Starting Over

I had this week’s writing 95% done. I had gone through all of my usual steps.

  • I had the subject written out for several days.
  • I made notes around it.
  • I gave myself the time to write.

I wrote 95% of it and then it stalled. All of the pieces were there, but they just weren’t lining up. It had promise, but I just couldn’t bring it home.

You might think that I’m talking about fear, and that I should have just pushed through the resistance.

You might tell me that I shouldn’t worry about the draft being perfect and that I should have just shipped, or that I was deceiving myself on an Icarian level.

You might even suggest that I should have just been Brave.

These aren’t the words you’re looking for.

There’s no doubt that there are a lot of things that hold us back, that hold me back. There are many times, that I have played it safe, needed to be brave, should have push through fear or slayed the dragon of resistance.

Today was not one of those days.

Simply put, today the words were not there. The point wasn’t being made. The story was not clear or helpful. And there it is. I knew it wasn’t helpful.

Trusting What You Know

As a person attempting to create something of value for others whether you are writing or delivering on a service promise, you know your work best. You know when what you are creating is useful and helpful and more importantly you know when it’s not.

When it is not, I dare say that the answer is not to ship. It is not to push through the resistance. It just might be time to start over.

Instinct and Insight

Fear is a cunning beast and it will trick you as sure as it will cripple you. But what if it’s not fear? What if it is instinct? Instinct lets you know when something’s not right, it’s that gnawing in your gut that we’ve all but forgotten how to trust.

What if it’s not resistance, but insight? Insight is instinct’s smart friend. It brings experience to the table. Lessons from failure and success, from learning and growing, from paying attention and listening. Insight is your reminder that you know your work best.

Knowing the Difference and Permission

I think you know the difference between fear and instinct, between resistance and insight. I think you know when something just isn’t working and instead of forcing your way through it, sometimes you just need to give yourself permission to start over not feel guilty about fear. It’s a different struggle to be sure. It’s not easy and sometimes takes even more work.

  • Throwing away 800 words of writing only to have to write another 500 or so, is hard work.
  • Not quitting on a goal because you missed two weeks of workouts is hard work.
  • Restarting a conversation with a frustrated customer is hard work.
  • Rebuilding a company because your business model was flawed is hard work.

I’m betting heavily that you’re not just a ball of fear, conditioned to be obedient. I’m betting you know your stuff and yourself. I’m betting that you know when something isn’t working and that if necessary, you’ll do the hard work of starting over to make it right.

What does it take?

Do you throw it all away or are there elements that can be saved? Do you go back to the beginning or do you just get back on the tracks? Yes. Yes, to all of it.

But instead of trying to summon the courage to fight some perceived beast, maybe your instincts are right and you should just…start over.

What do you think?

Rob Hatch posts here every Thursday.  You can subscribe to his weekly newsletter “Love The Grind” here. runs on the Genesis Framework

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  1. I AM SO GLAD YOU WROTE THIS!!! So many times I’ve fought 3/4 of the way through something, sensing a trap. Then “BLAM”, the trap springs.

    At first I think it’s me (You’re a fake. A Fraud), then I realize it is just my dumb initial idea.

    I put those pieces in a file and start over. Ever once in a while, I go back and check that file to see if any of it has healed itself.

    So far, no. In truth, I haven’t lost a thing. Rather, I’ve saved the world from a fate worse than death.

    Bad writing.

    • We agree and it’s hard and important work to wrestle with the feelings of ‘you’re a fake and a fraud’ and just recognize that it’s not good enough.

  2. Mr_Gone2Rio says:

    There’s a new book out that takes this thought and runs with it. A couple of professors interviewed successful people and found the common ingredient that they were willing to challenge their assumptions about how things should work, reassess their approach, and try again. See Navratilova, Martina — who realized early on that talent alone wasn’t going to win her matches once she got to the highest level of play.

    Here’s a link to a piece on the book from the New York Times last month.

  3. I don’t think I’ve ever thrown something away that I had 95% completed. For example, with web video, many times I’ll have something ready to go, and play it back one more time to take a look, and notice something wrong.

    Like maybe the lights flickered for a moment. I noticed it, but is it that big a deal to start all over?

    That would mean setting the camera, lights, and sound, and re-recording whatever the topic was.

    Most times, I’m doing a 1-2 minute video. Maybe talking about a topic.

    For me, I’ll let it go. It’s not perfect. That’s ok.

    That let’s me move on to the next thing.

    The last time I did this, the recipient told me that my video was amazing.

    They didn’t notice the lighting, only the content.

    People will forgive, or not even notice a production flaw, if the content is there.

    OK. So now I’m 95% through this comment.

    It’s good. I’m not re-writing it. I think you get the point.

    I’m posting.

    • I agree with you, Steve. People are enormously forgiving and editing to perfection is less important in so many instances.

      I’m more than happy to hit publish with a few flickers. I think there were a few in this post.

      What’s different in this case, is that the first story wasn’t going to connect and convey the message in the way I had initially thought. It wasn’t imperfect, it just wasn’t right and it wasn’t going to be helpful in that form.

      So instead of telling myself, ‘you’re just fretting over the small stuff, just send it.’, I had to trust my gut that it was going to miss mark entirely.

