How to get back into a writing routine after a long break

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After a long break, it can be hard to get back into a regular routine, whether it’s the routine of work or study, the routine of fitness, or the routine of regular writing. Here are 10 tips that might help. (And I’m keen to hear your tips too!)

As I write this the calendar has clicked over to April and it’s been five months since I wrote a blog post. That’s too long between drinks, as they say.

It’s disappointing because at the end of November I won #NaNoWriMo (yay!!) and I was making solid progress on my novel. I was writing on a daily basis and I had sailed past the hurdle that ended my previous novel-writing attempts (enthusiasm petering out at around 10,000 words). I had made it all the way to 50,000 words and had the bones of a good first draft underway.

Then December hit and things got busy at work, then things got busy at home as I spent a lot of time preparing my house for the visitors, as well as the usual Christmas shopping – food and gifts – and I took a forced break from the writing.

Then Christmas passed and then New Year passed, school started, and now it’s April. It’s time to get back to the project.

I’m not the first person to face this challenge, so I have done some research to find out how others have overcome similar challenges. Here are 10 tips and also, a bit more about the one that worked for me.

  1. Bite-sized: Start with something small

It could be the size of the project is holding you back a little. If you have a long project penned in your computer (as I do at 50,000 words) and there are substantial edits and re-writes required, the scope of the work left to be done could be daunting.

So perhaps start with something much smaller. A blog post (yes, that’s what motivated this very blog post you’re reading now!), or even a short story, no longer than an A4 page, could be the thing to shake things loose a little. People like us, writers, love to write but even the most devoted writer can find it challenging to get back into a big project. So perhaps try something a little smaller and something that will exercise different writing muscles. Try to write a descriptive scene where two characters communicate without saying a word. Or a poem about post-apocalyptic civilisation on the moon. Or a fan fiction – put your favourite character in a new environment, even a new era, and see what happens.

2. Inspo-drought: Go back and find your inspiration

What was it that inspired you to become a writer? For many of us it’s a beloved book (To Kill a Mockingbird, Wuthering Heights, Gone With The Wind) that compels us to write. Go back and read a few pages, or chapters of your favourite book, the one with the amazing descriptions and incredible characters. Wait for that inspiration to kick in, as it always does, and that motivation to write returns. Then seize the moment and get writing!

3. Hear here: Listen to a podcast:

There are some great podcasts for aspiring writers. I listen on the way to and from work every day and I confess, there are some days when it’s all I can do to not stop the car in peak hour traffic and pull out my laptop so I can start crafting long passages of well-chosen words. I love writing, the process of transferring an image from my mind onto the page using my skills and my imagination for someone else to read. When you hear people who are passionate about writing talking about it, well, that can be inspirational too.

I highly recommend So You Want To Be A Writer, hosted by Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait and ProBlogger’s podcast Become a ProBlogger with Darren Rowse. Both are excellent tools for writers and bloggers.

4. Passion buddy: Tap into someone else’s genius

Stephen King’s On Writing is a brilliant book about his road to successful published author and his thoughts on the craft of popular creative writing. It lives permanently on my bedside table and from time to time I dip into it for some inspiration. It’s well written and accessible, much like his fiction writing. It’s like having a masterclass at your fingertips from one of the best in the business.

Reading his book about the craft helps me get enthusiastic about honing my own skills, and it also helps me picture myself as a successful writer. This leaves me itching to get out my laptop and start putting together some words, sentences and paragraphs, striving to write better than ever before. It unleashes my creativity.

If Stephen King is not to your taste, there are many others. I highly recommend keeping a craft book to hand and regularly reading passages from it for your own edification and motivation.

5. Tick Tock: Set a deadline

Writers generally respond to the thrill of a deadline. We need the yoke of a date hanging around our neck to force us to put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboards as it were. Self-created deadlines aren’t as effective as the deadline from an editor who will only pay your invoice when the words are delivered on time.

