Sometimes, for any number of reasons, we step away from writing. Sometimes it’s because we make a conscious choice to try something else. Other times we’re forced away from writing due to health, family, work, or financial issues. Whatever the reason, you’ve taken an extended break and now you want to get back at it. But how does one return to writing after an extended break?
Many times it’s not as simple as it seems it should be. Just pick up the pen or sit at the keyboard and get to it, right? Unfortunately, as with everything, time away can mean that your skills and desire have degraded. It’s no different than walking away from the gym for a year. No matter how much you may want to, you’re not walking back in there and running for an hour on the treadmill or deadlifting 200 pounds. (But why would you want to when the couch is so much more appealing?)
If you need a jump start, here are some ideas and tips to get you back to writing after an extended break.
Accept that productivity has to build.
You’re not going to come back to the keyboard and crank out 4,000 words on your first day. Chances are, your productivity will go in fits and starts at first. That’s okay. You have to find your groove again and get your brain used to thinking in “Writing mode.” It will come. Don’t berate yourself because you’re not as productive as you were in the past.
Don’t go straight for the 100K word novel or non-fiction book. Start smaller. Think short stories, fanfic, blogs, articles, web copy, etc. Going too big too soon might lead to frustration, so start smaller and work your way up. If you must start huge, try for Nanowrimo or some other event where there’s no pressure to churn out something salable. If you do go big, do it just for fun.
Start something new…
It can be easier to start something new after a long time away. Start fresh and don’t worry about your past baggage.
…Or continue something old.
On the other hand, you might do better revisiting an older, incomplete project that you already “know” and can pick up without too much thought. It depends on the kind of person you are. Pick whichever way works and go for that.
It’s going to suck when you start up again. Just accept that it’s going to be hard. It’s going to feel awkward and you’re going to get frustrated. It will get better. Remind yourself of that often and look at the good things writing does for you. Remember why you wanted to come back in the first place and keep that at the forefront of your mind.
Join a group.
A writing group can help you find your groove again by providing support, accountability, and possibly networking opportunities. All of this can make it easier to get going again rather than going it alone.
Accept the writer you are now.
Your work probably won’t be the same as it was. You’ve probably changed as a person in the time away and that’s going show in the work. Don’t worry about it, just accept that you are not the same writer you were. Ideally, you’ve got some more experience and maturity now that will make you a better writer.
Figure out your new process.
Maybe you were a night owl writer before you took the break. Now nights are unavailable so you’ve got to find a new way of working. Maybe you’ve got to learn to snatch 30 minutes here or there, or you’re going to have to become a morning person. Maybe you lost your writing space and you need to find another one. The reasons for the break may mean that there must also be a shift in how, where, and when you work. That’s okay. Don’t cling to something that no longer works. Experiment until you figure it out.
If the reasons for your break meant that you also quit reading, get back to the books. Writers need to read. Reading fills your creativity tank and shows you how other writers achieve greatness. Plus, it’s just fun. The article linked above shows you lots of ways to regain lost reading skills, so try some of them and get back to the books.
Don’t try to multitask.
When you’re trying to re-establish a habit, that is not the time do ten things at once. Eliminate distractions and focus on the work. Get off social media, turn off the TV, send the kids to grandma’s if you can, turn off your phone, and do whatever else you need to do so that it’s just you and the writing. When a habit is young, it needs careful nurturing. Later, when you’ve re-established your groove, you can probably handle some distractions and still be able to get the work done. But when you’re just coming back to it, a diversion may be all the excuse you need not to continue. Don’t give yourself that excuse.
Set achievable goals.
Don’t start out saying, “I have to write for an hour,” or, “I have to write 2,000 words.” Setting such big goals is only going to lead to failure and frustration. Set ridiculously small goals if you must to re-establish the habit. Fifteen minutes is fine, or 200 words. The point is to meet your goal so that you feel like you’re achieving something. Increase as you go.
Come back tomorrow. (And the next day.)
The key to getting back in the groove is to establish a groove. No matter how badly the first day back sucks, come back the next day and the next. That’s the only way to build back your stamina and talent. Build the habit.
(Photo courtesy of geralt)