Do you have an unfinished writing project that you had to set aside before it was finished? Maybe life events intervened. Maybe you got stuck and shifted to a different project. Maybe you just decided to wait for another year when daily existence didn’t suck the life and soul out of your creative energy. Do you think about whether or not to pick back up with that abandoned project and try to finish it? Restarting an unfinished project can be deceptively challenging, involving far more than simply writing the next scene. If the project has been dormant for a while, there’s a good chance that the story has grown ‘cold.’ You can’t remember where the plot was heading. The characters have lost their vivid presence in your mind and feel hollow. Or maybe you are a different writer now than you were before you had to take a break, and you worry that you just can’t match the tone.
Because of a variable schedule on my day job, my writing time comes in fits and starts and I’ve had to restart cold projects on a regular and repeated basis. Here is the process I go through to get myself back ‘into’ the story and some suggestions and strategies for how to revive a cold project and finish it.
First – a warning: When you set your expectations and your goals for the project, keep your flexibility level on overload. Your intention might be straightforward–get back to the project and finish it–but there are (at least) three likely outcomes when you try to restart a cold project:
- You might get back into the groove and finish the story just like you’d planned before you got interrupted.
- You might figure out how to repurpose what you have written into a new version of the story that you are now able to tell.
- You might discover (and accept) that this still may not be the right project for you at this moment in time, but hopefully along the way you will discover the story that you really are meant to tell.
All of these are good outcomes, because they all get you past one of the biggest hurdles to getting back into any writing project–finding the emotional strength to stop looking backward and to start looking forward.
What to Do Before the Writing Break (If you can see it coming).
Sometimes, you have some advance warning that you will have to take a break from writing. Maybe you are switching jobs, or have a huge deadline coming. Maybe you are making a lifestyle change that will curtail your writing time temporarily. If this is the case, in the last days (or hours) you have left to work on it, write down where you think the story is headed. This could be a synopsis, an outline, an abbreviated story, a few critical later scenes, or even just a few lines summing up the things you think should be important for the remainder of the story. Whether you write three lines or three thousand, do not sweat the word choice, style, or punctuation for this. This is not final prose, this is a story reminder, a memory jogger. Get down the basics, the who does what, and what happens as far ahead as you can and then set it aside. Someplace where you will find it without searching.
After the Hiatus.
Step 1. Forgive Yourself.
Whatever caused the break. Whatever intervened in between. Whatever kept you from getting back to the project until now. LET IT GO. Let go of any thoughts that you ‘should’ have gotten back to it sooner, or never dropped it in the first place. It is a cold project. It has no baggage other than what you bring to it. [Read more…]