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All too often, I find myself lost in my writing. No, I don’t mean I find it to be an escape from real life, although it is that, too. No, I mean that I find myself lost in the plot or lost in the characters or lost in the details, meanwhile I am struggling to wrap my mind around plot, characters, and details.

When this happens, I get dragged down under the weights of my ideas, exhausted by what they mean and by the different ways I can go with them. One idea goes right, one goes left, while the third is plummeting downward, the fourth is off at an angle, and a dozen more go a dozen different ways.

I don’t know whom to follow, and I get tired of trying. I get through half a dozen scenes only to realize that I followed the wrong idea. So how do I know what idea to follow unless I chase each one down?

Photo thanks to Horia Varlan via Flickr.com

Photo thanks to Horia Varlan via Flickr.com

Over the past year, I’ve had that lost feeling a lot with my current WIP. I expected to have a finished second draft to beta readers over a year ago, but around that time I realized that it needed a lot more work than I’d initially thought. Two of the characters needed to become one character, most of my subplots had to be revised, and a good chunk of my main plot needed revision as well.

But in trying to rewrite, I got lost–again. I didn’t know where to start or what needed to happen. So where did I go? Where am I now? What steps did I take to find my novel’s path? That’s what this post is going to discuss.

Step 1) Step back.

I had to put my novel aside for awhile, allow myself to gain some distance from all those ideas pinging around in my head and allow myself to meditate upon them.

I didn’t consciously work on or think about my novel for a few months. Part of that was because I had a newborn, and just finding time for sleep was challenging enough, but part of it was that all those ideas made working on my WIP overwhelming. I wanted to work on it, but I didn’t know how. And so I stepped back. That was the wisest choice I could have made.

Photo via Flickr.com courtesy Joel Montes de Oca

Photo via Flickr.com courtesy Joel Montes de Oca

Step 2) Journal.

Or at least write your ideas, thoughts, words, etc. down somewhere.

With my having a newborn, and not getting nearly enough sleep, my brain was fuzzy most of the time. Writing down my ideas gave me the opportunity to use my brain to focus on other things I needed to do, and, in a way, purged those ideas from my head so I could think up more, and also helped me think through the ones I had.

At the time, I was using Evernote to keep track of my WIPs, which I still do when I don’t have a physical notebook handy. Now, with my toddler, I find that I like physically writing out things. Perhaps it makes me more productive, but it also runs less risk of getting lost in the digital world. (Anyone else have that problem? I feel like it’s so much easier to lose a digital note than a written note.)

Step 3) Plot.

Hello? Anyone still there?

Yeah, this is the part I’m sure I lost some people. But when you’re already lost after starting your first draft, or halfway through your second draft you realize you’re starting to lose track of your plot, or that you have changed directions midway through a WIP, plotting becomes a necessary evil.

I’ve spent a lot of time plotting and outlining this year, after getting halfway through Draft 2 of my WIP and realizing my issues were bigger than I thought. But I’m certain that this is not wasted time. Now that Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner (July), I feel equipped to start rewriting!

Step 4) Research those areas you aren’t sure about.

With my current WIP, I have received a lot of mixed feedback about the first chapter. Because of this, I knew something was wrong with it, but I wasn’t sure what, exactly. Everyone seemed to say something different–except most agreed that my MC wasn’t particularly likable.

So what did I do? Well, after I accepted this to be true, I began to research first chapters and how to make my character likable. Even if she was being true to her character as I had written it, something obviously had to change. Was it her character itself? Or what I had shown in the first chapter? Or was it something bigger? Was it the moment I had started the story?

I needed outside sources to figure this out, and I couldn’t even ask the reviewers their thoughts, for they only knew the first chapter, and not the entire story in my mind or what I intended to show with my novel. Doing the research for myself was necessary.

Step 5) Take another break.

Writing can be exhausting. But when I say take a break, I don’t necessarily mean from writing. Just shift gears. In between replotting my WIP and rewriting it, I wrote a couple of short stories and virtually ignored this WIP.

Of course, I’ve never really forgotten this WIP, just as I’ve never really forgotten my other WIPs that lie unperfected on my hard drive. But shifting focus to a different story can enlighten the path for this WIP in strange ways.

Now, I’m ready to get into focus with this WIP, and I’m also prepared because I’ve had a bit more time to think about how I’ve replotted it. It makes more sense now than it did before, and it’s had the time to sink in. I’m as ready as can be.

Step 6) Write.

This is it, folks. What we’re all here for. We’re writers, right? And writers write.

At some point, you have to stop thinking, stop plotting, stop dreaming, and put it all down on paper. It may not come out exactly as you want, it surely won’t come out as eloquently as you thought it, but, if you’re lucky, it emerges coherently and someone else likes it, too.