Sunday, 15 January 2012

Back to Work

Well, this week I got back to work on my WIP. I know Christmas seems like a long time ago now, but the kids didn't go back to school until Monday. To be honest, I hadn't thought that much about the story during the break. I know when writing a novel that it's usually ticking over in our heads all the time, but I find when away from the actual physical writing for even a week, I tend to disengage somewhat. Instead, I've been coming up with completely unrelated ideas. That's all well and good, but how to reacquaint myself with my novel?

Well, I'm going to share what I did, and what I could have done differently and more effectively, in the hope that this will help anyone else with the same problem.

I was very impatient to get back on with it, feeling I should make up for lost time, and only gave the last few hundred words a brief scan before ploughing back in. Well, that was obviously a mistake, but as I'm still writing very last thing at night I just wanted to get something done and get to sleep. It was counterproductive as I actually got little done (1000 words for the week, and not the best I've done).

If you're meeting up with old friends after a long time apart, you obviously have to spend a bit of time catching up first before moving on to other matters. This is what I failed to do. If you give your manuscript a good read through after a break (preferably with a red pen on hand), you will probably pick up on nuances that will guide you in the way forward, even re-absorb information that you might have forgotten. My WIP was only 14000 words when I left it, but there's still quite a lot contained there. Often we hear advice to live through your characters, see what they see, hear what they hear, smell what they smell. So you need to become immersed again in their world. It must have been a combination of impatience and arrogance that made me think I could just pick up where I left off. I never did this after the numerous breaks that happened when writing my first novel, but at that point I really had no idea if my writing was any good as no one had read it. Since then, I have had a few compliments. Lessons learned - mustn't let ego get too big!

Here's another approach that may work if in this situation. Real people's lives don't have a break, so you've essentially put your characters in limbo while you're away from the book. As you read through what you've written so far, imagine that the protagonist is telling the story directly to you, and when you reach the end of what's printed on the screen, just let them carry on, taking notes as they do. If their story is compelling and dramatic enough, they'll be eager to tell you more. You can try this with more than one character, to get different perspectives.

OK, I know my advice is untested, but I'll soon have more time to devote to writing, as our three-year-old starts nursery for five mornings a week as of Thursday, so I'll put time into these strategies. I'm not saying I can't wait to get rid of her - I worry like any parent would - but there's probably no need to, based on the progress she's made at the playgroup she's been attending on her own. And I truly believe it will benefit the entire household, as I'll be less grumpy due to getting a proper night's sleep!

So do you have any tips for getting back into a WIP after time away? Or even any ideas for stealing a bit of writing time during busy holidays, so you stay in touch?

19 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm still molding the outline for my third book while jotting down certain scenes that really stick out.
I'd think if you let a manuscript sit for too long, when you returned to it, you'd start writing something different not just because you're no longer familiar, but also because you have changed as a writer. Even a month or two can change the quality of our writing and our way of looking at the world.

Nick Wilford said...

Alex - that's a good point. Hopefully we change for the better while on a break and are able to bring a fresh perspective to the work!

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

Your advice is very good! I always reacquaint myself with where I left off, what the character was doing and feeling. And, after I do that, I sit quietly for 15 minutes with my eyes closed, and take myself into the scene and let the action take place in my mind. This always helps me get back in. Your instincts are great!

Nick Wilford said...

Melissa - That's a good tip! I might try it. My problem is, I never feel like I have 15 minutes to just sit... hmmm.

Freya Morris said...

Hi Nick. It is tricky. I only have a husband but he is just as terrible at interrupting. It's quite upsetting when I'm in the middle of a scene because it brings me right out of it and where I was going.

You have to spend the time "getting back in" to the novel. The more you edit, the quicker it takes. I've been editing for ages now and it really doesn't take me too long now.

I'm also trying to work out boundaries around writing. Perhaps put some earphones in and tell your kids that when you are in a certain space - not to be interrupted. Bit like being on the phone.

Matthew MacNish said...

I've never taken a big break while drafting, but if I did I would probably have to do the same. Get re-acquainted, so to speak.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I've got a WIP (50k words) that I set aside for other projects for over a year. As you say, I'm going to have to get reacquainted since it's been so long. But as Alex said, I've changed a lot as a writer since I last worked on it. I'm sure it will have to be rewritten. But that's okay. I've decided to see if I can turn it into a trilogy.

