If you’ve ever taken a break from writing, you know how challenging it can be to get back into it again. Each holiday or even long weekend can cost you precious time, and there’s always that anxiety that you won’t be able to get back into your routine.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here’s a 5-step process you can use to excited about writing again. The steps will help you develop new ideas, revisit unfinished projects, and keep the creativity flowing — no matter how long your writing break was.
Step 1: Know Why You Stopped Writing
“In order to recover our sense of hope and the courage to create, we must acknowledge and mourn the scars that are blocking us.”
— Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
Let’s take a minute and look at the past. Before you begin any strategies for getting back into writing, it’s important to understand why you stopped. Otherwise, you won’t know what needs to be adjusted.
For example, it’s common to get bogged down by other aspects of life. Some writers might take breaks due to their day job or school holidays. Others stop because they feel frustrated or they’re unclear about what they want to say. In order to get back into writing after a long hiatus, identify what stopped you in the first place.
Try this exercise:
Set a timer for one minute and answer this prompt:
I stopped writing because…
What frustrated me was …
Then, think about one thing you can change in your life to make it easier. For example, if you stopped writing because you were stuck in the hamster wheel, adjust your schedule. Or, if you stopped writing because you felt negative emotions, talk with a friend, mentor, or coach to move forward.
Step 2: Read Your Old Writing
“Just saying, thinking or writing positive thoughts make us stronger in every way … body, mind and spirit … whether we believe the words or not. They calm and heal the scared child within. MAGIC!”
— Susan Jeffers, The Little Book of Confidence
If you’ve been away from writing for a long time, you might feel like you have nothing to contribute. You might have lost track of which piece to write next, or how to finish the one you’ve left aside.
A great way to get your juices flowing again is to read some of your past work (e.g. an article you wrote). It will help you get into positive thoughts and restore confidence. And you might be surprised at how much you can learn.
- See some recurring themes in your writing or discover a new way of thinking about yourself.
- Remember your strengths as a writer and give you a sense of accomplishment.
- Remember what inspired you to write in the first place.
Here’s an exercise:
Pick one piece of writing from your past and set aside 5 minutes to re-read it. Make a note of what feelings and ideas come up while you do it. What do you love about that piece? What can you take from this experience to move forward?
Step 3: Set Achievable Goals To Start Again
“Over the last twenty years, I’ve found that the only consistent, sustainable way to grow big is to start small. ”
— BJ Fogg, Tiny Habits
Next, set an achievable writing goal. Make it tiny. After a break, you don’t want to get overwhelmed.
You might want to write a small number of words, e.g. 50 or 100, on your first ‘being back day.’ You might want to come up with a title, or simply journal about your next step.
Whatever you decide, make sure that it’s something that you can achieve. After a long hiatus, I start with a blog post like this one, or a 250-word summary of my argument.
Here’s something to journal about:
What small thing can you do to feel like a writer again, even if only for 30 minutes?
Step 4: Try Out New Tools For the Novelty Effect
“Instead of tackling problems from familiar angles, go at them backward and sideways and with style. Go out of your way to stretch your imagination. Massively up the amount of novelty in your life. New environments and new experiences are often the start of the connections that become new ideas.”
— Stephen Kotler, The Art of Impossible
Another way to get back into writing after a long hiatus is to try new writing techniques and tools. The brain likes novelty, and you can play around with a few of these ideas:
- Try writing with a pen and paper, instead of a computer.
- Try writing a poem or a short story instead of your usual content.
- Try using a new writing prompt.
- Try a new type of software, like Scrivener, or use a different writing program like Google Docs or the colorful text editor at Noisli (it changes colours while you write).
- Try writing in the evening instead of the morning, or in a different location than usual.
Find one new thing and commit to doing it tomorrow.
The novelty effect of a new tool may just be the ‘trick’ to get you back into the game.
Step 5: Find a “Who”
“When you’re trying to accomplish something challenging or difficult that you’ve never done before, you probably need a Who.”
— Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy, Who Not How
If you’re thoroughly stuck and the above tips don’t help, find a ‘who’ to talk to. I’ve found that talking to someone about what’s holding you back, what you’re afraid of, what you want to achieve, releases tension and unlocks insights.
Your ‘who’ could be:
- an editor, coach, or mentor
- a writer friend or someone from your writer’s group (even if it’s on social media)
- your future self — imagine that your older, wiser self is sitting next to you and knows how to get you out of your block, what would they say?
When you read this list, what or who comes to mind? Can you email them? Can you journal about what your future self might recommend?
Breaks are normal
A hiatus doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer. It means that you’re a human being who has other things going on in your life! In fact, interruptions to your writing might be the best thing that happened to you because they help you recover and unlock new insights.
The trick is to allow yourself some transition time and use it with the intention to get one step closer to back writing.