Returning to a novel project after time away

* If you’re looking for information about MountainTop Writers Retreats, our new pure writers’ retreats hosted in the mountains of Western North Carolina November 8 – 11, 2019, please click here

My desk this morning. Back at it!

My desk this morning. Back at it!

… continued from Instagram.

Returning to a long prose project–like a novel–after being a while away from it isn’t easy. Every writer is different, of course, but it usually takes time to settle back into the story. To, not unlike a hawk, find the best updraft, and lift.

I’ve been away from my historical novel manuscript since June. I looked at it, once, in late July, but the Fates conspired against me in mean and sundry ways … ways I may talk about later, but not now. And yes, the Fates can conspire against you. If you don’t believe me, just ask any girl in a fairy tale. (Or any writer trying to finish her second novel.)

I’m a working writer and a stay-at-home parent. I like it that way. A lot. But in summer, this means my writing is set aside out of sheer necessity. I have a 10 year-old and a 6 year-old, and summer is our time. To say I cherish it would be a massive understatement. That being said, trying to write a novel from home with two very active young daughters and a three year-old black Lab is an exercise in madness. It just doesn’t work, at least for me, and at least not in this particular season of our lives. It took me years to realize this.

So. My kids are back in school, and here I sit, at my desk and with my new historical novel, for the first time, really, all summer long. Typically, what I would do in this situation is to read back through what I’ve written–to get a feel for where I am in the story, to get to know my characters again, before typing new pages. However, I’m at about 300 pages–about 20,000 words, give or take, from being finished with the first draft of this novel. If I sat down to read it right now, it would take me several hours. I’d likely finish reading just as it came time to pick my kids up from school. Re-reading might even spill over into tomorrow’s writing time–my “office hours,” as I like to call them–and that just won’t do.

This process of writing a second historical novel, a type of story that in voice and even style is very different from the first, has been a trip. When I wrote my first novel, Keowee Valley, I was a childless college professor in her 20s. By the time Keowee Valley was published, I was a college professor and a graduate student with a toddler and a baby on the way. Now, seven long years after publication, I’m close–so close–to finishing my second novel, my children are finally both in real school, and if I’m honest with myself, I’m a different person. The same, but different. I like to think I’m better.

But back to the novel manuscript. Will spending so much time away from it, and then jumping in, change the story? Will it change the way my characters act, how they speak to each other and to themselves? Will it make the plot feel disjointed, off? The truth is, it might. But this is life. This is the writer’s life–especially a stay-at-home writer with kids. Especially mine.

Now, I know what I didn’t back when I was a writer in her 20s. I know I’ll figure it all out.

 

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6 Responses to Returning to a novel project after time away

  1. Nancy Purcell says:

    Wow! Your info sounded so much like me! Historical Novel complete and “rewrite time” or check-it-out time is here. etc. I’m interested in the Retreat but uncertain of my health…heart issues. Thank you for your willingness to take on that project. Nancy Purcell

  2. Tim Suddeth says:

    I would suggest you read back through since it’s been A few months. The couple of days it takes to read will be worth getting back into the story. Just a thought and what I’m having to do.

    • scout2011 says:

      Thanks for writing, Tim! Yes, I’m definitely having to re-read, but it’s been good. Best of luck with your own writing!

      Katherine