How to get back into writing after a break

Reading time: Just over 3 minutes

Writing is always harder after a holiday. Does that make breaks a mistake? No way! Here’s the secret to getting back into writing after a break…

Did you eat too many chocolate-dipped shortbreads this past Christmas? Drink too many glasses of eggnog or mulled wine? Nip out of town for a brief sun holiday? Totally ignore your writing for two weeks or more?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I’m guessing you’re beating yourself up right now for being a “bad” writer. Today’s column is my pep talk for you.

1-Understand that you’ve lost your conditioning and that this is NORMAL. If you were a runner who just finished a marathon and then took off six weeks from exercise to celebrate, you would not expect to run another marathon right after your break, would you? Of course not! You’d implement a training program where perhaps you’d start with a three-mile run and then gradually ramp up to a 10-mile one. You’d probably add some weights at the gym, as well. And you’d undoubtedly do some stretching both before and after your runs. After six months of this, you might be in shape to run another marathon. But you wouldn’t beat yourself up for not being able to do it sooner.

Writers lose conditioning just like runners. This principle doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with breaks and holidays. The principal of the Global School of Writing will not be able to put you into detention for taking a hiatus from writing. Nor should anyone beat you up for finding it difficult to get started writing again. Instead, you should expect this transition. It’s entirely normal. The only mistake you may have made was not to plan for it.

2-Create a modest and realistic plan for getting back into the swing of things. View your first day back as mostly a write-off (kind of like the first day of school or the first day of a new job – it’s all about getting “settled.”) Then, take a small and non-threatening first step to reintroduce yourself to your most important writing project. What this first step will look like depends on you, but here are some ideas:

  • read something you wrote before your break
  • read a small piece of research relating to your project
  • write one sentence
  • edit one paragraph
  • open the document (yes, this super-small step counts!)

Then, make a plan for the next six weeks. Make your early goals very modest — no more than 30 minutes a day for writing (and even less is okay!) and ramp up these goals only after you’ve hit a comfortable plateau. Again, think of writing like running: You wouldn’t expect to run 15 miles unless you were able to run 10 comfortably. Don’t try to write for two hours a day until you’ve hit 30 minutes — then 45, then 60, then 90 — first.

And, by the way, if you’re returning to work only to face a big writing project with an urgent deadline, resist the urge to spend two hours (or worse, more) writing. Instead, break your writing duties into small, manageable chunks. If it’s a two-hour project, for example, spend four 30-minute chunks of time writing. But in between those chunks of writing time, ensure you have other interesting distractions — such as phone calls, talking to colleagues or reading.

3-Keep yourself accountable. This rule sounds easy, but it’s pretty hard. Develop a way to hold yourself to achieving your goals. You might report to other people on your progress (family members and good friends are often willing to help out with this). Or you could keep a spreadsheet in which you note your expected tasks and then place a tick mark on them when you’ve finished them. Be sure to block the time for your writing in your calendar and then record whether you actually achieve it.

4-Give yourself some rewards. Don’t ever skimp on your rewards! They’re not childish or silly. After all, it’s hard work to retain your conditioning.  If your first writing sessions feel horrible and uncomfortable, be sure to ease the pain by rewarding yourself with a nice latte, a mug of special tea, a favourite magazine or a movie ticket for having the stick-to-it-ive-ness to persist. You won’t need to continue to reward yourself for every writing session indefinitely, but go a bit over the top for the first especially challenging days.

5-Always stop on time. Much as I believe in priorities, however, I also believe in stopping. It’s easy to forget the time and, instead, lose endless hours staring at a blank computer screen. (Or, worse, to fall into the Google/Facebook rabbit hole and spend hours reading inconsequential dreck on the internet.) Work with a timer, following the Pomodoro routine, and ensure you stop when the bell rings.

6-Tell your Inner Critic (IC) that you’ll listen to him/her later. Many of us derail ourselves when we listen to the bossy, nasty voice of our Inner Critic who likes to assail us when we’re writing. The IC likes to tell us that we’re inadequate, our writing is terrible and no one will be interested in what we have to say. Actually, our IC is pretty smart and will have some useful suggestions when we’re editing. But this voice is counterproductive when we’re writing. Keep reminding the IC that you’ll listen to them later when you’re editing.

7-Make time for reading, as well. If you were travelling or attending too many parties over the past month, your writing is likely not the only task that suffered. I bet your reading fell by the wayside, too. Remember that we become better writers in only three ways: the amount we write, the amount of time we spend editing our writing and the amount of reading we do.

Holidays and breaks are almost never a mistake. They give us a useful perspective on our words and research. They allow us to relax and recover. And, they give us a new energy. The only wrinkle is that they take away our conditioning. But, no problem! You can retain that conditioning again. Just make a plan to do it.

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My five-minute video podcast last week addressed the question: Is regular or self-publishing better? See it here 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.

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How do you get back to work after a holiday?  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 Jan. 31/18, will be put in a draw for a copy of Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.