some kind of note next to it to remind yourself to make the edit during revisions.

If you absolutely cannot move on until you do

If you’ve ever stopped in the middle of doing something important to send a quick text or answer an email—because you’re too distracted to finish what you’re doing before stopping to do something else—you know what it must be like to not be able to write anything new until you’ve gone back to fix something in a different part of the story that’s already been written.

Overall, the most important thing to do, as a writer, is write words. If going back to edit something you just remembered needs fixing is the only thing that’s going to clear your head and free up your brain for new ideas, just do it. But don’t abandon the task at hand to spend too much time on small, minute details you can fix in the revisions stage of the writing process. Later.

Either you love editing, or you don’t. A lot of times we end up spending more time on it than we mean to, instead of actually writing. It’s not always a writing “sin,” but always keep your end goal—finishing your story—in mind.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Five Stress-Free Steps to Revising Your Novel


So you’ve written a book. Cue the confetti!

After you’ve cleaned all that up, and after you give yourself time away from your story (some recommend months—take as little or as much time as you need) to be able to come back with a fresh perspective.

Then, it’s time to revise. Some love it. Some hate it. Some just don’t know how to approach it without an overwhelming sense of dread and regret.

We have steps. Stress-free ones. It’s not as scary as you think.

For the purpose of this post, let’s assume you’re planning on going the traditional route, meaning you won’t actually self-publish. Let’s also assume you’re using Microsoft Word to house and edit your drafts. 

Step 1: Self-Publish a Proof Copy

So you might be thinking, excuse me? If I’m going to take the time to create and order a proof copy of my own book that no one else is ever going to see, why not just self-publish and be done with it?

Debates about self-publishing aside, the purpose of a proof copy is to make the early stages of your revisions feel less like work and more like a (hopefully) good read.

You can order a proof copy of your book for pretty cheap using CreateSpace, and if you don’t want to take the time to create an elaborate cover and format your own work, you really don’t have to. Again—no one else will see it unless you want them to.

Step 2: Read and Take Notes

If you prefer reading physical hard-copy books over e-books, that’s where the benefit of the physical proof copy comes in. But you can still implement this step if you’re just staring at your screen reading through your draft.

The key here is to read your book from start to finish, like you would a normal book. You can either mark things as you go or take notes on the side, but the point is to undergo a complete read-through to evaluate your overall work. Breaking it into pieces is easier when you’re able to identify weak points and major flaws.

Step 3: Open a New Document

Hear us out before you panic (remember, stress-free!). What you can try to do, if you’re having trouble breaking up your work, is to take small sections of your novel, one at a time, from your original draft, copy them and paste them into a new place.

Isolating the pieces one by one can help you feel less overwhelmed and make the task at hand seem much more manageable, especially if you’re trying to meet a deadline and can’t afford to procrastinate.

Alternative method: color-code your text. Choose one color for sections you’re editing, and color them white when you’re done with them. (Out of sight, out of stress?)

Step 4: Start with Grammar and Spelling

If you read through your book in its entirety and take notes along the way before making any changes, it’s possible you’ve already marked most of those pesky punctuation mix-ups and embarrassing misspellings.

For some, this is the easiest part of revising, and doing it first can fuel your motivation and self-boost your confidence when it comes time to editing for content. Do be aware, also, that spelling and grammar checkers don’t catch everything. 

Step 5: Be Mindful When Editing for Clarity and Content

The advantage of working with an editor is that they’re paid to make sure your book doesn’t just look nice, but that it also makes sense. They are able to see things you might not, like small plot holes and characters going by multiple first names unintentionally.

That being said, try not to make any big changes based on how you feel the book presents itself—if you’ve already finished and just aren’t feeling confident.

We really are our own worst critics. You want to show up with as authentic of a draft as possible—meaning it’s ready for review even if it’s not quite ready for publishing. Something you thought about taking out, but didn’t, could end up being the best part of the entire work (let’s be honest). If you can, wait for someone else to give an opinion before you change the story itself.

No matter the length and initial quality of your book, revising a full-length work—the revisions that come before you’re even ready to show it to someone else, like a potential agent—is a big job. While it’s important to celebrate and give yourself time to recharge, revisions have the potential to seriously “up” your publishing potential.

Take it slow. Be patient. Relax—you’ve made it this far. There’s no turning back now.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.