Even those of us who write full-time sometimes have to put projects aside for long periods of time. Recently, I had to put my novel, The Poison Eater aside in order to finish up another book I was working on (The Torment: Tides of Numenera sourcebook). I’ve talked before about how I like to have multiple projects going at the same time, but one of the side-effects of that is that sometimes one of those projects moves to the forefront (due to deadlines or other needs), and you have to sink deep into it and focus on it solely for a while, pushing everything else to the side.
Now that Torment is finished and off for editing, I can move The Poison Eater back to the front burner of my brain. Of course, that is HARD to do after so much time away. I find myself saying, “Who is the character? What does that look weapon like again? What the fuck was I thinking here when I wrote those? Oh, I had an idea for this chapter, but I’ve totally forgotten it.”
This is the point where many people give up on their books. It’s HARD to go back to it. The sparkly bits have lost their shine. The path is overgrown and full of thorns. The characters you loved have started to fade into ghostly paper dolls. You can’t remember what happens next, and you are sure you screwed up whatever came before.
But here’s the truth: very few people have a life where they can work on their novel non-stop. Life intervenes. Someone gets sick. Work explodes. Summer arrives and you spend your days down in the dirt with seeds and soil. There are a thousand ways to step off the novel path — but there are also a thousand ways to step back on. It’s hard, yes, but not as hard as it looks. I promise.
I have a whole bunch of techniques for picking a novel back up and finding my way back into its dark woods. I thought I’d share a few in case you find them useful.
- Use a Pinterest board or other visual resource as a reminder. I start an inspiration novel board very early on, pinning everything that makes me think of the book, whether it’s a color scheme, a character’s expression, a weapon, or a creature. As the novel develops, I start moving some of those pieces into Scrivener and I start making notes. Talia has this character’s eyes, but her tattoos look like that character, and this is the dress she wears when she goes to see Isera. Using art can help you remember tiny details about your story, and submerge you back into the deep well of writing space.
- Use music. I have a Spotify playlist called The Poison Eater. Some of the songs are general, to get me back into the feel of the book. Others are specific to characters, places, or even scenes. If I’m struggling to remember a character’s motivation or need, listening to their song helps put me back in their mindset.
- Take ridiculous notes. My notes for a novel are crazy, wild, all over the place, and probably make no sense to anyone else (god forbid someone reads my novel notebooks after I’m dead. They’ll think I’m completely psychotic). But just picking the notebook up and flipping through it can help spark connections and get you back to the page.
- Reread what you’ve written. Do this on your phone or ipad, where you won’t be tempted to go into editor mode and try to fix things. Just read for the rhythm of the book, the sounds of the characters, the thematic essence. Read it aloud if it’s useful to you.
- Watch a movie or show that captures some essence of your novel — a character, the locations, maybe even the plot. Do this mindfully. Be aware that you’re thinking about your novel, that you’re sinking into the story. This process can be a bit like guided mediation. Don’t feel like you have to watch the whole thing. If you’re halfway through and feel inspired, stop the movie and jump into writing (or start writing with the movie in the background).
Beyond all of those suggestions, I come back to what I always come back to: just do that shit. Seriously. There’s a moment where you have to stop worrying and wondering. Just know that you’re going to screw it up, be okay with it, and write anyway.
Which is what I’m going to go do right now.
~Moon meld you, poison eaters.