So, recently, I returned to a novel I abandoned about four years ago. It’s tentatively titled Hell’s Aquarium, and I wrote 35,000 words, essentially the first act, got spooked by the research I needed to do, and moved on to other projects. I’ve since written two other novels, but I’ve longed to return to Hell’s Aquarium. Well, now I have finally summoned the courage to do what needs to be done, and I’ve started writing the book again. It really think it’s the best idea I have for a novel, and I’m excited to see where it goes. Anyway, in this post I thought I’d talk about the steps I’ve taken to return to a novel I’ve barely looked at for four years. I figure I’m not the only one with a half-written manuscript crying out to be completed by its wayward creator. 🙂
Step One – Thank God for Prep: As a dedicated plotter, I wrote a complete and thorough outline for Hell’s Aquarium, which is proving invaluable. Even more helpful is something I’ve only ever done with this particular novel. It has a large cast of characters, so I way back when I was planning out this book, I made a spreadsheet listing every one of them. The info includes character names, descriptions, motivations, and their professions (important in this novel). I have returned again and again to that spreadsheet, and it has been a real life-saver. Now, I know not everyone prepares for a novel in the same way, but I would encourage folks to make some kind of notes on the book you’re writing just in case you end up in a situation like this.
Step Two – Read What You Have: The very first thing I did when I decided to return to Hell’s Aquarium was to carefully read what I’d already written. I approached my first read-through less like a writer and more like a reader (as much as that’s possible), really trying to absorb the tone of the book and the voice of the main character. My second read-through was one-hundred percent writer-oriented, and I made more notes about individual characters and plot points that would help me down the line. These read-throughs really helped me get reacquainted with the book, and were vitally important.
Step Three – Baby Steps: I began writing the book again this week. Normally I write 2,000 words a day minimum when I’m writing a first draft. For this first week, and likely the second, I’m cutting that down to a 1,000. It feels more manageable, and because of the research I need to do, I don’t get overwhelmed. I plan to get back to my 2,000 words a day benchmark soon, but for now, easy does it is the way to go. I’d recommend this approach to anyone getting back to a novel they’ve not worked on for some time, but, of course, every write is different, and diving into the deep end, might be more beneficial to some. Just not me. 🙂
So those are my three basic steps for reclaiming a novel you’ve set aside for some time. As I mentioned above, every writer is different, and what I have here may not work for everyone. It’s worked well for me, though, and I believe I’m on my way to finishing this book, which is pretty damn exciting because I think this one has real potential.
If you have tips on novel reclamation projects, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.