Every August when my kids head back to school, I find myself stopping to reflect on the summer we’ve just had, the dwindling weeks of warm weather we still have left, and the busy season that lies ahead.

Not that I’ll have time for it. In fact, if you ask, I’ll be all too happy to tell you how busy I am.

I’ll be swimming in back-to-school supply lists, drowning in my own deadlines that I’ve put off as long as I can, genuinely eager to get back to it in so many ways, and yet inevitably the moment comes:

When I wake up early one morning to ostensibly tackle some work, pull out my laptop, and end up looking back at a whole season of my photos instead.

Was it really this time last month we were at the lake?

Was it only two weeks ago my kids wouldn’t stop fighting over the last popsicle and I actually thought summer was too long, ready to have it over with right then?

How did I not notice that my daughter swiped my phone and took all these pictures while I wasn’t looking? Pictures that make me smile for all their off-kilter framing, that capture a moment I can still taste and smell and hear and feel?

Where did the time go? 

So often the world urges us to keep rushing ahead to the next item in our to-do list. But it’s important to take time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going, in our stories and in life, on the page and off.

The end of a season is a natural time to do it. If you find yourself called to these quiet moments, why resist? Why tell your muse to hush up and let you work when you could instead sit down with your character, pour a cup of coffee, and ask:

  • What have been the highlights of this season of your life, the experiences you are most grateful for, the memories you will hold most dearly?
  • What are the things you hoped to accomplish but did not? Did you simply run out of time, or did it turn out they were not that important to you after all? Is there still a way to do them now if you still want to?
  • What are the things you thought you’d do more of, and why didn’t you?
  • Who have you grown closer to? Who did you see less of than you hoped to? Would you change it if you could?
  • What did you envy or covet?
  • What has been the nicest surprise?
  • What did you try that was new or different? What did you learn from the experience? Would you do it again?
  • What was your biggest vice, and was it really all that bad?
  • What was beyond your control? Conversely, what do you wish you’d taken more control of?

We don’t get to redo our summer, of course, but the wonderful thing about writing fiction (and even, sometimes, nonfiction) is that your characters can. If you meant to write in a deeper connection with the widow next door, or a more exciting change of scenery, or a more nuanced take on that theme that got lost in the background somehow, you can go back and do it now.

You can take their answers to heart and revise until their story is everything they hoped it would be and more.

Until their summer is one perfect memory, and they are one hundred percent ready for fall.

What are some of the ways you’ve found helpful to check in with your characters during a story-in-progress? Join our discussion on Facebook.