Once you’ve spent enough time from an old project, whether that be a few weeks or even over the course of a couple of years. However long it takes to come back to your project, the important thing is to approach it with the right mindset. You know there’s a lot of work that has to be done, but if you go around ripping at the wrong parts, you’ll lose potentially important aspects of your story.
Imagine you’re cleaning out your garage or attic. If you just toss out boxes without going through them carefully, you’re bound to throw away something you should have kept. So first of all, be sure to read through your old work carefully, take notes about what you like, what you don’t like, be brutally honest either way. About what needs to go, and about what you absolutely love and needs to stay. Don’t be afraid to love your own work, that’s what’s necessary here.
Decide on your favorite elements
It’s always good to recenter yourself on what made you love the story in the first place. Sometimes the reinterpretation of those favorite parts will look completely different than what you started with, but that’s the great thing about stepping away and getting that fresh perspective. You’ll have the ability to rethink your strategy of approach once you’ve had some time to regroup.
So make a list of the things that stand out to you that you loved about the story you’re going back to. You’ll make these things the highest priority on your list when you set to work. And don’t limit yourself to just story line stuff, take note of anything you like. A character, a subplot, a portion of prose, a certain description. You don’t have to write down everything, but try to generally cover the elements that stand out the most.
Like if you go, “oh, I liked that bit,” write it down. If you’re going, “ehh, maybe?” just leave it out.
On a separate list, write down the problems you have with the story. And don’t just write down that it sucks. Analyze it, figure out what exactly isn’t working and why it isn’t working. Don’t even try to solve the problems just yet, just record it and keep going.
After you’ve finished writing your lists, look at the things you loved. You might even have some ideas churning by now on how you plan to readdress the story, but if you haven’t already, try to imagine how you would reposition the story to focus on the elements you love.
You do have to face the problems you encountered before, so let’s find out how to face those.
Addressing the issues
More likely than not, since you took a break, you’ve changed as a writer. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. Maybe you’ve read good books that reminded you of why you wanted to start again with this story, or you saw a movie that had similar themes, or you were inspired by other life events.
Whatever reason you’re here, you’re going to see some differences between what you were doing before you stopped and now.
So let’s face that list of things you didn’t like about your old story, because you do have to face it. But face it armed with the things you loved about the story, and with the things you’ve learned from your time away. Things you loved in other people’s writings, in other movies, in other facets of life that inspire you, and use those things to spruce up your old ideas and turn them into fresh, new ones.
As you address the problems, try these approaches:
How can I take an element from the things I loved and use it to fix this problem?
Maybe the story had a sagging middle. Try to take something you loved about the story, maybe it was world building, and see if that would fix it. Maybe fill up the middle with exciting world building features, or climactic changes to the world building that would kick the plot in gear again and ultimately make you fall back in love with writing that part.
Is there anything I’ve learned that can fix this problem?
Like I said, since the time you wrote the project and now, you’ve grown. See if anything you are now can help you address the problem now. Maybe you’ve picked up some tips on prose to help with the areas where you went too far. Or maybe you got a good book to help you with some plot issues. See if you can regroup with the new tools you’ve developed to go at it again.
You got this!
How did I get into this problem in the first place?
Sometimes we have to analyze what got us in our ruts in the first place to dig ourselves out. Sometimes the problem may have to do with lack of experience at the time, or maybe you were so overrun with issues, you didn’t know how you would ever fix them.
Or maybe the issue had nothing to do with writing at all. Life, work, inspiration, mental health, all of that is sometimes the underlying cause even when you don’t expect it to be. So take a good look at your state of being at the time and see if maybe the issue had nothing to do with your skills, but the situation at hand.
Whether it’s something you need to work on as far as skills or experience, or if life just happened, figuring out what the problem was is actually half the battle. Once you know what was bothering you, it can be easier to then figure out how to solve the problem. You can learn a new skill, or have more patience with yourself when life comes up.
It might be tough, but you’ve got to get through it to avoid running into the same old problems from before.
Inspire yourself again
I think you know by now, I’m a very visual person, and I love surrounding myself with imagery that inspires what I’m going for. Creating pinboards on Pinterest, making mood boards and aesthetics, the works.
You should also look at movies with similar themes that can help you place yourself better in the story this time around, maybe find interesting TV shows with things you liked that could help you now. Remember the issues you had before and try to research movies and TV shows that could help you address it.
You could also read books with similar themes, which could especially help with point of view issues, description, and prose. And, obviously, the story itself.
Try to surround yourself in an environment that helps you focus. Take a pad and paper and head to the park. Or hit the computers at a library. Get concentration wherever you need to so you can get a footing on where you’re going, and it’ll probably help you be able to continue until the end. A firm footing is sometimes all you need to start coasting!
Buckle down and get ‘er done
It’s not going to be easy, but you got this. Concentrate on what you’re doing, recenter yourself on what you love, muscle through learning from your mistakes. I wouldn’t recommend deleting the old version. Really, ever. You can always go back and find a gem in your old writing, even after you finished picking through it.
It’s going to be difficult. It’s always going to be hard to face something you wasn’t satisfied with the first time. But you’ve come this far, you want to go back to it for a reason. Because there was something that made you love it, there was a reason you were inspired in the first place. You weren’t necessarily wrong, you just didn’t have all the tools that, hopefully, you have now.
And it’s okay. Writing is a journey that you can enjoy every step of the way. Every step is a learning curve, and you may not write the same way ten years from now, but it doesn’t take away from what you’re doing now.
Like, I said.
You got this.