In the days leading up to the deadline, I was writing 3+ hours each day in order to get the thing done (yes, I procrastinated a bit). Once the piece was complete, a short reprieve from writing seemed to be in order. My current internship started the following day, and now that few days has grown into nearly 3 weeks. Not cool.
For me, writing is a lot like exercise. When I’m writing most days of the week, and making progress toward my goals, I feel great. When I skip days–or weeks–I grow grumpy and lethargic. Everything is terrible and I don’t know why. By the time I figure out that my lack of exercise is causing my terrible mood, I’ve usually reached the point where I’ve lost all motivation to write ever again. It is only through a combination of guilt and restlessness that I finally put on my sneakers and go for a run.
The first days getting back into a routine are rough but necessary. Here are some things I do to create momentum in my writing life.
- Forgive yourself. Writerly guilt got you sitting at the desk; now forget about it so that you can immerse yourself in your story’s world. Otherwise, your session will be plagued by the conviction that your writing is shit and so are you.
- Set a concrete, measurable goal. “Write.” is not concrete enough to put on your to-do list. Give yourself a word or page count goal (“I won’t get up from this chair until I’ve written 1,000 words.”), or tell yourself that you’ll write for the next hour.
- Schedule it. If you decided on a time goal, fit that block of time into your calendar, and write it down. Don’t schedule anything else during that time.
- Write somewhere else. Writing somewhere you usually don’t can be an easy fix when a blank page seems daunting. This could mean finding a park bench or coffee shop on the opposite side of the city, or it could be as simple as moving to the couch if you usually sit at a desk.
- Write sometime else. If you usually write before bed, try waking up early. Make yourself a cup of coffee and write as the sun rises. If you’re a morning writer, sleep in one morning, and stay up writing late that night.
- Re-read. Look through your previous writing beforehand to get yourself excited about what you’ve done in the past, and to get back in touch with your characters and setting, if it’s a longer piece.
- Start Slow. Ease into it by using your first writing sesh to brainstorm or outline.
- Start Small. Begin working on something bite-sized first, if you’ve been away a super long time–a character sketch, vignette, flash fiction. Try a six-word story if you’re really struggling.
- Minimize distractions. Turn off the internet. Don’t sit in the library with your friends and don’t sit in a busy coffee shop, unless those are environments that you’ve thrived in previously. Isolate yourself in a room without windows, if you must!
- Tunes. Listen to music that fits the tone of your piece–this can help you get into the proper mindset, and the words may flow more easily.
- Don’t censor. You’re returning to writing, so your prose will not be very polished. That’s what second (and third! and fourth!) drafts are for. Focus on the quantity of words rather than the quality, or challenge yourself to write for fifteen minutes straight without taking a break (perhaps use a web app like Write Or Die).
- Start writing now. No really, like right now. Write the next sentence of the story you’ve been away from, or write the first sentence of a new one. Then write another sentence. And another.