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Open Up to a New Story

by BLH on January 28th, 2013

When you’re working on a novel or another long project, then you’ll be living and breathing a particular world very intensely for a very long time. You’ve inhabited the houses or woods of your characters; you’ve lived in the time and worn the clothes that your people have. You’ve been thinking the way your characters think. Necessarily, that has an effect on the kind of language you use in your story; you’ll start thinking about what you see and hear in terms of the metaphors, the word choices, the sentence rhythms that fit the world of your novel.

But amazingly, there will come a time when that world will end.

Yes, you may not believe me now, but there will be a time when you write the last page of your work. And just because that story is ending doesn’t mean you are ceasing to be a writer. So how do you finally close the book on that world and start thinking about the possibilities of new stories?

If you find yourself nearing the end of a long work, or already thinking about new works, then it might be time to start opening your mind a little and re-stretching long-atrophied muscles. Here are a few ways to go back to the drawing board and re-open your mind for new language.

1. Start small, with exercises.

Remember those days when you were just starting out and you didn’t know what to write? The way we got started back then was by playing around, playing games and doing exercises. Try taking a look back through Writerly Life’s Inspiration archives, or try an old exercise that has served you well in the past. Try speedwriting for a few minutes with a timer, or pull a random word from the dictionary. Don’t worry about making it good at this stage. Just focus on writing with the same abandon and openness you used to have before you became locked into a particular world.

2. Open your mind to new conflicts and characters.

While you were writing your novel, you see interesting characters and stories all the time that just wouldn’t fit in your current work. You see a strange-looking guy on the street or an interesting family, or you hear about an intriguing conflict. You hear about these things, but you simply have to put them aside, because they’re not for you right then. But now, let the world open up as your storybook once again — it’s time to see the story potential that’s all around you. Listen hard for stories and conflicts. Notice odd character types. Observe things that you haven’t paid attention to. once again, the world is your oyster.

3. Change up your language.

When you’re embarking on a long project, you have to lock down your language into a particular shape and form. You necessarily limit yourself, and of course, in that process you discover all the ways that type of language can be used. But don’t allow yourself to be locked down anymore. Try a few exercises that will encourage you to experiment with your language the way you’ve done in the past. Try a new sentence style. Look up a few words in the thesaurus that you haven’t used. Keep your language fresh. The moment you decide your style is done, and is setting like jello, is the moment your language ceases to be alive. So as you begin your new project, remember to break the mold and start again.

From → The Writing Life

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