Recently I began working again on a historical novel I started quite a few years ago. The book had bogged down about halfway through, even though I roughly knew how it would end. It came to a screeching halt because one character took on more importance than I had initially envisioned. I knew that character had to be highlighted more and had an important role to play, but it threw a wrench in my story. Between the chapter where she took on a stronger role, and the ending I had in mind, there was a wilderness of how to get from one point to the other. Which way to go? I was lost in the woods. I wrote three other books while I was pondering this.
Then recently I and a friend signed up for a set of 6 workshops/classes that meet about every two or three weeks. With a teacher who gives homework. I decided I was going to pull out this manuscript of old — which was one of my favorite stories, really — and work on it. We've had to do scenes, a log line, character maps, etc. But the most helpful assignment was to do a chapter summary of the whole book. Yep. The whole book. Including the part where I didn't know what was going to happen. The idea was that we should just get through our whole book with the freedom to change things along the way once we started writing it.
Well, guess what? Now I know how to get to my book's ending, and I'm all enthused about writing the new draft. I'm also in love with research for this book again — it involves a lot of research because it takes place in Sacramento in 1919. The family is Irish Catholic. The railroad shops are involved (Southern Pacific). The Spanish influenza epidemic is involved. WWI is involved. Vaudeville is involved. A Model T is involved.
So I've been haunting both the Railroad Museum Library at 111 I Street (right next door to the Railroad Museum) and the Sacramento Room in the Sacramento Public Library, Central, at 828 I Street. In both cases, the archivists are incredibly friendly and helpful, locating booklets, books, pamphlets, directories, etc. for me. Next I plan to peruse microfiches of newspaper articles at the central branch and I'll visit the California Automobile Museum on 2200 Front Street. I did a lot of research at the library and online a few years ago when I was working on this book. And I read numerous books on all these themes. But now I know what I need to look up to build on what I learned before — a lot of questions about details to fine-tune the setting.
Not only that, after not reading it for about 8 years (yes, that long) I rediscovered how much I like this story. I am already four chapters into the re-write.
A few years ago I took a writing class from Sands Hall, and she described a phenomenon called "research rapture". I'm in the throes of research rapture, now, and I am having the time of my life.
How about you? Have you ever had to lay a work aside because you were stuck and then "rediscovered it?" The chapter summary pried me out of my bog. What was your solution?