Writing Series #8: How do you stay invested?
What I hear most often from writers switching from short fiction to novels is: how do you stay invested for the long haul? How do you care about the same story for the time it takes to finish an entire book?
As someone who began with novel writing and never really mastered the art of the short story, I’ve always had the opposite question (how do you keep it to a minimum? how do you condense your ideas into just a few pages). But this doesn’t mean I’ve never had that age old book commitment problem. Even the best stories can drift away from us, and even the most dedicated writers will experience the occasional hiccup in their writing schedule. Too much time away–whether it be a busy schedule, a new child, an illness, or just general lack of inspiration–it can make coming back to the book after a writing drought seem impossible. You sit down in front of your story, see these words so old you hardly remember writing them in the first place, and think, how can I possibly keep going?
Coming back to an old story can feel a lot like a high school reunion: bumping into people you once knew so well but who have now become strangers, and now you hardly know to strike up a conversation. But just like a reunion, you have two choices: runaway and give up on the relationship for good, or force the smalltalk until you break into something real. If you’re lucky, by the end of the night, you can be laughing and having a great time, saying it’s like things “never changed at all” before you’re through. A book is the same way.
Just as we bring up “the good ‘ol times” in conversations, it’s important to revisit what made you write the book in the first place. Some things that have helped me have included:
- Taking notes of my character’s planned emotional and physical arcs over the course of the book. This way if I lose investment or take too much time away and begin to lose that connection to their emotional state, I can return to my notes and see where I wanted them to be and start to understand their state of mind again and their purpose in my story.
- Take notes of your planned plot or, if you’re not a structured planner, some things you hope to happen in the story or directions you might like it to go. This will be your road map later if you get lost along the way.
- Make a playlist (or other art form, if you’re a painter, poet, etc.) that reminds you of your story. Listening to these songs later can help you to revisit the mindset you were in while writing and spark that creativity.
- Go back and reread some of your older, already written chapters. This can help you to remember what the tone of the story was and how the dialogue was sounding. If you don’t and take a long break in the story, there’s a large chance that your story will end up disjointed with two separate narrative styles and tones that will be jarring for the readers (and yourself as you read it back later). This can also trigger the memory of how it felt to write this story last time and to hopefully help you to continue writing it again.
- Practice writing a scene with your character(s) that won’t make it into the book. Jumping right back into the novel can seem daunting at times, so it may help to open a new document and write a random event just for practice on regaining and writing your character. Other useful exercises might include an interview, biography, or sample social media account for your character if applicable.
- Just keep writing. Sometimes you have to write something terrible to break through to something good. But don’t worry. The delete button exists for a reason, and the editing process will be a lifesaver down the line.
To all the writers out there: how do you keep yourself focused and interested during the course of writing a novel? Do you have any tips for maintaining writing momentum?
Feel free to add to this post or submit your own advice to share with your fellow writers at ancwritingresources.tumblr.com