Monday, March 9, 2015

How to Get Back to Writing After A Break

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

A writer emailed me to share that she had to take a long break from writing. This was his senior year of school, and with extra classes, a job, and all the other stresses and responsibilities of being a high school senior, writing has fallen by the wayside. She closed her email by asking, "How do I get back to writing? Or can I?"

With spring break and summer vacation approaching, this seemed like a very timely topic. Maybe your story is similar to the one above. You've spent your winter and spring months writing nothing but essays or filling out scholarship applications. Maybe whatever combination of school/sports/friends/theater you have has squeezed out your writing time.

Maybe even your writing desire.




I've been there. The first week of February, I took a week off work while we got my four-year-old son transitioned to a medical diet. When I packed my bag for our hospital stay, I included my laptop, story notes, and some research books. We were going to be there for most of the week, and when I wanted a break, I figured I could sneak down to the cafeteria for an hour and work on edits.

I was excited about this plan. Until we were at the hospital, right in the thick of it all.

I never touched my laptop or notes during our stay. I had no desire to, and that shocked me. How could i have no desire at all to work on a book that I love, that I've invested so much in? But I was in such a challenging place in my personal life that the idea of ever going back to work seemed daunting. I think if my agent had called me right then and told me, "You know what? I think it's time we call it quits," I would have been like, "Okay, cool. Thanks for all your help these last few years," and hung up with no regrets.

I can think of a few other times in my life that writing has felt hard. Once in the spring of 2009, I got really sick and basically just laid on the couch and read the Twilight saga for an entire week. When I finally got to my computer, my story felt foreign to me, and I'd been so absorbed in another storyworld that I had no idea how to get back to my own.

Other times I've received a harsh critiquesometimes private, sometimes all-to publicand words wouldn't come.

So what do you do when you want to get back to writing, but it feels so hard that you wonder if it's even possible? Here's what has worked for me:

Talk to somebody about it.

At the hospital when I realized I had no desire to writea feeling truly foreign to meI told my husband about it. He said things that I kind of already knew, like that it was a tough week, it was normal when so emotionally drained to not feel particularly creative, and that this was going to pass. Hearing him say all this made it feel more true than it had when I was just saying it to myself.

Make sure whoever you talk to is someone who supports your writing. They don't necessarily need to be a writer, but you want it to be someone who has your back.

Ease your way back in with non-writing writing activities.

Even after we were home from the hospital, there was a very long list of things that needed to be done. Lots to buy. Lots to prepare. Lots to stress about. I didn't even feel tempted to sneak away to my computer and write, but I knew Connor would be going back to school the next week. That I needed to figure out how to be a mom with a kid on a medical diet and a writer. 

So even though I didn't particularly feel like it, I started listening to Writing Excuses podcasts as I folded laundry or weighed out meals. Being around writerly conversation again helped to get my creative muscles in motion.

You could also go for coffee with some writer friends, re-read a favorite craft book, or design a cover for the book you're writing. Just something to get you back in the mindset of writing.

Give yourself a small assignment.

When I'm in a writing season, I like to write 1,500 to 2,000 words a day, but if you're coming back from a break, trying to write 1,000 words or attempting to spend three hours editing is setting yourself up for failure.

Make that first assignment small. You could simply reread your manuscript and the notes you had before your break. Maybe set a time limit. You're going to do your best and focus for an hour, and after that you get to go do something else, guilt-free.

Try to pick a time when you'll have several days in a row that you could write so you can build some momentum.

Give yourself a bigger assignment.

Try to write again the next day and this time give yourself a bigger assignment. Maybe half of what your old goal used to be? Or if you're starting to feel your old energy again, go for something that would have made you feel proud even before your break. 

Take heart that you're not alone in the struggle.

As I eased back into my routine, I was reminded of a story Stephen King told in On Writing. In June of 1999, King was out for one of his normal walks when a van hit him. King was in terrible shape after his accident. One of his lungs collapsed, his leg was broken in nine places, his right hip was fractured, his spine was chipped in eight places, four ribs were broken, and he had to have thirty stitches on his scalp.

After numerous surgeries and lots of physical therapy, it was five or six weeks before King decided he needed to go back to work. "I didn't want to go back to work," he says. "Yet at the same time I felt I'd reached one of those crossroads moments when you're all out of choices. And I had been in terrible situations before which the writing had helped me get overhad helped me forget myself for at least a little while."

