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 critique—sometimes private, sometimes all-to public—and 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 write—a feeling truly foreign to me—I 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.
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 over—had 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 terrifying—it 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?