Restarting Your Writing
All of us, for one reason or another, stop writing for a time.
Sometimes it is health reasons, sometimes it is family reasons, or sometimes it is because we just forget, which happens right about now for a vast number of writers.
For me, I stopped about thirty days ago to focus on opening a new collectables store, comic book store, and book store combined. Great fun. And even though I thought about writing along the way since I was teaching and still around numbers of writers who were writing, I really flat didn’t want to write.
And I didn’t force myself.
And I had no illusion that getting restarted would be easy. Far from it, actually. I knew how hard it would be. And I was only off for about thirty days. And I had kept my mind on the writing, even though I wasn’t producing new words.
At least that focus on the writing because of the workshops made this restart easier than it would have been.
The Major Problems of Taking Time Off
Here are just a few of the major problems that come about when we take time away from our passion of writing fiction.
1… Our minds keep making stuff up.
However, what it makes up now is how important the writing is, how we want to get back to it, how stories are major and important, and so on.
The key word here is “important.” When our writing or a novel or story starts becoming important, it’s like slamming open the door to the critical voice we all fight. The critical voice won’t let “important” writing get finished because it’s too hard to do and besides, you would never get it right anyhow. So don’t start.
Without actually typing out stories, our minds make up how important the stories we aren’t writing will be when we get back to them.
2… We lose the time habits.
Writing consistently is something we all carve out of our days to do in one form or another. And when writing consistently, that seems normal and easy. It is a daily habit you give so much time to.
When you take time away from the writing, the world fills in that empty time like water flowing from a full area to an empty area. And it fills up very, very quickly.
There were many days over the last month I would drag myself to bed wondering how I ever found the time to write. I actually had that thought. Not kidding.
Carving out time to write is like setting up dams around yourself to the time pressures of the real world. Those dams are holding and maintained as long as we write, but the moment we stop for any length of time, the outside demands of time flood in and the writing time seems to just vanish under the waves of the real world.
3… We think we forget how to write.
Yeah, as silly as that sounds, when you lose the time, and you lose the habit, and you make your writing “important” while not doing it, what happens is the mind starts believing we have forgotten how to write.
I have seen this happen to more writers than I want to admit, and sadly, it happens to me every time I stop for a long period of time, longer than what I just did. When my friend Bill died and I stopped writing for about eight months to deal with all of that, I really, really believed I had forgotten how to write.
Again, we are fiction writers. Our jobs are to make shit up and when we don’t have the creative outlet of putting that made-up stuff into stories, we direct it at other things. And one place that made-up stuff gets directed is into fear that we won’t be able to remember how to write ever again.
4… We become afraid.
Fear makes us stay away longer than we actually need to. And the fear is based on numbers of things. Thinking we can’t write any more, thinking we can’t control or find the time anymore, and so on, all critical voice working to stop us.
But the largest fear is an amazing fear I have felt numbers of time over the years. It is the fear that because we stopped, we have “ruined our career.”
And in this modern world of regular production needed to maintain income streams at higher levels, stopping can really impact the money. It doesn’t ruin a career, but it can sure make it feel like it has.
Fear has many, many heads. And wow do they poke up like a bad game of Whack-a-Mole when trying to restart your writing.
5… Why Bother syndrome hits.
I see this the most often with those coming back from the time of great forgetting. It’s August, new patterns in time have set in, the writing feels impossible and important. So the response is like this: Why should I bother now? I got too many things to do. I’ll just wait and restart with the November writing challenge.
So the writer is off for two or three more months, with all the problems building and building with each week that goes by.
That “why bother” thinking can really delay the restarting. It is a great critical voice ploy to keep you from starting again.
And it also comes up when sales are still low early on in careers. You are off for a few months, then look at your sales numbers when you come back and think, “Why should I go through the pain and effort to restart? Why should I bother? No one is buying my work anyway.”
Deadly, just deadly.
But when you are writing regularly and having fun, those thoughts seldom hit hard, if at all.
What Can You Do?
The five things above are just general categories that lots and lots of problems with stopping and then restarting fall into.
So what can we do when we decide or are forced to stop for a time?
Some simple suggestions:
1… Stay partially focused on the writing, even though you are not actually producing new words. Workshops, conferences, writers books, or writer’s blogs. All will help if you do them regularly.
2… Look forward to the fun and play of writing again. Notice I said fun and play, not the “important” aspects of doing your “art.” You have to watch out for making the writing important, but instead make sure it stays play and fun in your mind.
This is critically important when it is a nasty life event that has caused the stoppage. Don’t drag the writing into the life event. Let it be the escape place, the fun place when the life event eases.
Also, if you keep the focus of play and fun with the writing, you won’t think you have forgotten. No one forgets how to play.
3… Don’t watch your numbers fall. If you stop writing, stop looking at numbers at the same time. Watching numbers any more than once every three months is a fool’s game anyway, but if you are a number watcher, make sure the watching the numbers is shut off when the writing shuts off.
Then use the lower numbers when you come back as a positive incentive to write. This is all a game inside your head. Play it.
4… Plan ahead for your restart. Clear the time decks, make sure your family knows you are restarting. Plan the restart days and days ahead, and make sure it will be fun. Don’t make it important, make it something you want to do.
We all wanted to go out and play as kids. The “important” stuff was no fun. So make your writing play and look forward to it.
Things You Can Do On the Actual Restart Day
There are ways to really mess with your mind when trying to restart. One of which is thinking foolishly that you are going to dive right back into the middle of book four of that huge series you are writing.
Memory sucks after time away, and that makes the writing too important.
So on the day of restarting, do the following:
1… Pick something to write that is fun and that takes little or no preparation time.
For example, tonight I dove back into a novel I was working on. It took me all of forty minutes to read through what I had done quickly, getting the characters and structure back in my head and check my notes.
Easy. And quick.
2… Just write the next sentence.
After looking over the early part off the book quickly, I took a quick break, sat down and said simply, “What’s the next sentence?”
And I wrote it.
And after asking that question a few more times, off I went.
The key to this is not try to keep the entire book or story in your head. Just writing the next sentence takes away all the fear of not being able to handle something so big.
3… Remember your old writing schedule and time and imitate it.
I normally, on good writing nights, liked to do a session before going to watch some television, then come back and write until I got too tired. So on the first night of restart, I just imitated the old pattern.
Took almost nothing for my body and mind memory to drop into the routine again.
4… Make sure your environment isn’t new if possible.
Some people think that starting in a new place or on a new computer will help with a restart. It won’t.
Go back to old writing habits when the writing was fun and moving quickly. The mind and creative voice will remember that. You can change to some place new or a new computer when you are up to speed.
5… Keep all negative thoughts out of the writing time.
Nothing critical about your writing. Really watch your thinking. The writing will feel clunky and not good. Of course it will. Duh. You haven’t been doing it for a while, remember?
Go ahead, sit without moving for five or six hours and see how walking feels when you stand up. Writing is no different, so keep the negative thoughts out, just laugh and have fun and the feeling of unease and clunky typing will quickly be forgotten.
I sure hope these suggestions will help some of you get restarted with your writing. I only intended to cover the basics. I got a hunch there is an entire book here of how writers slow themselves down in restarting.
And I imagine I will reprint this column in late July as writers come back from the time of great forgetting and are wondering what happened and how to restart.
The key to all of this is keep having fun. Make the writing fun and a focus. Even though I never produced new words for the last thirty days until tonight, writing was still there for me every day.
And that made tonight fairly painless and a lot of fun. I don’t think I even whined to Kris once about this restart. I was actually not dreading it, but looking forward to it.