Have you ever come back to a work in progress after a break and found it a stranger?

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This is something I’ve done many a time.  Hello there, book-to-be.  Who are you exactly?  And where do we go from here?

I’ve made plenty of mistakes with this process, daunting mistakes that almost made me give up on finishing a neglected novel.  Here are some things I’ve learned about getting back in touch with your manuscript.

  1. Don’t reread the whole thing.  Especially if you’re really far into it.  You’ll get so bogged down that you won’t want to start writing once you get to the blinking cursor.  If you have to remind yourself where you are, make yourself skim, and maybe really read the last scene, just to get into the mood.
  2. Jump in.  Really.  You don’t have to be scared.  You’ve got muscle memory.  Once you start tapping away at those keys, your brain will remember what to do.  It might take a paragraph or two, but that’s okay.  Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect.  And in the same vein …
  3. Don’t revise as you go.  When you’re skimming (not reading, skimming!) through what you’ve already written, it will be tempting to stop and revise what you wrote weeks, months, or years ago.  There will be a time for that.  But your story will never be finished if you keep nitpicking at your partial manuscript and never working on the rest.  Finish a first draft first, then revise, no matter how tempted you are.
  4. Keep cheat notes.  This is a good idea when you start a new project.  Keep a binder or a file or a set of cue cards or whatever works for you that outlines the plot, lays out the scenes like a story board, describes the characters (not just the physical but their motivations, etc.) and the settings.  These will be invaluable to you if you have to take a hiatus for some reason.
  5. Don’t stop!  Sometimes you really do have to take a break.  You might have personal issues to deal with, or another project that’s taking all your time.  But you can almost always squeeze in a few minutes of writing each day.  Even if you can only write a page, it’s something.  And it keeps you acquainted with your work.  So if you can do this one thing, you don’t have to do any of the others!  Don’t be a stranger to your manuscript.  🙂

So there are some tips to help you get to know your book again.  Feel free to share any others you might have.  

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