Spend too much time away from writing, and it can be tough to get back into it.
When you’re writing every day or at least every other day, you’re regularly working your creative muscles. Your brain learns how to deliver new ideas and gradually becomes more reliable at providing those “aha” moments when you need them.
Drop that practice for a while, however—because of illness, job changes, pandemics, family trauma, or other issues—and your brain gets out of the habit. If you stopped halfway through a story, you may no longer remember where you were going with it. Your motivation may have waned, too, making it difficult to get started again when you’re ready.
If you want to reestablish a writing practice but you’re finding it difficult, try the following tips.
1. Reconnect with your characters.
When you haven’t been writing for a while, it’s easy to keep putting it off. “I’ll write today,” you think, but then you skip it. You don’t feel like it, or you’re too tired.
If you allow it, this sort of avoidance will continue indefinitely. You have to break out of it. I’ve found one of the best ways is to reconnect with your characters. Once you reestablish your relationship with them, you will want to see their story completed.
You can do this in several ways. Here are some that work for me:
- Read: Go back and read some of what you’ve already written. As soon as you get involved again, stop and jump to where you left off and start writing. Don’t worry if the transition isn’t perfect. You can fix that later.
- Catch up: Take a walk with your main character and have a pretend conversation with her. You haven’t talked to her in a while. How is she doing? Ask her to remind you what was happening the last time you “spoke.” Ask what she will do next. Keep going until you’re ready to write.
- Remember your reason: Why did you want to write this story in the first place? Remind yourself why it mattered to you. What was it about this story, in particular, that drew you in? Was it one of the characters? The theme? Why were you committed to writing it?
2. Reset your schedule to include writing.
If your schedule hasn’t included writing for a while, you need to set up a new schedule. Simply believing you’ll find a way to write during your already busy day probably won’t work.
Instead, get purposeful about it. Pull out your calendar and pencil your writing in. If you don’t have space, decide what you can get rid of. Which activities aren’t worth your time? Which ones aren’t serving you well? Identify them and replace them with writing instead.
For more help on using calendars and lists to boost your productivity, see our article, “How to Boost Writing Productivity with Calendars or To-Do Lists.”
3. Leave the past in the past.
As you begin to review your story, you may fall victim to negative emotions. You might start to realize how much time you’ve lost, perhaps, or you think about how far you still have to go with your story. It may seem like the whole task of getting back up to speed is more than you can handle. How are you going to do this?
One negative emotion easily leads to another until you’re stuck in a downward spiral.
“Negativity, frustration, fear, and anger are all counterproductive emotions,” writes freelance writer Janice Kersh. “So if you feel these emotions creeping up when you sit down to write, stop, take a deep breath, and be nice to yourself.”
Instead, focus on the positive. Congratulate yourself on getting started again. Pat yourself on the back for each small step you take forward. Positive emotions are catching too, so if you direct your thinking toward the good stuff, more will follow until you’re well on your way again.
4. Be willing to write crap.
This is good advice to follow anytime, but it can be particularly helpful when you’re trying to get back into the game. You’re out of practice, so writing is probably going to feel awkward at first. The words aren’t going to flow as well. You may have long periods of stalling between short periods of typing.
Write badly. Write badly some more. It’s the same type of thing that happens when you haven’t exercised for a while. Your muscles are out of shape. You’ll feel tired within minutes. You’ll probably experience more soreness than usual until you regain your fitness level.
The same thing happens with writing. You have to get back into shape, which means you’ll probably have to go through some creative pain along the way. Remember—it will get better the more you do it. Hang in there!
5. Use music to motivate yourself.
Music has an amazing power to alter our moods. In a 2011 study, researchers found that mood is manipulated by music so much so that it can alter the way we perceive the world when we’re listening to it.
“I have a playlist called ‘Inspiration,’” writes author Kristina Adams. “It’s full of songs that have inspired huge amounts of my writing, whether it’s a plot or subplot, some poetry (usually several poems), or a character’s personality… It’s not about how much I love the song, it’s about the emotions that song evokes.”
Put music to use when it’s time to write. Either use your favorite music to pump yourself up, or choose a tune that fits the scene you’re about to create. You may be surprised at how much difference it can make!
6. Start with something easy.
If all else fails and you’re still not writing, try starting something brand new. Make it easy. Maybe it’s more like a journal entry than a story. Try your hand at a children’s story if that seems fun, or maybe a poem or blog post. Start a new short story or novel—whatever appeals to you and stirs that excitement in your belly. That’s what you’re going for.
While you’re writing, keep the pressure off by reminding yourself this is only for practice. You’re just getting back into it. What you’re writing need never be published, so it doesn’t matter how good or bad it is.
It can also help to severely lower your word count expectations. Tell yourself you need to write only 100 words per day to get started, for example. That can help remove any resistance you may feel toward the blank page.
How do you get started writing after a break?