Good luck!

Sara Bulla said...

Great Advice. I too am just getting back into writing after the Christmas Break and I've been at a loss as to where to pick it up. I actually started to write down another idea that's been brewing because I really wasn't motivated to dive back into my old MS. Thanks for the tips though ... I think I'll try it out! Also, you've won the Versatile Blogger Award. Come check it out on our blog, livetowrite1.blogspot.com. :

Nick Wilford said...

Freya - I'm not editing at the moment, but you've given me an idea. The summer holidays is the next big block of time when I fear my writing will suffer. (7 weeks here in Scotland!) I'll aim to get the first draft done by then (hopefully a bit before) and be editing then, when I can bear more interruptions. Unless it requires a massive rewrite...

I don't want the kids to feel they have to tiptoe around me, either. My own study would be good, but that won't happen anytime soon!

Matthew - Good for you for keeping going without breaks. It's not even "big" breaks, I find even missing a week gives me a problem!

Donna - Sometimes it's not the right time for a certain idea. They need time to germinate, and when you go back to it it's much better. Good luck with the trilogy. I think there's a difference between choosing to put it aside, and it kind of being enforced!

Sara - Glad I could help! I'm trying to get back into the swing of it this week. I'm sure you will too.

Thanks very much for the award! I've commented on your post. I'll put it up on my blog tomorrow and do all the shenanigans - it's getting late now and my novel is calling...

Melanie Fowler said...

Oh hey Nick, nice to meet you!

When I've been away from a WIP for a while, I like to go back and read everything that I've done before. It takes a little while, but it's actually great when trying to jump back in.

Angela Cothran said...

Your advice sounds pretty sound to me. I will sometime take large breaks too, and I find rereading what I've written REALLY helps me.

Deana said...

I completely agree. When I'm taking a break I sometime forget so much I have to go back and do a little recap of who each character is, what motivates them, etc. I've started just writing that down so I can just read through it when I try to force my character to do something they wouldn't do. Catching up is great advice!

Emily R. King said...

Hi, Nick! I'm your newest follower.
As for your question, I don't like to let a WIP sit too long for the same reasons Alex gave. When I get back to it, I write something different. This can be a good things if I left the WIP because it wasn't going anywhere, but it can take a while to get back into the groove of things.
Good luck getting your groove back!

Stu Ayris said...

Hi Nick!

Hope all is well!

Very interesting and pertinent subject! I wrote the first 13,000 words of my next book last October and plan to start on it again very soon - I reckon I will probably read through it, change loads and then get back into it. The way I write it tends to be in bursts of a couple of months with a couple of months break inbetween - not planned in any way, just seems to be how it has gone! If your book is half as good as your blog, then it will be brilliant!

Nick Wilford said...

Melanie - Nice to meet you too. I think that's the best approach - skim reading to get new words down quicker creates a false economy, I found!

Angela - Yep, again, you have to take that time to refamiliarise yourself.

Deana - That's a good idea to keep notes on your characters to keep them in line, as it were. I should really make more notes!

Emily - Thanks for following!

I can feel my groove starting to come back this week! Writing something different might be a good idea, just to get back into writing, then hopefully you can tackle that problem WIP once you've "warmed up".

Stu - I read your other interviews where you said this happened with TTF, and it's clearly done no harm - I'm about 2/3 through and it's stunning! Good luck with the new book, I have no doubt it'll be a cracker too. And thanks again for the kind words on my blog - means a lot!

Stu Ayris said...

Thank you so much for reading Tollesbury Time Forever Nick!! With your busy life, I can't believe you've been able to fit it in! Keep on keeping on my good man!!

Nick Wilford said...

It's not a chore, Stu! Basically I fit reading into my day in between my actual chores, and playing with the dolls house and such with the wee one. And the Kindle's easy to take anywhere!

Lynda R Young said...

Breaks are good for writing because they recharge the creative batteries. I find the best way to get back into it is to read through the entire manuscript/story from scratch. It doesn't take long to get back into it after that.

Nick Wilford said...

Lynda - Well said, especially about recharging batteries.