Tips for getting back to writing when you haven't in a while?

Q&A With Shay Each Sunday

For this week’s Q&A I’ll provide some more writing guidance—on a topic that is extremely relevant to us writers, especially when it isn’t possible to write every single day forever.

Q: Do you have tips for getting back to writing when you haven’t in a while?

A: The most important is probably not to take it too seriously. Don’t set outrageous goals right away because it’ll deter you and put unnecessary pressure when the current objective is simply to write—to get back to it.

I think treating getting back into writing the same way you’d treat a first draft of any piece of writing is a good exercise. If you take it too seriously then you’ll drive yourself crazy and want to stop writing again, because you’re expecting too much. You have to go in with the realization that there will need to be a lot of editing later on. Not all writing days are good days, and when we’re first starting on a project or getting back into it after a break, we have to have low standards. I know, that is NOT easy, and usually we’re told the opposite in most other walks of life. Especially for us perfectionists. Jodi Picoult said, “You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.” And, many other authors have said this in one way or another, “The hardest part is getting started.” It doesn’t make the task of actually starting feel any less daunting, but if we can keep these ideas in mind, we’ll be on our way.

After not taking the initial start too seriously, I’d say consistency is key. It’s already so difficult to get back into it, so make sure you set aside that writing time so you don’t have to keep starting over—or again—feeling that dread. I have definitely learned this over the last year or two. I started my book FRACTURED five years ago, and I took SO many breaks from it, that it felt like every time I started on it again it was a terrible task that I should have already been finished with. Sometimes I still get angry that I keep feeling the need to edit more and more when it could have been done so long ago, but this is the route I have taken for now. I, like many other writers, will be practicing more consistency in the future. It’s a time-saver, and it keeps the pressure off from working on one thing for years and years and re-starting every few months when putting it aside for too long. I do believe that it’s true that putting a project aside for a little while before coming back to it can be a good thing, and provide more insight. But, I’m starting to think that it shouldn’t be done so frequently that you’re afraid to actually finish. This is a very real thing, for me anyway—fear of completion.

Lastly, even though you shouldn’t take it too seriously and you should be consistent with your writing time, I’d say it’s pretty important to at least have an idea about what it is that you want to write. I’m definitely not an outliner, by any means, but I always know the general story I want to tell when I get started. This is important whether it’s only the character you know, or only the plot, or the setting, etc. Have one element that you know well and build upon it. So, if you already have your idea, jump in with the plan of continuing for a long period of time, and know that it’ll have to be fixed later. It might not come out exactly as you had envisioned it in your head. Actually, it DEFINITELY won’t, but that’s okay. And if you can’t come up with an idea, then browse some writing prompts. This is another good way to get started after a long break. It helps in taking the writing less seriously too, because you’re kind of just throwing something out there and seeing where it goes. You’re sticking with the objective to simply get writing. It won’t be an idea you’ve drowned yourself in for ages before getting to it. And, just maybe, it will become your best story yet. That’s the thing about writing stories, they takes us writers where they want to, and we hardly have a say.

Also, if you are an outliner, and you work well that way, DO IT! I can only imagine the time I would have saved with edits if I were capable of writing an outline without having to see the scenes written—and then disposed of—first. Maybe I’ll learn one day—but in the meantime, consistency is my friend.

What tips would you add? Do you have any tricks for getting back into the writing groove after a break?