Why I’m throwing away almost everything and starting over

March is almost upon us—and with it, my (naïvely-set) goal date for completing the first draft of my novel.

So, you ask, “Are you getting close? 90% done? 80%?”

“Well, no,” I reply.

“But surely you’re at 70%.”


So, you glance over at my writing “thermometer.”

“Oh,” you say, “I see you’re at 30%.” You try to be upbeat in the face of my failure. “But you’re working on another 10% and it’s almost done, right? That’ll make 40%, which is in the ballpark of 50%, so you’re halfway there. You’re a little behind, but not so bad. No so bad at all.”

“Well… about that.”

When I wrote at the end of my previous post “Next week: Why I’m throwing away everything I’ve written and starting over from scratch” it was a joke. It was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, to keep me from stumbling into my old pitfalls I have several cardinal rules for this novel, one of which is “Don’t start over.” These rules are meant to keep me moving forward, because finishing this novel is the only goal, and starting over is just the first step to never finishing. Ross knows the precariousness of the situation, on account of attempting to co-write novels with me in the past. I have a history of perpetually reinventing a story, casting off huge sections, and beginning anew, so that progress never passes a certain threshold. One might call it a highly effective success-avoidance system.

But here I am, against all my rules, tossing out two thirds of my work and trying to glue together the bits and pieces left in my destructive wake. “What are you doing?” you ask. “Are you crazy?” I know, I know! It sounds crazy—but listen!—this time I have a really good reason, and I promise it’s the last time I’ll ever do it.

Of course, I say that every time.

One thought on “Why I’m throwing away almost everything and starting over

  1. In writing class we refer to this as the Balenchesky System. We follow the Rule of Thirds in this system, meaning that when you’re a third done with your novel, you should assume that only a third of what you’ve got written is any good at all and cut accordingly.


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