He goes on to talk about how his wife helped him rig up a desk where he could be comfortable enough to work. He then says this about his time at the desk that day. "That first writing session lasted an hour and forty minutes, by far the longest period  I'd spent sitting upright since being struck by Smith's van ... And the first five hundred words were uniquely terrifyingit was as if I'd never written anything before them in my life. All my old tricks seemed to have deserted me ... There was no inspiration that first afternoon, only a kind of stubborn determination and the hope that things would get better if I kept at it."

Those words were dear to me as I fought my way back to work in early February. Stephen King loves writing. He's always loved writing. Like me and like you, he feels most like himself when he's writing, even on the days when it isn't going great. And yet even he had to talk himself back into work. Even he had to rely on "stubborn determination" after a long, difficult break.

I've often thought that the old exercising adage of "a body in motion stays in motion" applies to writing as well. That creativity abounds when we're using it consistently. But at times, setting our creativity into motion is real work. 

Have you ever had to take a long break from writing? What helped you get back to it?




37 comments:

  1. I had to take a break from writing this past week for college visiting. Now that I'm back, I'm not feeling any desire to write. But I'm going to get back into the zone by editing five pages today. :) Thank you, Mrs. Morrill!

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  2. I took a writing break last week everything just bombarded me at once but I've slowly gotten back into my normal writing routine :) Great Tips!

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  3. I have taken writing breaks and when that break is over, I actually don't want to write anymore. Then I remember about Go Teen Writers and I get all pumped up and so happy about writing that I immediately start writing again. Thank you Mrs. Morrill for such a great post today!

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  4. This was perfectly timed, Ms. Morrill. Thank you so much for the post.

    I haven't really written anything since November, when I finished my NaNoWriMo novel. At first, I enjoyed the break. It was nice to just do whatever and not think about characters or scenes or what on earth to do with that gaping plot hole. But recently, not writing has been seriously getting on my nerves. I'm listless, grumpy, and stressed, and my entire family is completely done with me, LOL. (This is how they know I'm a writer--I'm impossible to live with when I'm stuck on a writing problem.)

    So now I'm trying to get back into writing (literally right now--I'm working on the second tip by reading through all the posts I've missed recently on here), and I think I've got an idea that I want to write. Just reading this post helped tremendously. :) Thank you again! *runs off to write*

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  5. I took a writing break last winter and spring for school/life. I regret it now, because I first started writing to help me when I was stressed out or needed a change. Getting back over the summer was hard. I tried to start things and I would stop myself at less than fifty words to do something else not even half as satisfying. Once I worked up to the mindset of my old 100 words of writing every single day things got easier. All I needed was routine to get back into it. Now I've finished a first draft and am plowing right into another story. The break taught me things and I'm grateful for it now. Don't stop moving forward!
    I hope Connor is still doing alright on his diet, and that things are working out for your family.

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    1. I'm glad you figured out what you needed, Kelsey.

      And thank you. We're doing well. It'll always be an intense diet, but we're learning how to make it work for us and Connor is feeling better.

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  6. Writing can be tough but luckily there is a boatload of information on the internet about battling the desire to quit if you haven't wrote in a while. This is a great post, thanks for the help!

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  8. I have had periods of time where I have stopped writing. Those have all been due to writers block. That horrid thing. I have also found that NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo does wonders! Setting goals is an awesome way to get back into writing!

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  9. I stopped writing some fan fictions of mine for about a month (I just couldn't do anything with them) but when I came back to them I didn't need to do anything to prepare myself, I just jumped right into the cold swimming pool and writing it was like playing music. :-)

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  10. When I really don't want to write, my book feels burnt, no way to make it set back on fire, get it rolling again, I usually go to my notebook and look through it. This isn't my writing notebook, it's a progress thing. As the story progresses I answer questions about it, and write down stuff and as my novel progresses, so do the notes. I look back at the notebook, at my original plot line and characters and fall back into my groove, fall back in love with it and keep going. Or if that doesn't work, (looking back at old notes) I read a few older chapters, reread over my original story plot line and I remember some stuff I can work on, remember "Oh yeah! I was gonna add that!" It usually works....

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  11. *sobs and hugs this post and Mrs. Morrill* YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES! This is exactly how it's been for me the past...I don't know how long. I finally figured out how to describe the feeling. It's like I get in a mood where I miss writing and I want to write, but then as soon as I sit down to actually do it it's like any and all motivation flew out the window. And then I decided the feeling was probably not actually wanting to write, but me wanting to want to write. And it's terrible.

    So, this post was perfect for me today. Thank you. I'm still working out how best to get back into writing--in fact, I just finished trying to write some today, working on a short story. But it still feels miserable. I don't know what to do. Start a new story? I have two unfinished novels. Edit one of my finished first drafts? That definitely wasn't doing it.

