Anatomy of A Novel: Part 12: The Benefits of A Break

On this final day of the first month of 2018, I’m happy to announce that I spent part of that month re-acquainting myself with my partially-written novel.

I returned to my WIP on the second day of January, unsure how to approach a project I hadn’t touched since mid-April last year. I knew there were problems with this draft. At just over 50,000 words, I had only written about half of the actual story, so it lacked both pace and progression. I had thrown far too many words into it during the previous November’s NaNoWriMo, but with that long over, how was I to fix things?

After perusing my original synopsis and outline, I decided the best thing to do was to see what I already had and make notes about what worked and what didn’t work. So I began a read-through with minor edits. If something jumped out at me in a bad way and was small enough to tweak, I tweaked. If it needed major surgery, it was highlighted in red on my corresponding outline. I had already started a list of things to fix the previous April, and this list now expanded as I read.

I’ve worked my way through about half of the text so far, working on it when I can, and trying not to leave long gaps between the days on which I tackle it, because I don’t want to lose continuity. I think it’s going well so far, but the truth moment will be when I reach the point at which I stopped last time. I’m hoping that by then I will have enough notes to help me to make the decisions about what to go back and fix before carrying on to complete the full manuscript.

Of course I really want to get the whole thing down, because nothing thrills me more than that moment when I complete a first draft, before the hard slog of transforming it into an actual readable novel begins with the second draft and goes on for however many drafts it takes. However, it’s pointless crashing on through this draft if the first half doesn’t hang together well enough to make a solid foundation for the rest of the story.

What have I learned so far, from doing this?

  • As much as I’m grateful to NaNoWriMo for helping me write over 50,000 words in 30 days, part of me wishes I had taken longer and written less, because it would have made more sense and there wouldn’t be so much to undo now, before moving on.
  • It’s always good to take a break from something which you threw down on the page in a rush of 30 days. Many writers agree that the longer you leave a manuscript to sit before picking it up again, the more likely you will be able to read it with new eyes and see the mistakes with startling clarity. Taking a break gives you a better perspective on how it reads, what it’s all about, and how engaging it might be for readers in the future.
  • Don’t make any rash decisions while reading through. It might sound easy to delete half the text or start over completely, but burying myself in it and surrounding myself with my own words is helping me to find my voice for this piece.
  • This manuscript isn’t as bad as I had feared, and parts of it are definitely going in the right direction. My belief in it has been restored, not undermined. Now I just have to bring the rest of it into line, and then complete it.
  • Don’t rush it. There are areas of historical research that I am really keen to read up on, and this time I won’t be churning out a daily word count at the expense of sacrificing my research time, which was part of the problem back in November 2016.
  • My Dad always used to say, “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.” I love the story idea for this novel, and it’s definitely worth doing it properly. I long ago decided that I could never be one of those authors who spews out a new book every few months, or weeks. This one will take as long as it needs to take, it deserves my full attention, and I’m not prepared to compromise on it. I love this book, and I’m going to make it work!

Writers and readers out there – what do you think about the benefits of taking a break and returning to a WIP with new enthusiasm? I highly recommend doing it.

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6 thoughts on “Anatomy of A Novel: Part 12: The Benefits of A Break

  1. Breaks are always good when you’re up to your eyeballs in alligators. While it’s always good finishing something, but even better knowing the process to completion was a honest one with integrity to the purpose. Kudos to you for doing what needed to be done and best wishes as you head for the finish line.🤩

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  2. While in Barbados last month, I bought a t-shirt that summed up what I believe to be that friendly, relaxed island’s philosophy: “It is what it is.” Not the hand we wish we’d been dealt. Not the circumstances if this hadn’t happened or that had occurred,but WHAT IS. As writers, some of our books will be written straight through. Might take months. Might take years. Some of our books will start, then stop, then resume at another time when it makes sense. It always takes more energy to pick up a piece after it’s been sitting for a while, but that’s just a small thing in the larger picture. Congratulations on getting back to the book. I hope you feel inspired and energized as you work to make it happen.

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    • Thank you for your comment. Strange as it may sound, that’s a saying I have recently begun to use in my life too: “It is what it is.” Life doesn’t always turn out the way we envisioned and we have to do the best with what we’re given. Sometimes it’s refreshing to see how inventive we are.

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