Reading time: About 4 minutes
Whether your absence was deliberate (a holiday) or an accident (say, a family crisis) here’s how to get back into writing after a break…
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, are you planning on taking some time off this summer?
Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s the kind of thing that ought to be mandatory. Holidays relax and refresh us and help boost our creativity.
But returning to writing after a holiday is finished is often a challenge. And here’s an interesting PS: Many writers who’ve stopped writing for other reasons — time management problems, personal crises, fear of either failure or success or even just diminished interest in their project — face exactly the same challenge.
They don’t know how to get back into writing again.
So, if your writing has stalled, whether it’s after holidays or some sort of unwanted break, here’s how to get going again:
- Lower your expectations for time. First pick a time you KNOW you can achieve and be content — no, be thrilled — with achieving it, even if it’s no more than one minute. Really, there’s no such thing as too little time for writing; there is only too much. People tie themselves into all sorts of nasty knots when they place too-high expectations on themselves. And in fact, procrastination is almost always the result of too-high expectations. You tell yourself you want to write for an hour, the appointed time arrives and you don’t feel like writing — especially not for an hour — so what happens? You procrastinate. Don’t do this to yourself! Years ago I heard a story of a guy wanting to build an exercise habit. He spent two entire weeks simply putting his exercise gear in the car and then driving to the gym. No actual exercise! Just getting ready to exercise. But after he’d done that for two weeks he was able to start working out and he built a long-term and sustainable habit. Approach your writing in a similar fashion: resume with no more than one to 15 minutes. You can always increase the amount of time later, once you’ve rebuilt your habit.
- Lower your expectations for wordcount, too. If we’re not beating ourselves up about writing time, then many of us focus on wordcount. We’re determined to get X number of words per day and we feel inept and unsuccessful if we fail to do that. While I favour keeping careful track of our writing numbers, I also believe in cutting ourselves some slack, especially if we’re not in shape right now. Writing is like exercising: You don’t expect yourself to run a marathon — or even five km — without training so don’t expect yourself to be able to produce a large number of words until your writing self is back in condition — which takes time. If you wrote 350 words a day before you took your break, cut that goal in half or three-quarters. There is no shame in this type of drastic cut and I’ve used the trick myself, even though I’ve been a professional writer for more than 40 years.
- Remove your expectations for quality. I’m constantly telling clients that the quality of their writing is unimportant — when they are writing. This is an important distinction. I’m not saying that quality is irrelevant. Of course that’s not true. But it’s irrelevant while we’re writing. The ONLY time you should let thoughts or worries about quality cross your mind is when you are editing. (Please read that last sentence again.) Here’s why: Writing is a creative act and editing is an evaluative one. If you try to do both jobs at the same time you’re going to feel hampered and conflicted. The creative part of your brain is shy and easily spooked. And the evaluative part of your brain is the scary monster. Do these two separate jobs separately and the act of writing will become so much easier and so much more fun. If you really want to have fun with this idea try daring yourself to be a bad writer. This can be entertaining.
- Prepare yourself for the next day’s worth of writing. Many writers sit at their computer keyboard and stare at their screen until beads of blood form on their foreheads. A blank screen feels like a threat, not an opportunity. But you can make the job of writing a lot easier on yourself by taking a little bit of time to plan ahead. The day before, write yourself a few bulleted notes (maybe 25 to 50 words) about what you want to write the next day. Don’t go to the page/screen cold. Always begin with a plan. Then, on the day of writing, begin by creating a mindmap to help inspire yourself. Here’s one other trick, courtesy of Ernest Hemingway: When you finish writing for the day, always stop in the middle of a sentence. That way you’ll have a smooth path for getting back into writing the next day.
- Do your writing first. People often ask me about the best time of day to write and I’m always very clear: if your schedule allows you to manage it, try to write first thing in the morning. I don’t mean you should wake up earlier than usual (sleep is essential to creativity). I just mean do your writing before you do anything else. So, if you generally get up at 7 am, try writing at 7:05. If you get up at 8, try 8:05. The benefit of writing in the morning is that nothing in your day will have gone wrong (yet) and you’ll be better able to protect your writing time. Be sure not to allow yourself to check email or read the news first, either. And if mornings won’t work — because you have too many responsibilities for others — try your next available ‘protected’ time. Lunch works for many people. Try to avoid leaving your writing for the end of the day.
- Stop blaming yourself. Many of us are Olympic-class experts at beating ourselves up. We’re lazy, untalented, undisciplined so-and-sos we like to tell ourselves. Thriller writer David Baldacci has 110 million books in print in 80 countries and he still second-guesses himself before each new project: “I sit down scared to death that I won’t be able to bring the magic again,” he says. Recognize that a negative attitude only wastes your time and, instead, forgive yourself for your shortcomings. Instead, speak to yourself in the third person (‘you can do this, Daphne, I say to myself) and keep trying.
- Get some external accountability. Truth is, many of us wouldn’t do a thing unless others have some expectations of us. I’m not sure I’d cook dinner every night (I might just stand at the sink and eat cheese on crackers) if I didn’t have a family to feed. The same is true of writing. If you don’t have a deadline imposed on you by a boss or supervisor or, if your deadline is huge but a long way off — like a 70,000-word book or thesis — daily accountability to someone else will help you meet your goals. Get a friend to help you or consider joining a group like my Get It Done program. (Two spots available for August 1/21.)
It’s hard work to figure out how to get back into writing after a break and you’re likely to be plagued by all sorts of fears and hesitations. But take a deep breath, turn on your computer, reduce your expectations and start writing — for a short amount of time. The job will become easier with every day that passes.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
My video podcast last week addressed the difference between printing and publishing. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
How do you get back into writing after a break? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by July 31/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!