    Alas, I've already tried reading some of my favorite "craft books," and while that did make me want to write, I still didn't know what. So I'm still working on it. I may just continue trying to push through this, but part of me wonders if maybe this is where I transition out of writing fiction as much and forcing it won't help. So I don't know. We'll see.

    But, thank you so so so much for the post.

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    1. There are lots of different seasons for writers, Amanda. Be kind to yourself! I've also had times like that, where the ideas I had weren't quite "it." There's nothing wrong with that. For me, it was always just a (stressful) phase.

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  12. It really can be tough to come back to writing after taking a long break. I'm usually refreshed after writing breaks so I enjoy them, but I do always have a nagging thought that it will be difficult to come back from the break and continue writing. I agree that easing your way out of a break and generally being forgiving of yourself is the best way to get back into writing. There are busy periods in life and, as hard as it is, we shouldn't beat ourselves up over not getting everything done during a busy period. Another thing that also works for me is reading writing craft books. They help inspire and motivate me.

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  13. This post has perfect timing, as I just took a break from writing to read the Harry Potter books for the first time. I definitely didn't feel capable of jumping back into my contemporary where the biggest problems are things like, "Does he like me or not?" after spending days reading about characters whose problems were A LOT bigger.

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  14. Oh, thank you so much for this post! I've been in a...not exactly writing phase....since, like November. Erf. I just haven't found an idea that works. Hopefully I'll pull through with the one I'm planning. Or the one after that or the one after that. *sighs* But in my time off, I've had "life stuff", to say the least, and maybe the lesson I'm supposed to learn from this dearth of wordcount is that my writing stems from who I am instead of the other way around. Obviously I'd really like to be a writer (yet I don't feel like writing...), but not just for the purpose of Being A Writer. I want to write because I believe I have stories to tell, even I have to work to dig out what they are.

    Thanks again for this post. I'm feeling much more optimistic about the whole situation. Praying that things go well with Connor.

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    1. Really interesting perspective, Miri. Thanks for sharing that!

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  15. Writing breaks are hard times for me. After writing everyday, taking break makes me lazy and just want my break to go on and on forever. I really enjoy writing, but for some reason I forget that when I'm not writing. WHY?!

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    1. It's mysterious, isn't it? I've experienced the same thing.

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  16. Hi! Bekah here...
    Does it ever feel like you're *always* on a break? I have been actually writing for about a year and a half, but it still feels come and go. One day I write a thousand words, and then I go for several weeks without writing more, and I can't make myself sit down and write. Any suggestions?

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    1. I've gone through seasons of life like that, for sure. Especially when I was in school or working full time. Something you could try is giving yourself a small assignment. We do a challenge on the blog sometimes called a "100 for 100 challenge." Our goal is to write 100 words everyday for 100 days. 100 words is basically a paragraph. It'll take 10 minutes. But the discipline and the momentum are really valuable, and the progress adds up. You could try something like that.

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  17. As a junior in high school, I needed this post!! My solution to it is mainly to refuse to compromise. Last night I was exhausted and wanted only to go to bed. But even though it was late and I had school the next day, I made myself sit down and write for a while. I will probably never decipher whatever awful handwriting I used, but I have to make myself write every day or I start losing my ability, and I'm proud of those few extra minutes.

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    1. I'm so proud of you, Allison! That's a tough choice to make but momentum can make a big difference. Good for you!

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  18. It helps me to brainstorm without writing (sitting at the computer) at all. I carry around a notebook and think about the idea. By the time I've worked out my characters and plot, I'm usually excited to get started.

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  19. I just got back to writing YESTERDAY after not writing in my WIP for about six weeks, and only doing a couple freewrites when they took my fancy. It felt so good when I got out over 1k before I went to bed XD So thank you for this post, Miss Stephanie! And I already did//will do//unconsciously did just about all of these XD I must have done it right.

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  20. I'm currently in the midst of a writing break as I'm with a CP and I'm also taking a week to focus on blogging. Right now it's almost as though I can't even remember what it is to want to write, and I'm also okay with that. My pleasures come and go in cycles and right now I'm uniquely focused on something else. And that's okay. I'll start writing again soon, hopefully with the help of these tips! :)

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  21. Well, my writing break has lasted an incredible 20 years! I was a Fiction Editor, and latterly a freelance fiction writer, for teenage magazines in the UK. The mags all began to move away from fiction, publishing more 'true experiences'. They weren't, and I loathed writing them, so I thought I'd have a break and retrained. No idea if I can get back into writing, but I'm going to try! Thanks for the encouragement. Xx

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