Pick Up Where You Left Off

June 29, 2017 § 8 Comments

Now that’s enthusiasm!

I have two best friends (lucky me!). My Functional Best Friend is someone I speak to most days, text every day, and often have three simultaneous email conversations going with. I met my Best Friend of Record in high school, she was maid of honor at my wedding (both of them), and lives in another country. We rarely tweet, email perhaps once a season, Facebook each other only for major life events. About every other year, we get an in-person visit–we just pick up where we left off.Writing projects work this way, too. Here at Brevity, we’ve lately blogged about finishing our work. But there’s more than one kind of finishing–there’s dogged, day-to-day, getting through the steps in order, staying connected; and there’s that project that’s been on the back burner for months or years that we’d really like to get back to…

one day…

when we have the time…

and can dig out our notes…

and have a few solid hours to really dive in…

Newsflash: That day is never coming. Our calendar is unlikely to magically pop up “Today Is The Day You Can Focus Entirely on That One Project.”

If there’s a book, or an essay, or a story on the back burner, we have to choose to bring it into our daily work. Some of us are diligent, fortunate, and financially able enough to go to writing residences, and we do get those magic days to focus entirely on one project. But that’s rarely a year-round solution. What can we do to get back to the work?

  • Take some low-pressure time to assess what’s in the files and think about what we really want to finish. Melissa Ballard sat down with some index cards and her unfinished essays and asked of each one, what am I waiting for? What’s holding me back? I’ve used a process of looking at my specific life goals and a list of projects and asking, which project gets me closer to what I want? Stick drafts up on a wall and see what calls your eye. Imagine you’re boarding a strange lifeboat and you’re only allowed to take one project with you. Choose the easiest one, or the one you’re most afraid of. And without the stress of “I have to write something good right now,” scribble a bit about what steps need to happen to move forward. Consciously choose to set other projects aside to wait their turn politely instead of shoving each other and guilting over your shoulder.
  • Start touching it almost every day. Not a minimum number of words or pages, but taking five minutes on the bus to actively think about the project. Or opening up the file and reading one page. Or making voice tweaks or grammar fixes on a few pages or a chapter. Seriously, just touching it. So when you are ready to write, it feels like picking up where you left off rather than a new endeavor.
  • Use a trick or a tool. Choose your most-supportive and non-critical reader and read them a couple of passages you really liked when you wrote them. Last night I shared some of a novel I’m working on with my decidedly non-literary husband. I kept finding more bits I liked and wanted to read him. His questions and his “That’s not too bad” (he’s British, so that’s practically 76 trombones of enthusiasm) made me excited to dive back in. I also tend to make a playlist for each large project I’m working on, and often the opening song is enough to bring me back to the mood and voice of the piece.

Starting again doesn’t have to be from the beginning. You don’t have to rethink the whole project or make a huge plan or set aside two weeks when your decks are clear (let me just pencil that in for never). Sometimes your project is the person you talk to every day. Sometimes you can just pick up where you left off.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. She believes we should all start measuring enthusiasm in trombones.

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§ 8 Responses to Pick Up Where You Left Off

  • Karen says:

    Love this:

    His questions and his “That’s not too bad” (he’s British, so that’s practically 76 trombones of enthusiasm) made me excited to dive back in.

  • ryderziebarth says:

    A good friend, a gardener, once said to me, as I looked out at my weedy three acres, thinking I had to tackle it all immediately, ” you can get a lot done in an hour.” It was a valuable remark, and I repeat it to myself for all overwhelming projects at hand, especially writing.

  • Jan Priddy says:

    “Sometimes your project is the person you talk to every day. Sometimes you can just pick up where you left off.” What a lovely comparison! I had never thought of that (never would have) and I thank you. It is a comforting analogy.

  • C Joanne Grabinski says:

    Love the idea to “touch it each day” and how to do this without having to devote a whole day or longer time to it each day. Thanks!


  • Oh, what a timely piece. I’m productive in my writing, but each and every morning I wake up wondering when I’m going to revise a particular manuscript, tell that story that means so much to me. I’m encouraged by the fact that it’s not only me who’s got a project on the back burner, and that there are ways I can coax it to the front. Little by little. Thank you, Allison, for another strong and useful post! I’m getting out the trombone.

  • Zoya Kubra says:

    This is exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you so much.

  • herheadache says:

    Love thinking of a writing project like a friendship.

  • […] This second article from Brevity Mag, by Allison Williams, is a good follow up to that original one. Williams calls writers out on our excuses that maybe we can finish a writing project when we have a solid block of time, or when we can find our notes, or when we get a great idea. She reminds us that that solid block of time will never come, and provides some tips on how to re-engage with writing projects that have stalled. I particularly like her advice to start touching it almost every day: […]

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