If ever a writer you know claims to have finished every idea they ever started they’re either a fucking unicorn, or a liar. Books fall by the wayside, they stop short, and they become neglected.
I firmly believe that this is because there are some ideas and plots that come to us before we are fully equipped to write them, and that’s why I never throw away an idea, concept, or scene.
But how do you begin picking up the threads of a story you dropped long ago?
The most obvious first step is to re-read any notes, scraps, and scenes you have along with refreshing your memory as to what the plot was supposed to be when you last worked on the piece. Keep an open mind about it all, of course, but do think about how you could improve what you already have to work with.
Ask yourself what the main characters want, what they fear, what pushes them on, and what the consequences of failure would be. Break your plot into acts and ask yourself if the main characters have a reason to keep moving on. They must either be drawn or pushed through the story by temptation or fear, and the growth you require from them should be a natural development when the story is considered.
Think about the components and structure of your story at this point;
Take the time to get the feel for your concept again; what did you listen to, eat, watch, wear when you last work on this project? What was your aesthetic, in short? When picking up an old project we need to get back in touch with the passion and drive we had for it, and that can be the hardest thing to do. Getting back in touch with your world and your characters, however, is all important. Some things for your consideration when returning to an old story;
Get back into the swing of it by writing a few fun scenes, no pressure, which let you dip slowly back into the story. Come at this “temperature check” with an open mind; have fun with it and don’t set the expectation that it will make the final cut. Think of this as writerly stretching; a warm up, if you will. Once you feel nice and elastic you can start to pick up the threads of the novel you left behind.
If you’re prone to sudden and dramatic demotivation this is key; don’t worry about getting it right straight away, just get it written. Finish your first draft before you do anything else, once you have a complete version to work with you can think about proofreading and rewriting, but not before!
Don’t give up on your derelict debut – you can always pick up where you left off.