It’s 1AM, and you’ve been writing for over five straight hours, immersed in your characters: their voices distinct, their conversations riveting, the plot gradually unfolding, the words not only flowing but bursting from the seams of your imagination, and you can’t type fast enough. When you do dare to step away from the computer, it is like waking from a comma or climbing out of a rabbit hole—so much time has passed between your last trip to reality to get a drink or go to the bathroom.
Two years later you return to this script, this short story, this poem, or whatever it is to make revisions. You groan because it’s like eating tacos for the tenth night in a row—dull, boring, over explored. Maybe you’ve worked on it so much it triggers your gag reflex, but, hey, it’s the 90% of rewriting that is writing, right? How do you find the motivation to fix this project instead of casually dropping it all in the recycling bin and starting a new, lusty affair with that fresh idea weighing on your mind, the one keeping you awake at night?
To keep the passion going, I buy a cheap notebook or journal from the dollar store in those initial, love-sick days. I fill it with my ideas, my brainstorming notes, drawings of recurring or symbolic images, and character bios as they develop along with major questions I want to explore. I make lists of settings or scenes. I jot down pieces of conversations or actions I’d like to include. But, the most important thing, I think, is the different trails the characters can take—the different endings or circumstances, so that if I get stuck later, I can backtrack. I write down everything that enters my head in this notebook, even though I’ll only use a tenth of it. Then I fill the remaining pages with images from the internet or magazines that evoke the story. Remember, it’s not about being organized or outlining or figuring out the characters just yet. Rather, it’s a way to preserve that initial enthusiasm. A way back to the rabbit hole.
But this scrapbook or journal—whatever you want to call it— can be invaluable if you need to return to a project once all the favor has faded from the idea, or if significant amounts of time have passed between projects. It’s no substitute for the muse, of course, but this is a way to recreate the love-sickness, the rabbit hole you stumbled into during those first few days of passion. The journal makes me nostalgic of the world within the play. I find I’m much more ambitious and willing to experiment with my revisions, because I want to return to those characters, play with their fates, tinker with their worlds, and push their voices further. This scrapbook can make revisions enjoyable, rather than barely bearable. And as for that other attractive idea in your head, you can make a journal for that, too. Use it as a reward, an incentive, once you finish perfecting the old project, of course.