On Writing: Recapturing the Tone and Energy of an Older Piece

“Writers write.”

“Writers should write every day.”

“When you finish one project, start another.”

These are pearls of wisdom writers hear or read all the time. And, such as they are, they make sense. But what does a writer do when life gets in the way? What happens when a piece gets interrupted, for example, while the writer is launching some other project? This slams a writer into a problem area: losing the thread or feel or energy of a piece. Common wisdom suggests it is difficult for a writer to recapture that story’s energy once s/he moves away from it, especially if the first draft is not complete.

I offer a suggestion to help writers reunite with their story.

When I finished the final rewrites of my debut novel, City of Woe, I begged my wife to do one more reread to catch any lingering problems. While the goddess of my life was doing that, I kept writing by starting a new, very different project, a YA novel, Perfect. I had a detailed outline (I believe in outlines as a writer’s safety net), and launched into the first draft, immersing myself in the significantly different tone of the work and the voices of the two main characters. Eighty-eight pages in, things were cooking, I was making steady progress, all was good in my little writing world.

Then City of Woe was ready for launch, and, as a novice independent publisher, most of my time was taken with the process of production, the steep learning curve, and correcting my many mistakes (all of which will be the subject of future bogs). The brakes were thrown on Perfect and progress ground to a wrenching halt. This is a major no-no, according to the Writing Powers That Be; we must complete a first draft, we must write, write until a work is completed, never get out of that moving vehicle of a project, never wander away from our friends (the story and characters) while in the haunted house, or psycho killer-infested woods, etc.

I agree with all of the above, and caution that finishing a first draft is key to living in a perfect world. But life isn’t perfect. Sometimes, quit happens.

When I finally got back to Perfect, months had passed, and I found myself outside the tone and feel of the book, looking in. The old warnings about lost energy and difficulty rediscovering tone loomed. Would I be able to pick up the thread, the feel, the energy of the piece and continue?

Here’s how I approached the problem: I resolved not to write, not to do very much at all. I was just there for a visit, just going to stop by and see how everybody’s doing. And I did. I sat at my desk, opened to page one, and began to read. That’s all. I just read, not writing at all. And i read Out Loud. This helped me focus on reading, let me hear the tone of the piece, allowed me to listen to the voice of the characters. How couldIi write when I was doing all that?

It didn’t last.

The needs of the narrative (a rephrase here, an added description there) insinuated themselves by page three, and by four pages in, I was completely into the story again, locked in with the narrative voice, and moving forward.

I was back inside the project.

Trust yourself, your writing, and your characters, and you will recapture your project’s energy.

Now, get to work.

Christopher Ryan is author of City of Woe, available on Kindle and Nook, and in print. For more info, click here.



About chrisryanwrites

I do my best to tell fast-paced stories with humor and heart. My fiction work is available on amazon.com. Here, I’ll write about the sources for those stories from what I read, watch, listen to, and observe to my experiences as a former award-winning journalist, high school teacher, actor, and producer.
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