Let’s say a good chunk of your novel is done. But then real life catches up with you. Family, work, health– any of the zillion reasons aligned against sustained, unbroken writing time. Or maybe you just need to set it aside. In the first draft you’ve’ve discovered some things that need more thought. Your plot is getting unruly–wants to head a different direction. A new character wants in. Or you simply need a break, and so you take it. Restarting your novel is the farthest thing from your mind, because right now you need some time off from your story. Your characters.
However it happens, a break is a break. Most all writers say it’s good to “get some distance” on your novel. “Set it aside for awhile–come back to later.” That’s all true, but restarting (recharging?) your novel can be hard. The longer you’re away, the harder it is, the more of your powers it takes, to begin again. There are, however, some things you can do to make the restart easier.
- Avoid the “dead lift” restart. Don’t try to begin new writing at the last sentence you wrote some weeks (months? years??) ago. First you need to re-inhabit your novel. This only makes sense, but start reading at page one, then keep going. You’ll see spots that need work: more description, less description, more showing, less telling, etc. You’ll see scenes that need to be more fully realized. But don’t start rewriting. Not just yet.
- Think Big Picture. After a break from your novel, a full rereading of it will give you a fresh perspective on its overall dramatic structure. Does its plot fall generally into the expectations of the novel? Does it begin with enough “bang” to hook the reader? Do the ongoing chapters hold the reader? Are scene-by-scene events causal one to the next? Overall, does the narrative build from trouble and conflict to a crisis? Will there be a resolution of some kind at the end? In short, try to see (anew) the overall dramatic proportions of your novel.
- Begin Rewriting for “Shape.” Take advantage of the distance you have on the story by making adjustments to its overall shape: its plotting, its chapter development. This might require some hard choices. You might need to cut or least prune some good writing in order to streamline the overall “physique” of the novel. Do that cutting now, because very quickly you’ll get seduced by (lost in) what you’ve already written. You’ll lose that big picture view that your getaway from the novel has provided you.
- The most common type of revising–the endless fiddling with sentences–is called line editing. You’ll fall back into that mode soon enough. But the opportunity for big-picture edits usually comes only after a serious break from your novel. This window of opportunity doesn’t last long. Don’t miss it!