However, necessity is the mother of invention. Set a deadline. Mark the date on a calendar, visible in the living room or the kitchen, somewhere that you will see it every day. And then count down until the day arrives.

6. Own it: Be accountable 

Make a bold declaration on social media or find a writing buddy to be accountable to. Announce your intention to return to writing and set a goal – will you write 500 words on your first day back? 1000? Whatever it is, aim for something achievable. However you choose to share your goal, make sure it’s with someone who will follow up on your intentions, questioning and challenging and poking and prodding.

If it helps, tell me (Instagram and Facebook are my platforms of choice) what your deadline is – I won’t let your deadline pass without holding you to account!

7. Time and space: Get a new writing spot

Pick a new cafe or a new library to tap out some words. I like to sit outside on the back deck in the early morning, when my mind is fresh and the ideas are flowing along with the fresh coffee from my pod machine. It helps me change my perspective a little and get a fresh mindset happening. If that doesn’t work, I go to our local library which has just reopened after a 12-month renovation. It’s an amazing space now and when you surround yourself with people who love words it helps you focus on creating beautifully structured sentences.

8. Challenge yourself: Try a new tack

Social media is a wonderful tool. Did you know you can do the #500in30 challenge? Go to Twitter and search #500in30. You’ll see all the amazing writers who use this tool to motivate themselves to bash out 500 words in just 30 minutes. It’s fun and a new way to look at your writing. Again, it uses the “bite-size pieces” strategy – don’t aim for thousands of words a day, aim for 500. You can do it in just 30 minutes. You don’t need a whole day or even a whole hour. Just. Make. A. Start.

9. Back to Basics: Re-read your outline

Remember when you started your writing project? Think back for a moment – what was that kernel that inspired you to put fingers to keyboard and start typing? Was it a character who was stuck in your head? Was it a situation that intrigued you? Was it something that you couldn’t quite put your finger on but you knew there was something there?

Go back to that. Re-read your outline. If you don’t have an outline, go back to your first chapter and re-visit the feelings and the concepts that compelled you to write. Re-capture that moment.

Now write!

10. Find a tribe: Immerse yourself in a class or a festival

These days there’s no excuses for not finding your tribe. A tribe keeps you on track, headed in the write direction, providing guidance, support as well as protection from the threats that can pick off lonely writers who stray from the camp.

There are many, many online tools and resources for writers, no matter how isolated your living situation. Whether you live in a capital city (I’m in Brisbane, by the way) or on a rural property in outback Australia, there is a writing group and a community just waiting for you to wander into.

For online classes visit Australian Writers Centre, or the state-based organisation of a similar name, such as the Queensland Writers Centre, the NSW Writers Centre or Writers Victoria. There’s also my personal favourite, the James Patterson Masterclass.

For a writing tribe try searching for one of the gazillion Facebook groups that exist (I’m part of several, including Creative Writing Group, NaNoWriMo Brisbane, James Patterson’s Masterclass, The Pink Fibro Club, ProBlogger Podcast Listeners and Short Story Group), or try Scribophile (it’s free to join but there is a paid option too).

And don’t forget the offline, real-world options too. Here is an amazing list of writers’ festivals and events in Australia.

Conclusion:

For me, the strategy that worked was the “No more bullshit excuses” strategy. I’ve got a lunch today with an old friend and I’m baking dessert. So I should be at the shops right now buying ingredients and getting ready for that lunch. Instead, I’m writing this blog post and I’m not going to stop until it’s published.

At some point I had to prioritise writing. Either I’m a blogger and a writer, or I’m not. So I’m sacrificing something else, instead of sacrificing the writing, which I’ve been doing for six months.

We’re all extremely busy, we’re all up to our eyeballs in stuff that *must* get done. But if we don’t prioritise our writing we will no longer be writers, we will become wannabe writers. And I don’t want to be a wannabe writer, I want to be a writer.

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