Getting back together

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?

Besides coffee.


  1. I tend to do what you did–read the thing from the beginning and then see if I wanted to know what happened next. (I’ve got a folder on my desktop full of stories that failed that test.) I have one novel that I finished after a long absence because I started posting it a chapter at a time and felt the need to give it some kind of ending–all things considered, I’m happy how it turned out.

    Interestingly enough, I recently sent off a proposal for an unfinished story for the first time the other day. There was an open submission that was asking for proposals, not completed stories, for Sword & Sorcery stories of 10-15K words. I have story that I really like that runs just under 5K, so I wrote up an outline for two more sections, each of about the same length, and sent it off. We’ll see how that works out, if it’s accepted it’ll be the first time I’ll have sold something without have the finished product in hand. Scary.

    1. Misha,

      Would yo be willing to share where you saw this open call? Sword & sorcery is one of the things I write.



  2. Bloody hell if I know.
    I tried that trick recently, and eventually concluded that I wasn’t the same person who had started the story. I could not match my own voice.

  3. Sometimes it’s effortless, other times it’s “Who’s the incompetent hack who wrote this?”

  4. How I reconnect with a story after a break depends on whether I’ve written the story in the first person or in the third.

    A story in the third is a little easier to reconnect with because I only have to mentally rebuild the setting and the characters. To do that I’ll re-read what I’ve written and any background material and I might re-read a book or re-watch a TV show or movie that I think has a similar sort of vibe or feel. Then I’ll do a bit of editing on the story before jumping back in where I left off.

    A story in the first person is trickier because in addition to the above I also have mentally rebuild the narrator in order to recapture his or her voice. I like to think of it as generating a mental simulation of a person. I have to set up all the variables like appearance, personality, mannerisms, what they will and won’t notice when they walk into a room, and what they will and will not admit to in the narration. Usually this just takes a bit (or a lot) of thinking and reflecting while doing other things that don’t take much thought. Other times I’ll try to make a version of the character in a game with a decent character creator spend a little time envisioning how my narrator would react to and describe events in the game’s story. It’s tricky, of course, because games are meant to be timesinks – having a clock or watch close to the screen or keyboard is key, at least until I recapture the narrator’s voice. Who wants to play in someone else’s world when you can write in your own, right?

  5. I would love for someone to write it so I could finish reading it…

    Apropos of which, I finished the First Draft of First Book last week. My daughter is now demanding a spot in the afterword (I wasn’t gonna WRITE an afterword!) on account of how she provided a couple true-to-life details for one of the characters.

    I told her “fine” and provided an afterword on the spot: “They told me to write what I wanted to read. So I did. My daughter told me she wanted to be in the afterword. So she is.”

  6. It’s worse with series. I try to publish in chronological order, so I don’t lock myself into something cool. But I have a nasty habit of “getting caught” by stories ahead of the internal chronology, writing them to get them out of my head, then putting them aside until I’ve caught up with them.

    And then it’s a mess that needs editing, because in the mean time I’ve charged history, added characters that really ought to be there, the main character’s done a few extra interesting things that changes his reactions and feelings toward . . . Well, it’s not a complete rewrite, but yeah, I’ve got to go through it from start to finish, or finish it if it’s not done.

    I hadn’t thought about my writing and voice changing, but it does.

  7. I’m wondering if instead of re-reading to get back into the proper authorship for your current work, that you listen to the story(s) on audio instead; at least all the reference and inspirational readings. Of course if you read each chapter into audio as you completed it, then they’d also be available; but somehow I doubt many of you create those until after the story is completed. Just a thought.
    On the other hand, reading your current work aloud may make you decide to change a whole bunch of stuff; which might be counter-productive.

  8. I reread what I have, in order to get back into the world. Then, if I have additional notes from non-fiction sources, I glance through those. Between the two I generally see 1) holes that need to be filled and 2) the next step, or at least a scene that needs to be written and plugged into the story once I get “there.” At the moment I’ve got one in progress, one one the back burner, and one that’s just past the “chop onion, celery and green bell pepper. Saute” stage.

  9. Going through this myself currently. Took a break from the novel and wrote a bunch of shorts that were unrelated to it. Went back to it, read through it, found a bunch of errors that needed fixing up, noted them and got to where I had stopped. Realized that there was a bunch of stuff missing in order to get the story going with action and stuff. Had to go back to the previous book and start fleshing out more writing for it to get it to line up with book two….So book two is on hold until I can really finish book one. *sigh*

  10. Sigh. I am wrapping up a light little trifle of the latest Luna City installment, and getting ready to tackle the serious historical – about a Hessian POW in the American Revolution, after the battle of Saratoga … just not feeling the same urgency about it that I felt in doing some previous books. Of course, there was the historical that I finished, after about five years of putting it aside in favor of other books.
    I’ve got a lot of research reading to do, though. Maybe that will give me a kick in the right write direction … it usually has before.

  11. I’ve got a ton of stuff on the backburner, so this is an area in which I have some experience. The day job tends to interrupt at times. I pretty much do as you do, including the coffee. I always reread what I’ve written. The act of editing helps put me back in the story.

  12. I am having an absolutely awful time with this myself. The fact that I’ve cone up with ABSOLUTELY COOL, AWESOME stuff that needs to be actually written and shoved in… well. I’m glad it’s common, it makes me think I’ll get through it.

  13. Music. I listen to the same playlist that I was listening to when I started the piece, and I listen while I edit and fall in love with the characters again. It makes it easier for it to pick up from where I left off, mood-wise.

    1. I wonder. Smells seem to be a wonderful and powerful means of stimulating memories. Maybe if you had certain combinations associated with each particular book you were working on? Replay the smells and recapture what you were doing/thinking back then?

  14. For most of my stories which have been ‘sitting’ for some time. Reading through them and getting back into it helps. I haven’t found any thing else that works, though I’ve a few, I’m not sure how or if they’re going to pan out.

    For the current WiP, it’s been slow. A lot of world building, I’m not sure WHY I’m stuck on it the parts of it I am, and I’m getting mostly bits and pieces when I do have ‘realizations’ (bits and pieces that go ‘oh that’s it!’ and then… it’s not). I’ve read it through a few times, and it’s still not working. I can see where there are holes, but not how to fill them. I may need to un-make some changes.

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