The loves I’ve left behind…
I’ve just had a couple of weeks of my cousins from Brittany visiting. Like us, they’re a family quite content to companionably read, but they like having adventures with – as they call me – Robinson (as in Robinson Crusoe – when the boys were teens, visiting us from French urban life, I introduced them to being hunter-gatherers, which made me ‘Robinson Crusoe’ long before I lived on an island) as well as eating the ‘exotic’ (as in shot or caught or collected ourselves) things which are our normal diet (like the picture), not theirs. It’s been a busy time, spearing, netting, diving, shooting, to say nothing of the prep of the gear, and processing and cooking.
It’s the first full ‘break’ I have taken from writing in about two years. For nearly the last 14 months of that I have also been struggling my way through the morass of Australian planning and building bureaucracy – or rather, bureaucrapsy. I also put that aside. Most of it is as germane to our remote rural farm as my ‘Robinson’ skills are to urban dwellers, who have to track down their own wild supermarkets and spear them.
It was a great break.
But they have gone back to their own lives now, and the show must go on. Books need to be written, meaningless, worthless and expensive bits of red-tape complied with. So: this morning I opened the file of the current book I am working on, and took a deep breath… and went and made some coffee. Then I found a need to do half a dozen other trivial jobs. And more coffee. And then another little job. And more coffee…
Anyway, a lot of coffee later, my boss (that is: me, being self-employed) kicked my butt and told me it was time to stop this avoidance behavior, and write.
Very well, I said. But I had better re-read the 50 odd K of book that is done, to get myself back into it.
Even my boss (who is total curmudgeon, who spies on me) had to agree this was quite sensible. Of course it put off the ‘writing’ part. (Assumes saintly mien, which is hard on a monkey face) That was NEVER the whole idea.
Okay, so it was also avoidance. But it had some value at least. Part of that value was re-discovering that I do love this story. I enjoy the characters, I like the themes. I am entertained. I would love for someone to write it so I could finish reading it…
Unfortunately, that someone has to be me.
Back in the day when I wrote ‘on proposal’ – which involved sending a detailed outline, plus about 30-50 pages of the novel, both to my agent to shop around and to Baen, I went through this same issue, repeatedly (which is why I put this behind me, because I found it incredibly hard, and, unlike my boss, I see little or no sense in making things difficult when I don’t absolutely have to.) You’d send the proposal off, and anywhere of three months to two years later, be expected to pick it up and run with it again – inevitably having written several other unrelated books in the meanwhile.
And for me, that meant re-finding the love, the magic, the binding to a story that I need for the obsessive process that is my writing. It’s a bit like meeting up with an old lover after some years, and picking up where you left off… Sometimes you can make it work out, but it’s not actually the same as it was. It could be better, or worse, but it isn’t the same.
Speaking as someone who had to do this a lot (with books at least), it’s never easy. It can be good, but even with a short ‘break’ I find that the story and characters have shifted.
My first step, seriously, is to re-read it all. And, if it required background reading (most of my books do) re-read those.
My next step is NOT to start where I left off. Look, you’re doing a kind of jigsaw puzzle here, where all the pieces must interlock – and not just on one side, if you get my analogy. Every time I tried just plunging on… there was a discontinuity. In style, in voice, in ‘feel’ as well as in measurables like the Flesch index. I have found going back into the text I’ve written, first editing it, and then adding scenes (I ALWAYS have scenes to add, don’t know about you) I get to being far more ‘meshed’ in. The puzzle-pieces have to interlock on all sides, and I am building all the way around as it were, on existing story. Also, if my voice has changed (which it does, for all authors) the editing and insertions make this much less of a sudden change.
Then, of course, you have to move on in the story. Such is the nature of the job, and my boss wants me to get to it, to catch up. It’s better if you don’t have to break from it, but these things happen.
So: how do you reconnect with a story you’ve had to put aside?