As a writer, you’ve probably heard a lot of people say that you should write every day. This is more or less true; even if it’s not for a long time or if you barely write anything, the practice of making time to sit down and write is critical to make writing part of your natural daily routine (because let’s face it, as much as we love it, it is work, and we don’t always feel up to it).
However, there’s going to be a point when you have to take some time away from writing. You’re going to sit down for the nth time, stare at a screen for 20 minutes, and realize that you’ve got nothing, and returning to your computer time after time isn’t going to change that. So take a break. It’s healthy. It’s necessary.
However, there’s also going to be a point where your break doesn’t seem to end. You keep telling yourself you’ll start writing again tomorrow. You keep convincing yourself you still have nothing to write about. You scare yourself into thinking you don’t have what it takes to write well.
Getting back into writing can be tricky. It’s a lot like getting back into a regular exercise routine. You want to do it, but you don’t want to start small and build yourself back up to where you were before you stopped exercising. After all, you were pretty boss on the elliptical’s highest setting. To start on the lowest one again can be demoralizing, especially when you want to get back to where you were.
Unfortunately, if you’ve been away from writing for a while you might have to ease yourself back into it. Unless you’ve been struck with inspiration to write about something in particular, you could be as lost as when you stopped. That’s fine. We all get lost sometimes. The important thing is you want to at least get back into the habit of writing. To start things off, you can try some writing exercises. They might seem a little beneath you, especially if you’ve been a writer for a while. But remember that you’re also reading a post on how to get back into writing after a frustrating break, so hear me out.
Writing exercises aren’t meant to be long-term projects, and that may be exactly what you need at the moment. Maybe you’re frustrated because you can’t write anything that you want to perfect in the long run. So why not work on exercises then? They start and end in the same session, so there’s no commitment or emotional investment involved. They’re simple prompts used to work your writing muscles. Think of them like warm-up exercises. They’re meant to ease you into a much bigger challenge, not replace your exercise routine completely. You can find plenty of daily writing prompts if you search online. Some are even presented in your news feed if you follow them on social media.
Speaking of writing exercises, have you ever considered writing shit? You might have thought you’re already writing shit and that’s why you needed a break, but you were probably trying your best. Have you ever considered intentionally writing shit?
One of the best exercises from my college workshops was to write the worst thing I possibly could. Write 1-2 pages of the worst you can possibly do. Drown your exercise in cliches, poor dialogue, overuse of caps and punctuation, not enough punctuation, misspelled words, and anything else you can think of. It’s a lot of fun, and it will help you see what makes bad writing. It may even make you feel better about your own natural writing.
You’ve also probably heard of the egg timer technique. If you haven’t, it’s when you set an egg timer or another device to a specific period of time, and you do nothing but write during that time. No checking E-mails, no social media, no bathroom, no distractions whatsoever. This is a really good way to get back into writing without getting too intimidated. Set a timer for 20 minutes, 10 minutes, hell, even 5 minutes and write something. If you feel like writing after time’s up, you’re more than welcome to, but the point is to give this dedicated amount of time your undivided attention. Again, it’s like regular exercising. You can start small and build your way up as you grow accustomed to the routine.
Once you’ve gotten back into the swing of things, try thinking about what kept you in your extended break for so long. Did you get bored? Frustrated with what you produced? Try mixing things up a bit. You probably have something you specialize in. For me it’s fiction. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out and you feel like if you can’t write in your own zone, you can’t write at all. If that’s the case, try writing other stuff. Try poetry. Nonfiction. Write descriptions of things you notice outside your window. Keep a journal and write about your life. It may not be what you want to write, but it does help you continue writing, and you’ll still improve your craft along the way.
Don’t forget to read different stuff, too. If you find yourself writing the same thing again and again, maybe it’s because you’ve gotten too comfortable with reading the same stuff again and again. Go to the library and pick out the first thing you see that you would normally never glance at. (Yes, I’m encouraging you to judge a book by it’s cover. Don’t pretend like you never have.) At best, it’ll make you a more experienced reader. At worst, you’ll hate it, but at least you can still learn something from it. You can analyze it and see what made it a bad book. Again, that helps you as a writer.
At any rate, the fact that you want to start writing again is a good start. Just don’t forget to act on it. Start small and work it back into your life. Don’t focus so much on writing stuff you want published, focus on getting familiar with writing again. Then you can go back to hating what you write. 🙂