Friday, January 30, 2015

So, I’m Writing This Novel: Picking It Back Up Again

Luckily, books aren’t like children, otherwise I’d be typing this from jail. Or carving it into my arm.

I started writing The Plane (working title) back in October, knowing full well my intention to do National Novel Writing Month—an online community that requires you to start a new project and get 50,000 words on it during the month of November. But The Plane was a part of my 25th year rejuvenation, an attempt to make age 25 as productive I had been at age 18. If not more so. I needed to focus on a project, and this manuscript was mine.

I was fully aware that I would be putting it aside for a while, but I believed I would get back to it in December, after launching my online serial Stories of the Wyrd. I don’t entirely hate myself for putting it off this long; I was doing giveaways, revamping my comic, adding new coding to my website, putting the finishing touches on the short story projects. I even submitted some to literary journals.

But now it’s time to get back to it.

Stephen King says that once you put a project down, you’ll never finish it. There’s rationale behind this philosophy that can make it feel true. However, his Under the Dome novel was just that: a work he had started ten years prior then abandoned for a while, and he managed to finish it. (He did, of course, rewrite the whole thing, but it was still a book he abandoned.)

It is hard to pick a manuscript back up once you’ve set it down. My understanding is the more you wrote yesterday, the easier it is to write today. Having not written for months, it’s often easier to start something new rather than try and go right back in the middle of something. Especially if you don’t outline. “Where was I going with this?”

But it’s not impossible. Here’s several things that helped me get back in the swing of things.

1) Fix the reason I stopped writing.

Usually being “busy” is the main excuse, but it’s not uncommon for it to not be the real issue. Many times it had less to do with the “being busy” and more to do with a problem I wasn’t interested in solving.

In this case, I had rewritten the beginning—and couldn’t decide which version to use.

They each had their different qualities and issues. For one thing, my new draft was much shorter than the first one. This was what I was going for, (my reasoning behind the new draft was the first one was going into territory I felt was a waste of time) but the second still needed some of the information the first divulged.

Through several books, this problem has manifested for me in a lot of different ways—indecision on a direction, needing to implement a complex change, not knowing an important answer that I need to reveal, piecing together parts of the story from napkins and notebooks and other computers, etc.

I considered waiting around while I gave it to someone else to read the two versions, but I knew that any of my beta-readers wouldn’t know what to do with it either. It was comparing a two page hook with a 15 page introduction. Apples and oranges.

So, I firmly planted my butt, made a decision based on my gut, and took the time to fix the story up to a point where I could continue on. I chose the beginning I preferred (the two-page hook) and then took a few hours to cut up the other version. Once I finally got it back into a useable shape, everything became easier.

2) Write first thing in the morning.

They say it takes a few months to develop a habit—and only a few months to lose it. Writing is often that way. By making it a part of your routine, it becomes easier, almost natural.

When I am fully immersed in a writing routine, I can actually put it off until the end of the day and still get it done. My “deadline” is midnight, and we often know how much a deadline can help.

But when I’m not in a routine, it is far more likely that it becomes sheer procrastination. Not only am I tired, but I’m tired at the hardest part of the story to write: picking up from zero momentum.

When first picking a story back up after a while, the author needs to remember what he was doing, he probably stopped in that location out of disinterest or writer’s block, and he needs to stop focusing on “I MUST WRITE,” and get immersed in the world. When you are trying to force yourself to write again, being immersed and having fun is difficult.

For the most part, right after you wake up in the morning is when you feel best. It may not seem that way at times (especially when you have to get up earlier than you’d want to), but it is when you are in most control of your body and will power.

When I write first thing in the morning, I feel better about my day, and writing doesn’t feel like I’m pulling teeth so much.

3) DON’T reread it.

Let me clarify by saying it’s better to reread the story and get caught up on where you are. And if you do that without any problem, I would actually recommend it.

But, while having read it gives a lot more benefits, this became an issue of knowing myself. I’ve found that every time I insist I read the work before continuing on, I don’t continue on. It is so overwhelming for me to go through an incomplete story (i.e. one that I don’t have a good idea of the big picture on) because I will start editing, making huge changes, or considering making huge changes, all the while my motivation focusing on getting through this so I can write, which makes it more tedious.

