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Monday, January 26, 2015

How to Get Back in a Writing Habit After a Break

Those of you who follow my blog know I made a decision last year to take an official break from writing, something that had been an unofficial choice for quite a while longer. As hard as it was to put that pen down, getting back into the writing groove after being “afk” was an even bigger challenge.

How does a writer get back in the swing when they’ve been in Not-Writing mode for an extended time? After some false starts, I came up with a list of steps that got the ink flowing again. I hope it will help you as well!

How to Get Back in a Writing Habit After a Break

1. Set Aside Writing Time.

One truth most writers have become aware of at one time or another is that there are far more reasons not to write than there are to put pen to paper. “I would write, but I’ve been busy with _______ .” Busy lives and lack of solidly scheduled writing time can be the death of a manuscript. Sit down with a calendar (or calendar program on your computer/device) and set up a defined schedule for writing. I wrote a blog series on how to create a writing schedule to maximize output and minimize burnout. Check it out here.

2. Out With the Old, In With the New (Project).

If you stopped writing mid-plot, you’ve got a story that’s sat around neglected and collecting dust. You *could* pick it up and keep going, but I’ve found that after a hiatus of any real length, going back to a half-done story can derail progress before it’s even begun. For one thing, you likely have to reread at least some of the manuscript to recapture the flow and tone of the piece, not to mention remind yourself where in the plot you left off. While rereading, your internal editor will inevitably kick in and put you in critique mode rather than writing mode. Next thing you know, your writing hour/day has come and gone with nothing new on the page.

For a truly fresh start, write something completely new. Pull up that slush file full of ideas that were banging around in your brain and pluck one at random. Play around with an automatic plot generator until something jumps out. But go easy—this may not be the time to start that ambitious War and Peace saga you planned someday. Start with something simple—even a short story will do. (More on this in step 5.)

3. Try New Writing Tools

You’ve got a new resolve and a new project. What goes better with that than a shiny new writing tool? Decide to try something different with your plotting and writing. Buy a shiny new journal for notes. If you plot using index cards on a cork board, take photos instead (or search the Internet). If you use Word to write manuscripts, try a writing software like yWriter or WriteItNow. I personally love Scrivener, which I previously used as plotting software but this year have decided to also write manuscripts (and blog posts) with it. Scrivener has a split screen view that lets me pull up photos or plot notes alongside the scene I’m working on. Very handy.

You can also change things up by altering the time of day or week that you write, or start a new tradition by making a cup of tea, donning a favorite hat, or playing mood music when you sit down to write. I'm not saying you have to toss out everything about your old writing routine--tried and true favorites are welcome in the new order. You'll just want something to pump fresh blood into stale routine.

4. Ready, Set…STOP and Plan

Don’t wait for the writing time scheduled in #1 to start looking at the new strategies and tools mentioned in #2 and 3. You should also schedule time for plotting and preparation each week, starting prior to your first writing session. Use that prep time to do a quick and dirty plot outline, fiddle around with new techniques/software, etc. so you are familiar with them. Then when you finally sit down to write, you’ll be ready to rock.

5. Go! But Go Easy

When you set out to establish a new writing routine, it can be tempting to jump in with lofty goals and mandatory word counts. However, I’ve found that after a break it’s much more effective for me to ease in gradually rather than expect the same amount of work I pumped out at the height of my groove. Many writers use word count as a gauge for a writing schedule, and while you can use this approach, that may not be the ideal way to start right out the gate. Establish a new writing habit by setting yourself up for small, manageable victories rather than a string of disappointments. Aim for less than you know you can achieve. Start with one scene, just an opening, or even a few sentences if that’s how rusty you honestly feel. Or set the timer for 30 minutes and just do a freewrite session. As success comes, give yourself a mental high five and raise the goal a bit higher next time. (Just not too far too fast, or you might get discouraged.)

6. Repeat, Review, and Redo

Studies suggest it takes a few weeks for the brain to turn a behavior into a habit. After you’ve been using your new routine for about a month, that’s a good time to stop and assess how things are going. Are you reaching your goals or exceeding them consistently? Keep pushing ahead and increase your counts/time as able. If you’ve been skipping writing sessions or not reaching your goals, don’t give up. Decide whether you need to try another time slot for writing, change to a different “new” technique, or adjust your expectations of how much writing you will do. Then put it into practice without delay and review again in another month (sooner if things are going really rough). Keep trying until you get there!

By dedicating the right amount of time, new and familiar ideas, and planning well for success, a new and productive writing habit can be yours before long. What tried and true tips do you use to help you plan for writing and meet your goals?

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On select Mondays, I like to gab about writing or whatever's going on with me. For more gab, please join me on Twitter or Facebook. I love talking to people!

J. Rose Allister is the author of more than twenty-five books, primarily romance and erotic romance. A former editor and submissions director, she now works as a mild-mannered hospital secretary by day, naughty writer by night.

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