Nancy: (Just Like) Starting Over

writing-plan-bA few weeks ago, I told you about my quest to get my butt in the chair and words on the page, to re-engage with my WIP after long months away from it due to obligations of the dreaded ‘day job’. Getting my writing mojo back was not going well, and I need to take Nike’s advice and ‘just do it’. Just sit down and type.

At first, that approach seemed to work. I’d get down a few hundred words here and there. Then I realized some scenes were nothing like I remembered them, and I made notes about fixing them. After that, I realized some scenes I would have sworn I’d written were really just in my head, not on the page. Things were going from bad to worse.

But we are a tenacious group, we writers. So one night I sat down with a glass of wine (hey, tenacity sometimes needs a boost) and pondered how I should approach this mess of a WIP I’d made. Although it wasn’t so much that I’d made a mess of it. Stepping away from it for so long had allowed my subconscious to write a better story. It had fixed some plot holes and gotten to the deeper essence of my characters, which drives how they will act/react, which drives the plot. See, a glass (or maybe it was two) of wine can do wonderful things for perspective.

Armed with the right perspective and a better attitude, I was ready to tackle what the hell to do about my quandary. It seems with every writing project, I find a new and exciting way to create problems for myself. (I’m trying to think of it as part of the magic of my creative process.) Since this was a new predicament for me, I wanted to find a new approach to fixing the draft. Thus, I came up with a new plan.

Tell the Story Out Loud

This step should not be confused with reading the story out loud. You know, that out-loud read you do sometime after the first or second or tenth draft? You do that, right? (If you haven’t done it, you really should. You’ll be amazed, and occasionally pleasantly surprised, by what you hear.)

But as I said, this was not that. During this phase, I verbally went through the major plot lines and character arcs with no notes, no cheat sheet. I was literally telling myself the story. Not reading it. Not writing it. Not taking notes. Just thinking and talking out loud. Like a crazy person. And stopping and correcting and redirecting myself as necessary. Like a really crazy person, aka a writer.

Write Down ‘the Bones’

After telling myself the story out loud, I needed to engage a different part of my brain and get the words down on paper. This wasn’t very different from writing a brief (couple of pages) synopsis. Like any synopsis written during the discovery draft stage of writing, it will be subject to great change and passing fancies of the writer, but at least it confirmed for me that the story holds together and somewhat resembles the book in my head.

So far, nothing too radical in my new plan, right? But then things started to get weird. I was poring over this story’s jigsaw puzzle, mind maps on the floor nearby, synopsis notes typed up nicely on the computer, when the realization hit me. I knew what I had to do to get this story back on track.

Retype the Draft

That’s right – I realized I needed to print out a hard copy of the current (incomplete) version of my draft and retype very single word, line, sentence, paragraph, page. Every. Single. One.

Well, almost. This isn’t a typing exercise; it’s a thinking one. I’ll keep the sentences/paragraphs/scenes that work in the new world order of my story. I’ll retype them and no doubt tighten them up along the way, but I’ll keep them. But while typing, I’ll also add what’s missing, cut what doesn’t fit or work, and restructure as needed.

Why not just cut and paste and fill in the gaps? Well, for one thing, that’s what I was trying to do and it wasn’t working. For another, by typing every word onto a fresh page, I’ll be telling myself the story yet again, this time in detail, making for a more cohesive, updated whole.

It turns out, unsurprisingly, I’m not the first writer to take this drastic approach. A quick Google search turned up links here, here, and here to writers posting about doing this very thing. The approach worked for these writers, and while I’m only two chapters into the retype (this is NOT a quick exercise, people!), I’m hopeful it will help me get the right story onto the page.

You know what I’m going to ask you. How’s the writing going? How’s your WIP? Have you had to take any drastic measures to save your story? Anyone want to join me and retype tens of thousands of words of your own project?

9 thoughts on “Nancy: (Just Like) Starting Over

  1. Nancy, funny you should mention the “tell the story out loud step” – that’s just what I recently did with my own story that I’d been away from for a little while. I pretended I was telling someone what the story was all about for the first time, including answering their “why did he do that” and “what happened next” kind of questions. It was a really helpful process to get re-immersed in the story and reconnect with the characters. It was also a good way to confirm that what I had planned for the story really did make sense.

    I may have to give your other steps a try, though probably without the wine. Maybe espresso will be equally effective 🙂

  2. I have a story I’ve set aside to work on what I’m convinced will be an easier story (because that happens). When I go back to it, I’m going to try the “tell your story aloud” strategy. I may even try the retype, if necessary. Thankis!

    • I hope telling the story aloud helps you! For some reason, it really helped me focus on whether the character actions/reactions rang true based on their goals and motivations (sometimes they didn’t).

  3. Telling oneself the story sounds like a great idea. I think I’ll try that with my own WIP. I had a resolution for the opening scene, and the other day I revised that a little and kept reading to see what it sounded like, and I think I might have been too closely wedded to my outline to find a flow. Maybe if I tell myself the story, the flow will emerge more clearly. Retyping the draft, though—if that works for you, mazeltof! I don’t see myself doing that, though.

    • You might find the verbal storytelling immensely helpful. There’s something about saying the story out loud that makes it harder to bullshit through it. A few times, I heard myself say things like ‘and then her brother reacts’. What does that mean? What was his reaction? Then I’d have to actually stop and answer my own questions.

      So far, I feel like the retype has allowed me to fix a lot of issues with the opening (first few chapters), so I’m going to continue down this crazy path and see where it takes me. Whatever it takes to engage the brain in a different way and get the story unstuck. However, I understand your reluctance to follow suit :-).

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth: Procrastination is my Super-Power – Eight Ladies Writing

  5. Oh boy, I took a wonderful detour into backstory, and came out with a rather nice short story — however, it plays havoc with my WIP. One of the important characters has suddenly become a lot clearer to me, and he’s very different from what I have down on the page. Actually, I should say that three major characters in the WIP now have a lot more backstory than I knew about when I started writing Summer Bae.

    So, I’m dreading the next bit: tossing what I wrote, and just starting fresh. I had some really Lovely Bits in the old WIP! But it wasn’t working as a whole (which is why I went on the detour in the first place). I need to just grab the courage to do it. Re-read what I have so far, and anything I can remember can go into the New Version.

    BTW, taking a break from anything often is so very, very helpful, I find. When I stop speaking Japanese for a few weeks (vacation in the States), I often find that I come back at a slightly higher level than where I was at. I know your writing break was full of difficulty and stress, but it’s cool to hear that you are coming back with a stronger story in your head!

  6. This is a fabulous idea and one I need to try. I finished my class and have been stalling on re-outlining Three Proposals, but I need to get to it. The puzzle analogy definitely works here. I feel like I have all the story elements, but they’re jumbled. Perhaps talking through it will help me! I better record what I say, though, or I’m afraid I’ll end up back at square one.

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