And the ramifications of me writing without refreshing my memory tends to be minimal. A few continuity issues, a few lose threads that I have to cut. I looked at the ramifications and the benefits, and I finally had to admit that I worked better if I got back into the world first and read it by chunks rather than trying to get it down in one sitting.

More to the point, this is the issue of understanding yourself and what motivates you. Sometimes it’s better to do the wrong thing if it can help you get over the hump.

4) Give myself credit for little achievements.

I’m not advocating giving yourself a daily word count/page count/time writing if that doesn’t work for you, but if you are like me and do have daily requirements, it helps to cut yourself some slack.

I try to write five pages a day. I like pages versus word count because the time and effort it takes varies, which helps my motivation. (A page full of dialogue takes much less time than a page of description, and having it switch from “easy” to “hard” works better for me than having a consistent difficulty level.)

In any case, I tend to be hard on myself. I have an “all or nothing,” mentality. This can encourage me to stretch myself and meet the standards, but it can also encourage me to give up before I’ve written anything.

Mentally congratulate yourself for writing just 500 words, and make a bigger deal out of it for 1,000, and for 1,500.

Whenever I write my daily page count, I put a dollar in a jar. At the end of a couple months, I take that money and splurge on something I probably don’t need. When trying to get back into the swing of things, I might give myself 50 cents for every 1,000 words.

5) Just start thinking about it again and the inspiration will return.

One of the main reasons why I need to give myself credit for writing anything, or why I chose to keep writing over reading, is simply because once you start working on it, you will become re-immersed. Ideas will start popping up as you’re taking a shower, you’ll not be able to wait until you get to that next scene.

While it’s very difficult to start up a new relationship with something that’s gone stale, in most cases, it will revitalize itself, just so long as you keep it in the back of your mind.

And just for fun, the new page one:


            Even through the crowd, Soel could see the black ooze twisting from the man’s gaping jaws.
            The legionnaires complained loudly as it stained their leather gloves, but when an exceptionally tall soldier gripped the impediment, it was hard, unbreakable.
            The plane had come back from the western islands, but it was difficult to say how.
            A cheap piece of crap, the pilot was obviously a freelancer, maybe a mercenary, from the lower stations. By the rusted coloring of the metal paneling, the tiny size, and the kinds of parts that had been exposed, it was obvious this man had little class or money. Not that anyone could tell from the body itself. The top half of the plane had been ripped off, and with it half the corpse.
            It was a bright, sunny day in Alico Station. People were out enjoying the pleasant weather, taking the time to really examine the wares the ships and planes and brought in from the other islands. The docks were unusually busy, and our boy Soel was not of the mindset to really question the large gathering as he limped towards the legion post.
            He did stop, and in fact stared at the scene unblinking, for some time. His mind was foggy, pain absorbing most of his thoughts, but he finally understood well enough to suddenly have a wrench of horror at the sight.
            The plane looked like it had just docked there par the norm. It sat on the waves next to the long pier without any damage to the wooden planks surrounding it. No one seemed aware of when or how it arrived. The people just surrounded it, blocking Soel’s path along the boardwalk.
            The three legionnaires seemed more pissed than afraid, annoyed they had to peel the corpse out of the singed seat, and even more annoyed that he did not come easily.
            A mat of black hair remained, his eyes bulging and rolled back in his skull. He was still undefinable, a portion of his face gone, covered in whatever the black that twisted through his body was. His clothes and skin were burnt beyond recognition, and the few fingertips that remained refused to release their grip on its seat.
            Soel briefly acknowledged the legionnaires swearing as he walked away.

            He clutched his arm tight, the sick feeling in his stomach refusing to release. Damage planes came in all the time. Wounded men, sometimes with far more disgusting injuries wandered through the street. But this poor sod had obviously been out in the furthest reaches of the west, and something had sent him back. Soel understood what he had just seen to some extent, what this would probably mean, but his focus was muddled.