From Revisions to Drafting: Switching Brains

I recently finished revising my first novel. Then I tried to start a new one.
And . . . I couldn’t.
It’s not that I don’t have any ideas. Technically it’s not even a new novel—it’s a rewrite of a NaNoWriMo novel that I completed two years ago. So I already know what it’s going to be about, I already know my characters, and even though I’m starting over from scratch, I have a pretty good idea which direction the plot’s going to go. But I just haven’t been able to get started . . . until about a week ago. It took a lot of fretting and trying different things, but I think I’ve finally got my writing mojo back.

In the interim, however, I mentioned the struggle I was having to a few people, and as it turns out, I’m not alone. It isn’t unusual to have a difficult time switching from revising back to drafting, so I thought I’d share with you some of the things that worked for me.

Take a break:
Revisions require intense thought and focus. You can spend hours sometimes worrying about little details like: “how many times have I used the word ‘eyebrow’ in this chapter? Too many? What if I just said ‘brow’ here and kept ‘eyebrow’ in that other sentence, and then changed this action over here to use some other facial feature to convey that emotion and . . . wait, no, I should switch them around the other way. Nope, never mind, switch them back.” (This is an actual debate I had with myself and I’m still pretty sure there are a few too many eyebrows in my manuscript.) Scrutinizing every single sentence of an entire novel like that is eventually going to melt your brain. Add to that punctuation checks, sentence variety, formatting . . . it’s not surprising you might have trouble starting a fresh project afterward. Don’t sweat it. Take a break.
Keep a notebook handy:
You may not be at the point where you can sit down and pound out 1k words every day, but if you do think of something—anything—write it down. Keep pens and paper strewn about the house so you can immediately scribble down anything you might happen to think of as you go about your day. And in the car too. I don’t know about you, but I always come up with the best ideas when I’m driving. (Just make sure you find a safe place to pull over first.) One of those snippets might turn into more words. And even more words. And boom, off you go.
Switch it up:
Do you usually type your first drafts in a word processor, or do you like to write by hand? Try doing the opposite—just to get started. I remembered the other day that I actually wrote the entire first half of the first draft of my last project by hand. Then I wrote the rest on the laptop. So I pulled out a pen and a pad of paper, stretched out on the floor, and started writing. And the words flowed! It turns out, that was all I needed. Later, I typed them up on the computer and continued writing the rest of the chapter on my word processor. I was finally writing again! Whee!
Find a new spot:
You know how cats like to move around between favorite napping places? They’ll curl up on the easy chair for a few weeks, then they’ll move to the top of the cat tree and nap there for a few more weeks, then behind the TV Cabinet, then the windowsill, and around and around. Did you have a spot where you consistently sat to work on revisions? Find somewhere else to work on your new draft. New spot, new view, new way of thinking. Try it.
Free Write:
Sometimes you just need to make a blank page not be blank anymore. Write about your day. Write about what your spoons and forks get up to in the drawer at night. Write about fire goblins from outer space who take over Earth because we have chocolate here. But the chocolate melts, because they’re fire goblins after all, so they get very sad and . . . whoops! See, I’m doing it. I’m filling space with whatever happens to cross my mind. Not sure what that says about my mind, but I digress. My point is just write stuff to make the white space go away and to flip that little toggle in your brain from revising mode to creating-interesting-stuff-out-of-thin-air mode.
Give yourself permission to suck again:
This is probably the thing that’s holding you back the most. It’s not that you don’t already know that first drafts suck. You’ve been there at least once already, after all. Not to mention it’s probably the first thing you see when you look up “how to write a first draft.” First drafts are all about getting words down on the page. Not beautiful words. Not eloquent, flowing sentences that will shape young minds and change old ones. Just words. Just story. Just basic “she did this, then she did that, and said this. Then he said this back, then they did this other thing. The end.” We know this. *You* know this. But when you’ve just spent the last few months focusing solely on making your sucky words look gorgeous, you’ve now seen how beautiful your writing can be. And now you’re writing new words, and ugh, they’re awful. They’re clunky and you’ve used the word “hole” when you meant “whole,” and the dialogue is stiff and full of extra background information that isn’t needed, and it’s all telling, no showing, and yuck, yuck, yuck. You know your writing is better than this, and you’re expecting it to look right now like your old project did after having gone through revision upon revision upon revision. 

But that’s not going to happen. You have to go through the entire process over again. And that’s daunting. So here’s what I suggest: go back and take a look at your last project’s first draft. Look at how cringe-worthy it is. Then look at what you’re writing right now. I’ll bet even at its suckiest state, it looks way better than that last project did at this stage of the game.
Feel better?
Good. Now go write.

————————

When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here


One thought on “From Revisions to Drafting: Switching Brains

  1. Great tips. 🙂 Free-writing is often a huge help to me, whether I'm trying to get started on something new, or just stuck in the middle of something “old”. The permission to suck…I still need to work on that — I don't know why it's so hard, when I KNOW nobody else is going to read it. :p

    Like

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