      It wasn’t the editing, it was the writing.

      Thanks for posting. : )

  4. I think often times there’s a resistance to starting over because it *feels like* quitting – which for many of the strong willed is a huge shot to the ego. I think forcing something through and trying to MAKE it work is a mistake. However, there’s a difference between giving up because things are getting difficult and starting over because you know this is the wrong direction. It takes skill to discern the difference without lying to ourselves.

    • “It takes skill to discern the difference without lying to ourselves.”

      That’s it, Daniel. Though, I think we know more often than not. The challenge lies more in trusting our instincts and insight and then being honest with ourselves.

  5. I don’t think it’s necessarily the idea of ‘quitting’ so much as the feeling of loss that you’ve wasted a bunch of time. I don’t think perfection really exists, but to send out a completely wrong message (in your opinion) prevents people from reading what you intended as the RIGHT message for them.
    Tossing it and starting from scratch can be somewhat liberating if you regard it as the learning experience it is. And embrace your inner voice for talking you into making it right.

    • I’m with you Marnie. It is indeed liberating, not just by regarding it as a learning experience, but also because it clears the way for something else.

  6. LaToya Rosario says:

    As I read your post I kept thinking, “be true to yourself.” I agree that it is uncomfortable and inconvenient to tear down and start over, but what rises from the rumble will be true and formidable. I would not want to keep building the lie just because of the fear of starting over. I couldn’t face myself. Cheers to you for being true to yourself!

  7. When I’m struggling with what I am writing, then I know I am not in the sweet spot. I’m trying to force something. I have to step back and take a fresh look and then recalibrate, if you know what I mean!

  8. Coming from someone who is just starting out in the writing and blogging world I think it is more important to encourage people to “just create”. So many of us hold ourselves back by not even creating. I’m reading Linchpin this week and I think it is important to help people learn how to create. Especially for leading writers and blogs out there.

    • You’re not wrong, Tim. I think encouraging people to create is important. I am however also encouraging people who have decided to create to trust their instincts. Instead of labeling their hesitancy as fear and resistance and responding by pushing through, that maybe what they are working on doesn’t ‘feel right’ for good reason.
      In my case, my instincts were telling me that the writing I was doing just wasn’t connecting even for me and I knew it wouldn’t for others. I had to listen to that and trust it. The answer isn’t then, “just create” it anyway. The answer for me was, let it go and create something else.

      • Hey Rob, I do understand the gist of what you’re saying. Sorry I didn’t mean you should just create in your case. Maybe I should’ve rewritten my comment lol. I’m glad you perfected the post! What was the original post about out of interest? I shudder to think what experienced writers must be throwing away because they’re not happy with it.
        Personally I do throw a lot of stuff away, mostly probably because I don’t think it is good enough. But I’m trying to write with a new app, to see where I can improve or reuse content.

        • No apologies needed, Tim. As for the topic, it may find it’s way again if I ever find the words to convey it. Good luck with the new app.

  9. Rob – a former professor of mine used to say, “if you’ve tried it three times and it’s not working, scrap it – it’s no good to you or anyone else.” I’ve found that to be a good rule of thumb. Sometimes, I don’t even need three tries, but it satisfies my concerns that I’m not “trying hard enough.” If I am struggling, I walk away from it and do something else to free up my mind. If I’m having difficulty when I return to it, maybe the timing and flow are still off. If I come back to it a third time with resignation and without a breakthrough, it’s definitely over and I know the work will be better for having trashed it.

    Thanks, as always, for sharing your insights with us.

    • As someone who is enjoying building new ‘systems’ in his life, I like your three times rule. In particular, that it gives you reassurance around the fear/concern of ‘am I trying hard enough?’.

  10. This is FANTASTIC, Rob! I used to AGONIZE over whether I was in fear…or if I just needed to jettison a project (for various reasons). I’d get confused when I’d read The War of Art or The Dip. Was it really my reptilian brain? Was I a coward? Wait…I’ve written several books and have accomplished a lot. Then why do I feel so much YUCK for this project?

    For example, I’m writing a mystery novel…but it’s hard. I’m not yet sure if I just ADMIRE mystery writers, or even just want to see if I can do as a personal challenge, or if I truly want to be a regular mystery novelist. I will say I don’t have the passion for it as I do my non-fiction writing, but time will tell…

    And if I get to the point where the YUCK outweighs the fun, I’m just gonna drop it. And that’s OK because, for me, it’s not about accomplishment these days as much as it is “Am I having fun?”.

    Thanks for a great post. :o)

    • Thank you, Janet. That ‘agonizing over whether it was fear’ and moving to a place of trusting yourself and your instincts is exactly the subtle shift I hope folks begin to make.

      Fear is real, make no mistake, but the chants from the Fear Warrior culture, can sometimes drown out the voices of our instinct and insight.

  11. Cathy Tibbles says:

    This really resonated Rob. As an emotion based decision maker I often times am made to feel as though my process is less real or valuable but it would be better labeled an instinctual decision maker! Agonizing over not trying hard enough is not one of my struggles… however being productive when the pressure is off is. I can’t wait to read more of your tips and tools for productivity and processes.

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