The Process: Getting back to making books

Here at UnWrecked Press, we enjoy the process of making books, so we’ve started what we hope will be an ongoing series of behind-the scenes blog articles about the process itself.

By “the Process” we mean anything related to books: writing them, reading them, publishing them, promoting them, and any other topics in between. To see all the topics so far, just click “The Process” category or tag. The articles will range from quick hits to long reads, depending on what strikes our fancy.

Our newest long-read article about the process comes from author Michael Jasper, who’s been trying like crazy to get back to work on the second book in his Finder Team series, which is tentatively titled “Lost & Finders.”

Here’s Mike:

Getting back on track with a project

Last year, somewhere around late spring and early summer of 2016, I started the sequel to Finders, Inc., which picked up a few months after the events of that first novel, and was also set here in the NC mountains. I had a great opening scene (following a strange, mysterious prologue) that featured our oversized hero, Bim, in a bathing suit, floating on the company pool on the first day of July.

Making books: Lost & FindersThe name of the book is Lost & Finders, and somewhere along the way I literally lost my way with it. Now I’m trying to find my way back to it (see what I did there?).

I’d banged out a few chapters, then the real world intervened (issues with my day job, among other things). I tried getting re-started on it during November’s NaNoWriMo challenge, but only made it to the opening scene of chapter 5 before grinding to a halt again.

But now things have settled down (well, as settled as things can get with a brand-new day job, a work-at-home office in our loft with three kids and my wife working away in our basement home school, and lots of extracurricular activities for kids and adults both!), I’m getting back to the 2nd book in my Finder Team series.

I’m excited to be making books again!

I thought it might be helpful to other writers to hear about my process of getting back on track. Readers might also enjoy a peek behind the scenes of a writer’s life (even if this writer is a full-time technical writer and only a part-time fiction writer).

So here are the steps I took to get back on track with this book. Please note that these steps aren’t necessarily chronological; you might end up doing a couple of them at the same time, more or less. But all of these steps really helped me get started again.

 

Clear off that desk!

I can’t function with clutter. When I get rolling on a project, I tend to be pretty much paperless, because I keep all my notes in Microsoft OneNote, which syncs anything I put on my phone with my laptop, and vice versa. My only concession to paper is a sticky note with all my tasks on it for the day, which I attach to my Moleskine (the only other tree product allowed on my desk).

The Process: Making Books
My desk doesn’t normally look like this!

The rest of the stuff needs to be cleared off my desk, so I can focus.

And just like a clean desk, you should strive to keep all the busy work of your daily life out of your writing area. Finish up all your distracting side work if you can. Your writing time isn’t the time to start the laundry or do dishes, okay?

Also, I try to just work on one creative project at a time, usually a novel. I can’t mentally juggle multiple novels or stories at the same time. Some writers can do that, but not this one…! I’ve become a big fan of single-tasking these days (though I do sometimes slip into multi-tasking, like when I’m writing blog posts for some reason!).

I also recommend that before you dive back into writing, try to clean up your email Inbox. Respond to all those outstanding emails as needed, update your calendar, and then close your email and calendar apps. You’ve got a book to write.

 

Get reacquainted with that book

If you’re like me and you started writing a book or story, and then ran out of steam, you should take some time to just read the book again.

Don’t read it like a writer or even like an editor. Read it like a reader, and take note of places where you catch yourself wondering. Like “I wonder why he said that” or “I wonder what’s up with that place” or “I wonder if we’ll run into that person again.” Highlight the places where you left yourself some clues for what might come next. You’ll find yourself with “itchy fingers” ready to start typing as you get excited about your book again.

And if you’re not sucked in by your opening or a chapter, save that chapter to a safe location and remove the offending chunk from your project. Then start writing something new to replace it.

Finally, if you’re like me, you probably made a lot of notes about the story so far. Definitely review those notes to familiarize yourself with what you were thinking about before you dropped the project. Save the notes that you like, and go ahead and delete the stuff that feels off.

Making books - Scrivener notes
Scrivener makes it really easy to go overboard on the notes!

Be ruthless, and try to condense your notes to just one page. You don’t want to use those notes like a crutch that you’ll have to keep tweaking and updating instead of writing actual new words. Your notes are there just in case of emergency, like the fire extinguisher under your kitchen sink.

 

Look for outside help

At times you might feel a bit overwhelmed with your notes and your book so far. It’s a big elephant to try to eat all at once, after all.

What worked for me was to take a break from all the plotting and planning and analyzing and read some non-fiction as well as a good fiction book (just finished re-reading Robert Crais’s LA Requiem, which was wonderful, and made me want to get to writing my own stuff again).

Making books: Lifelong Writing HabitI’m always looking at how-to books about writing, and I this go-round I found some great tips in Chris Fox’s short-but-smart books, especially Lifelong Writing Habit and also 5,000 Words Per Hour.

These books are designed to get you writing again, and Fox has a ton of great tips to make writing into a habit again, just like exercising. He talks about finding the right time to write, and then writing every day at that same time, preferably in the same location.  And remove all distractions so it’s just writing that fills your time.

I’ve got my comfy chair all set up for this, and I’ve carved out a writing time every day from 5:15 to 7 am. Fox talks about using timed “writing sprints” to bang out those words, and knowing what you’re going to write during those sprints, so all you have to do is open your laptop and dive into your current chapter. I’m using 45-minute sprints, with a 15-minute break between each one to refill my coffee, stretch, and use the bathroom, stuff like that. Then it’s back to sprinting again, before the rest of the house wakes up around me.

There a lot more tips and tricks in those books that you can use to help make writing a habit again, so definitely check them out. I figure if I can pick up 2-3 new tips in any how-to book, it was time well-spent.

 

Make a plan, set a deadline, and get writing!

For me, I had to set a date to get started again, and I also had to set a date for finishing this book. It’s tempting to just circle around your notes and fiddle with the chapters you’ve got so far.

But don’t spend more than a few days (no more than a week, I’d say) getting ready to restart your book.

Just put your start date and deadline date into your calendar, and also specify your writing time in a repeating daily entry as well. Set that time to “Do Not Disturb” if you can.

Then close your door and get writing! Good luck, and have fun!

 

 

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