5 Tips for How to Return to Writing After a Long Break

From Helping Writers Become Authors:

Making a return to writing after a long time away can feel overwhelming or even bewildering. Depending on the reasons for your break, you may be confronting a wide array of emotions—everything from anticipation and excitement to trepidation and confusion. If you find yourself worried or uncertain about how to proceed, the first step is simply to acknowledge those feelings.

As you may know, I recently returned to fiction writing after a lengthy break. My break was precipitated by the stress of difficult life circumstances, combined with writer’s block from a complicated story. The first few years of my break were filled with lots of fighting with myself about the fact that I should be writing; the last few years were spent in what I called a “conscious sabbatical.” Needless to say, rediscovering the desire to write was a long and arduous journey, full of unforgettable vistas and plenty of plot twists.

By the time I knew I wanted to write again and knew I what I wanted to write, I had lived through four years and two moves. I wasn’t the same person as when I last set down the pen. So much difficulty and pain had surrounded my writing during those years that even though I now wanted to write and was ready to write, I knew I would have to carefully reintroduce myself to the process. I would have to be willing to not just remember how I used to do things, but also to discover and invent brand-new approaches.

I share this post today not just because it is pertinent to where I am in my own writing journey, but because I received a request from Annette Taylor on the same subject:

My question is, how to start writing again after time away? I took care of my mom and was too exhausted to write. Now I work and still have no time but an hour or two on Saturday. Where do I start? I forgot half the knowledge I learned when I first started. I am writing but something is missing. Should I give up?

For starters, I will say that only an individual can determine what is right for his or her circumstances. But if you decide the time isn’t right (or may never be right) to return to your writing, this isn’t giving up. Rather, I would say you are choosing to embrace change. You are choosing to be present with who you are now and to nurture that person—until it is time for the next change.

However, the resistance and confusion you feel could also just be the result of returning to a place you have not visited in a very long time. Couple that with the weight of all the reasons you needed to take a break, as well as the pressure of regathering all your ideas, skills, knowledge, and discipline—and… it’s a lot. When you’re first dipping your toe back in the water, it’s important to take it easy and to make sure you’re avoiding any piranhas.

1. Start Slow and Easy

As I geared up to return to a regular writing practice, I knew I needed to be both gentle and strategic with myself. I needed to make plans and create systems that would set me up for success. When we think about “writing,” most of our focus often goes to the finer points of theory and technique—to getting the story “right.” But the process of writing deserves just as much of our attention. If we haven’t set up a process that encourages our own individual creative flow, we can sabotage ourselves before we even get to technique. For me, I knew I needed to at least temporarily dial back my own natural intensity by starting slow and easy.

Partly, this meant choosing a story that felt “easy” to write—one I was excited about but also one that was not too complex or outside my comfort zone. One of the final turning points out of my writer’s block was my decision to write an idea I had for a fantasy story that was more in the style of a “fairy tale.” Really, this was just personal semantics, but it helped me zero in on a less complex version of the story’s plot, geography, and magic system. This was particularly important for me, since I’d burned myself out on all of these things in the story I’d been working on previously.

More than that, I didn’t want to throw myself into a difficult writing schedule right off the bat. An anecdote: years ago, I used to skip rope for ten minutes every morning. When I first started, I felt like there was no way I could keep going for that long. So I didn’t even try. Instead, I started the first day by skipping for just one minute, which was totally within my power. Every day, I added just one minute. By Day 10, I was skipping for ten minutes with little to no mental resistance. Ever since then whenever I’m feeling resistance to the time or effort involved in a new undertaking, I always try to apply some variation of this approach.

In the old days, I disciplined myself to write two hours a day, five days a week. When I was first getting back into my writing, that just felt like too much. I decided I would write for an hour, since I knew from experience I generally need at least that long to really get into my writing and feel I’ve made progress. But an hour isn’t so long that I feel resistance or the urge to procrastinate whenever I sit down. From there, I knew I could build up to lengthier spans of time with much less resistance.

Your Takeaway: Each person’s “easy” amount of time to start off with will vary. For some, an hour may seem way too challenging or even unavailable. If so, start with half an hour or ten minutes. Start with one minute! If you add a minute every day, as I did with my rope skipping, you can up your time relatively quickly with little resistance.

Link to the rest at Helping Writers to Become Authors

PG speculates that many people who are their own bosses, as all writers who don’t receive a paycheck every couple of weeks are, may be of particular risk for burning themselves out.

Lawyers are certainly at risk of burnout if their earnings are based upon how much work they do and how good that work is. Ditto for many physicians.

PG doesn’t know if dentists are a burnout-endangered group or not. All of PG’s dentists have seemed pretty mellow, which may be a side-benefit of talking to patients who can’t disagree when their mouths are populated by various dental tools.

From PG’s vantage point extending over thousands of years, some people can work all the time, at least for awhile, but eventually, they either become impossible to be around because they have spent their lives focused on a single thing or they have some sort of collapse.