Why Your Capacity For Zero is Crucial As a Writer

How willing are you to start over if your story’s not working?

How willing are you to say, “I didn’t quite nail this outline or this story or this scene… And to make it work, I will have to start over and rebuild it from the ground up. Am I willing to put my ego aside and start from ground zero, not knowing if it’ll work?”

The ability (or willingness) to start from scratch is what I call your capacity for zero. And no matter where you’re at in the writing, editing, or publishing process, strengthening your capacity for zero is crucial to your success.


Why Your Capacity For Zero Is So Important

Having the courage and the ability to say, “This story isn’t working, and now to do this idea justice (and to write a story I’m proud of), I have to start over,” is HUGE. 

It’s what sets certain writers apart from the majority. And it’s what allows certain writers to take their stories all the way to the finish line while others give up.

As a developmental editor and book coach, I often have to tell writers they need to start over because their story doesn’t work. And it’s one of the hardest parts of my job because no one likes to hear that what they’ve worked so hard on is fundamentally flawed. But it happens all the time.

And most writers react in one of two ways—they either agree that their story doesn’t quite work, and they’re totally game to start over OR they take this news to mean they’re not cut out to be a writer and give up.

Luckily, 98% of the writers I work with fall into the first camp. Those writers have a strong capacity for zero, whereas the writers who give up do not (yet). And in most cases, the writers who fall into the second camp do find it in themselves to start over, but it can take a bit of time.

What A Strong Capacity For Zero Looks Like

If you’ve been listening to the Fiction Writing Made Easy Podcast for a while now, you may remember when I had Stefanie Medrek on the show. Here’s the episode if you want to check it out. 

In the episode, Stefanie and I talked about how, when we first started working together, I had to tell her that the first 40,000 words she had written didn’t quite work. I loved her idea and her characters, but to make her pages match her vision, we would need to dismantle the story and start over.  Stefanie could have used this as a reason to quit, but she has a great capacity for zero. She wanted to write a really good story, so it was worth it for her to start over rather than give up. 

Now, that doesn’t mean it was easy to walk away from those 40,000 words. It’s never easy to kill your darlings or to throw away something you’ve spent a lot of time on. But we can all learn something important from Stefanie’s story.

And that is to consider the end result you want versus the piece of your story you’re trying to hold on to that might not work as well as it could. This is huge in terms of being able to cross the finish line and write something you’re proud of.

Most Writers Want To Write Multiple Books

No matter where you’re at in the writing, editing, or publishing process, if you want to be an author who writes multiple books, then that means you’ll always have some kind of new project on the horizon, right?

Whether you’re writing your first novel or your fifth, each new draft you start is brand new. You have to discover your character and your plot and build out your story world each time you write a new book.

If you are a seasoned writer, you might have more tools in your writing toolbox, but it’s still a big undertaking to write a story from scratch. Especially if you’re switching genres, starting a brand new series, or doing something totally different than normal. 

So, there’s always an opportunity to find yourself in the shoes of what feels like a beginner, even if technically, you’re not. 

And if you are a brand new writer, I want you to remember that no one has ever taught you how to write a book before. There will be challenges, setbacks, confusion, and overwhelm whenever you’re trying to do something you’ve never done before. It’s normal!

How To Improve Your Capacity For Zero

I had a conversation like this the other day with a writer I work with. He was in the middle of his first draft and he was feeling disheartened because the further he got into his draft, the more it became clear that he’d have to change up quite a bit in the beginning section of his story.

We have a good relationship, so I was able to ask him, “Why wouldn’t you expect to have to go make changes to the beginning? Look at how much your idea has grown and changed!” And I reminded him how just the other week, he was talking about how much he’d learned about his story in the last six weeks—and how happy he was about all the new developments. So, we ended up laughing about it a bit, and his mindset totally changed.

Once he took a second to think about what he was saying, he said, “Wow, that’s so true. And actually, I know exactly how to make the beginning section of my story even more impactful and intriguing for readers now!” So, he walked away from the conversation feeling excited rather than bummed.

My point is that your mindset is so, so important. But so are the expectations we put on ourselves and our writing. 

And look, we’ll all have “downer” moments in the future—we’re human, it happens. But when you strengthen your capacity for zero, it’s easier to flip the script on how you interpret your results. 

So, to improve your capacity for zero, I want you to ask yourself questions like:

  • Are you willing to start from scratch to write a better story? 
  • Are you willing to be or feel like a beginner or an amateur for awhile? 
  • Are you willing to crash and burn and get back up if it doesn’t work?

And I really want you to sit with your answers for a bit. If you’re like most people, this thought exercise will probably make you a little uncomfortable—that’s okay! 

The purpose of asking these questions is not to feel discouraged about being a writer or starting a new project. Rather, it’s to help you notice how your mindset can impact your ability to be the best author you can be, and to have success, no matter what that looks like for you.

Final Thoughts

So, what this all boils down to is that we have to take our egos out of the equation. 

You have to be willing to be a beginner or to feel like an amateur (not a pro) right out of the gate. You have to be willing to say, “That didn't work.” And “What can I do instead?” 

And most importantly, you can’t give up! You need to be willing to take risks, throw things out that don’t work, and go back to the drawing board. You might not need to, but you have to be willing to do this.

Showing up for yourself consistently and continuing to practice your craft—that’s what’ll help you build your confidence over time and develop a greater capacity for zero. 

The stronger your capacity for zero, the more willing you are to stay in the game and make it work. This means the closer you are to success—whatever that looks like for you—and the more opportunity you have to write amazing stories and share them with the world. 

So, I hope this resonated with you today. And if you have a friend who’s just getting started with writing or who’s struggling and maybe needs this pep talk… Grab the link to this blog post or podcast episode and share it with them. My goal is to get these types of episodes out in front of the people who need them so that the world can benefit from their stories. So, please share the link with anyone who comes to mind. I would really appreciate it!

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →