I had a brief conversation with a friend this weekend about returning to work while writing. She said that she hadn’t written in a long time and wasn’t quite sure how to start again.
“How do you start writing again when you’ve been away for years? Makes me nervous.”
I know that feeling.
When I was younger, I wrote a lot. Not very well, but I never stopped. When I got to high school, I finally finished a novel, which I considered one of my greatest accomplishments. But then I graduated, and I figured that I needed to grow up, which meant that I wouldn’t ‘waste’ my time writing.
For two and a half years, I didn’t write. I didn’t think about writing, I didn’t miss my characters. Then I went through some difficult times and had a hard time coping. When I went to my parents’ house for Christmas, my mom made me clean out my old closet, and one of the items inside was my ‘Writing Bible’ for my novel. I packed it in a bag and took it home with me.
Just seeing my ‘Writing Bible’ made me curious. It had been a really long time since I’d written anything. I wanted to start again, but I didn’t know how. I thought I’d finished that previous novel, and there wasn’t another story in my head. For fun, one night while I was on quarantine for the H1N1 Flu, I pulled open my computer and started reading my old manuscript.
It was terrible.
I’d changed in the past years, and reading what I’d written as a seventeen year old made me cringe. I’d done a ‘revision’ but it was only editing. The writing was immature and the story simplistic to a fault.
But here’s the thing: reading it made me want to write again. I wanted to fix all those small problems. I decided to do a rewrite of the novel. To challenge myself, I took the entire novel, in first person, and changed it to third. I started on the first chapter and it took me days just to finish the first few pages.
I’ve learned that writing is muscle memory. If you start, you train your brain to do it automatically. If you do it daily, then it becomes a habit. It took a long six months before I finished my rewrite. It went from about 62,000 words to a whopping 80,000. I reworked major parts of the story, creating a better plot and discovering more of my voice.
I found that jumping back in, especially after a long hiatus, it works well to go back to what I’ve already written and rewrite until my imagination gets used to it again. It’s like training before the marathon, or a dress rehearsal before the real thing.