In any given session of A Meeting With Your Writing it is not uncommon for someone to be coming back to a project they haven’t looked at in a while. Summer and sabbatical are also times when you might revisit abandoned projects with a view to getting some of them finished.
Banish any gremlins who are harping on about the reason.
There are many good reasons to set a project aside:
- a sustained push on another project
- teaching and other duties taking over your life for a while
- needing distance from it to figure out what comes next
The reason you abandoned it doesn’t matter. How long you have abandoned it doesn’t matter. (If you need to voice the gremlins’ concerns and then physically push them away, there is a colouring page for that.)
Set some reasonable goals for your first session back.
Newton’s first law of motion (inertia) seems to apply to much more than the physical world. The force required to get something moving is greater than the force required to keep it moving. So when you’ve not been working on something for a while, it is like a huge boulder just sitting there on your desk.
Your goal for your first session is to examine your boulder and work out whether and how to get it moving again.
Collect your drafts and notes. Read through your materials to remind yourself what you were trying to do. Make notes to yourself as you go. In addition to notes about what it needs, make sure you notice what is worthwhile (or even exciting) about this project. Notice how it feels to reconnect with it.
Decide if you are going to finish this
You don’t have to finish everything you start. Whatever you have been working on since you set this project aside may have changed your perspective on this topic. It may no longer be worth finishing in the form you had imagined.
Trust your intuition. And then verify that gut feeling.
If reading the draft and going through your notes gives you a sinking feeling, then look for a good reason to work on it. Seriously, your gut feeling is a good enough reason to abandon the project. Verify by finding reasons to go ahead. The work you’ve already done will not be a waste. It informed whatever you did next and some of the work you did to get it to whatever stage you got it to may be useful for other things. Challenge the “You started so you have to finish!” gremlin to come up with a better answer.
If reading the draft and going through the notes reveals sparks of excitement and interest, trust that feeling, too. Start from the sparks and decide whether they want to rekindle the original fire or start a new one. That new one may involve salvaging quite a bit of kindling and fuel from the original project.
Give yourself one 90-minute session to make that decision
A Meeting With Your Writing guarantees 90 minutes of writing time. I define writing as anything that moves your writing project forward. A firm decision to not finish a project is forward movement. You don’t want to spend too much time making the decision but you need to acknowledge that making a decision is real work that takes time.
Use the whole 90 minutes but only 90 minutes to do this reconnaissance work, make a decision and leave yourself notes for what it needs next. That is an excellent use of your first session back.
Getting back into writing after a break Katherine Firth
A version of this post was sent to members of the Academic Writing Studio in a newsletter on April 21, 2017. Updated to add related posts May 31, 2017.