How to pick up where i left off, again?

There once was a time when I had locked myself on a porch, yes a porch, and wrote six months straight. I was at a lost segment of time, recovered from my addictions and readjusting to life in North-Eastern Ohio. I had taken residence with my mother in a small apartment, there wasn’t an available room to sleep in, or to house anything I had owned, so I settled in the Three Season porch that jutted out from the dining room (only separated from the rest of the apartment by two thin, far from sound proof, doors). Three walls, with strips of glass that could be opened and closed by twisting a nob on each panel, was the only thing keeping me from actually living outside. The winter chill had finally left by May, and I preferred the hotter months, so the place seemed livable, aside from the space. While a sizable porch, when it came to living and housing I only had room for a bed, a small typing desk, and a narrow dresser.

For money I found a job at a grocer part time, and tried to survive off the money I had acquired from selling a good portion of my worldly possessions before settling to change my life. I didn’t have much of a social life at the time, a few friends; but seeing as most of the people I had know were either destructive alcoholics or junkies, which I was trying so desperately to escape from, I spent most of my time either working all the hours I could or sitting at my desk, trying what I could at writing.

The problem at the time was I didn’t know where to begin. I had a wealth of history and lore developed through playing Dungeons and Dragons, writing what I thought was interesting, rabbit-trailing back through the history of my characters family trees. I also had a world in which to work, Altara (which, well, it’s a place in my brain and a place my DnD players crawl through – Just agree that it exists). So, taking the Tolkien approach, I started with the now formulaic “It began in -introduce familiar place-” and then followed by how the place was different, and what strange creature was there. Thus, my idea for Emen was born.

I worked on the story all summer along, reaching about 60k words until I had to stop and realize that I had no idea where the story was going. I couldn’t understand it; I had the history, the lore, the land, the legends, and the characters, what was I missing? The story. I didn’t have a story. While there was an awesome character, Emen, with so much mystery to discover in the world (and so much history involving himself and his past), I had not developed a reason for him to explore the world and experience all the things I had created.

Maybe he needs more back story? I thought to myself.
And so, as the fall was soon approaching, I had begun another story. Raining in the Woods, as I had titled its draft out of lack of a better name. This story, following a bit more in the path of Terry Brooks (my reading of the fantasy genre was very limited at the time), was planned to be the discover of the good ol’ fashioned Heir to the Throne of some Forgotten Kingdom. He was a plucky young protagonist, with a sickly mother, and a hidden ability to be a badass fighter.

I worked on that story until, again, I had reached tens of thousand of words (I am looking now, about 34k words, counting chapter titles). Again, my steam on this project came to a halt. I couldn’t figure out. Perhaps it was the medium. Not the act of writing though, but in the WAY of writing. So I took to writing with pen and paper. But still, after eighty pages (with writing on both sides of the page) I still didn’t know where I was going.

Eventually I had found a social life, gotten a better position, found a new place to live, and learned how to speak with ladies. At that point I was burnt out from writing and needed a break… which lasted me nearly four years. I moved around, changed jobs a few times, changed girlfriends a lot of times; until eventually I was forced to think about writing again. There were ideas bubbling in my head (mainly because I was a writer, i am a writer, and my brain never shuts up, even when i want it to), and I wanted to jump back in, right where I left off. The only problem was that my knowledge pool of the world I had created had frozen over, and I smacked my face right against it surface.

How exactly do you pick up where you left off?
I thought perhaps reading through what manuscripts I had lying around, a type of refresher course in my own world, was in order. As if god picks up the bible every now and again and goes “Oh, yeah I remember doing that, ha ha, oh me.” But after a while I could see why my stories fell flat into failure, they weren’t actually stories at all. They were just observations in the world I had created through creatures I had created, and had no life of their own. So I begun from square one, soft of.

I started with Emen, Chapter I. I took time to chose the style in which the story was presented. No longer first person, but third person; so I could take liberties in describe things Emen didn’t know were going on. I also wrote did what I could to construct a main arching plot, “Evil doers -the Sk’Arj- (orcs, basically) had acquired an evil device, which must me stopped.” I got up to about ten chapters with a decent climb in numbers, I introduced characters with emotion and life; but right at the mid section of the story I died off again.

Like before I switched over to Raining in the Woods and had my hand at it again, basically rewriting the entire thing from scratch. It was pretty satisfying, but as I crossed every chapter I felt the need to go back to the source material, my original timelines and notes, and rewrite the history. Seeing as Emen and Raining in the Woods both existed in the same world, I then had to scan over Emen and rewrite bits and pieces there. It came to a point that I just decided to take another break. This time lasting almost three years (broken here and there with short stories and scripts).

So how did I pick back up… again?
Starting something new, sort of. Brandon Sanderson gives a great lecture on how to be a fantasy writer (check out videos of his lectures on the Write About Dragon YouTube Channel), and one of his main points is Kill Your Darlings (Faulkner said and Stephen King  repeated this as well). To me it means to have the ability to destroy ideas that you thought were great in order to complete and publish your story. While I agree with him, or at least come to subscribe to that theory, there are parts about the stories I had started that I wanted to keep; mainly the entire world and history. So I started something new, something set in the same world, but distant enough from the stories I had previously started to have very little, if any, affect on them. I no longer restrict myself to checking the source material after each new paragraph, but instead keep a second document open to make notes here and there of things I had changed and will need to be reworked. These “corrections” though are only allowed to be performed once my first draft is completed.

New senses of motivation also helped me to start writing again. No longer do I carry around the heavy indulgence and narcissism that made me want to be the next Tolkien, Brooks, or Palahniuk; I just want to be a writer. I want to write stories that i enjoy for readers to enjoy. The new inspiration came with maturity, I believe. Before I would pour all my energy into one thing. Whether it was a song, a story, or a drawing; I would put all my eggs into one basket and beat them into the wall until I had a chicken; which rarely ever works. I try not to burn myself out on one thing. Running a podcast, writing a few science fiction short stories, working out, and taking time to enjoy the company of a lady friend here and there really helps the flow of things. While I’m consumed with the desire to complete a project, I know I’m not going to write it perfectly over night, on the first draft, or even the second. Also, getting over my “perfectionist” attitude and self loathing helped. I can now give someone a sample of my writing without trying to endlessly, and needlessly, defend my writing before they even had a chance to read it. And I stopped thinking that everything I’ve written simply isn’t good enough.

If there’s anything you can take from these, here are some key points:

  1. Stepping away from your work and starting something new is better than returning to an old, overworked piece of material and trying to breath new life in it
  2. Breaks can be helpful, distractions are something that happens, but enjoy them and don’t punish yourself for not writing
  3. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone in writing, try different styles
  4. If your writing is labor intensive (ie, lots of history to keep in order) try ignoring it until you’ve finished the story, then make the corrections as need be.

Thanks for reading,
-Phill

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About gnawbit

I'm a writer, i write things. I also draw things and have a Dungeons and Dragons blog called Let's Kick this Pig!
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