How to return to writing after a break

Taking a break from writing is easy. Returning to writing afterwards is difficult. Like anything else that requires commitment, patience, and dedication, stepping away from writing can feel like sliding down some unseen totem pole (or up, since the best are at the bottom?).

How do you get back into it?

Easy.

Give yourself a break. A different kind of break.

If it’s only been a few weeks, or even a few months since you’ve started writing, you might not have forgotten much, if anything. But if it’s been months? Or even years? Then writing can seem like an impossible battle.

To start, you need to drop any judgement. Of course you’re writing will be rusty. THings will come across as wooden and lifeless. Scenes will lack the shine they previously had. Dialogue will seem like it’s been lifted straight from a 90’s sitcom. At least, this is how it’s been for me. The first thing I do is release all judgement. Sometimes I actually have to tell myself, out loud, there will be no judgement. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes I angrily delete entire pages, sometimes I rework a line over and over again before realizing it won’t fit. And sometimes it’s just laziness. I can’t think, can’t create, can’t put myself in my character’s shoes, so I just toss in something like, “And so the character leaves the store empty-handed, awkwardly waving at the cashier, hoping he isn’t accused of theft on his way out.” because it’s what happened to me earlier that day.

Think of an old car on a winter’s day, maybe a Ford Taurus from the late 90’s, and it doesn’t just start up. You have to wake up, go outside, start it up, go back inside to get dressed, throw on a pot of coffee, drink the coffee, use the bathroom, grab a jacket, then go back outside to where the trusty yet ancient Taurus is almost warm enough to drive. That’s how writing can be. Sometimes you just need to throw something down on a page and come back. Then add something else. Then another few words. Then maybe you go for a walk, maybe a drive, then you come back. I always find doing chores as a great way to turn my mind off to the writing. I find when it’s off, I think of new ideas and new ways to form sentences. When I have a new idea, I go rushing back to the computer, broom in hand.

Lastly, stress. Call me weak. Call me a no-good millennial. Or soft. Call me whatever the hell you want, but I find it nearly impossible to be creative while stressed. On a certain level, it’s physical. (Stop rolling your eyes, Dad.) Stress, on a physical level, is your body invoking the fight-or-flight response. And this is good. In most cases, it’s great. It gets stuff done. But it’s also destructive. Veins and arteries are literally shred by adrenaline passing through, the heart starts to fail, or skip beats. And when the body is stressed, it starts saying things like, “Digestion? You kidding? We don’t have energy for that. We don’t have energy to think, to sleep, to eat or digest, to breathe, and especially not to be creative. We need to move, and keep moving, and why are you stopping? I said move!” Whether we like it or not, we somehow came to the point in which we praise stress. Brag about it.

You got five hours of sleep? Bro, I got four.

You’re working a double today? Nah man, I’m hitting seventeen hours today. Making that money, know what I mean?

I once listened to a Q&A from an author talking about a book she had published, I think it was her fourth. In it, someone asked her about the work life and writing life balance.

The author told this person that when working on her first book she had a day job, two kids to raise on her own, and barely any time to write. And when she did write, it came out poorly. It was a giant, endless circle. Some time later, the man she had been seeing offered to cover the bills and rent for a bit if she wanted to focus on writing. So she did. She was able to finish her first novel in three months. Her second in less than a year. She chalked it up to being stress-free. Stress-free from everything.

I know it’s not possible to find a situation like that. But if you can find a way to remove stress, it will help immensely as you return to writing.

Using Movement or Conflict instead of a Plot

Even if you’ve never written a single word, at some point in your life someone has told you how important a plot is to a story. If you have nothing else, you need a plot.

For architect writers, the writer that meticulously plots out the story down to the very intricate detail, creating a plot is easy. It’s the first brick in a towering foundation.

For myself, maybe it’s because I can’t plot out a story for the life of me, maybe it’s because I’m a discovery writer, someone who likes to just sit down and write, I don’t have very good plots. In fact, I often forget about plots until it’s too late.

By and large, there are seven plots.

  • Overcoming the Monster/Enemy
  • Rags to Riches
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Voyage and Return
  • Rebirth
  • The Quest

Some writers will layer a very thin plot over what is essentially a character story. Others will use wooden, 2D characters to create a compelling and colorful plot.

In a short story, my main focus of writing, I’ve found the plot can be substituted by either movement or conflict.

Both of these can be physical or metaphorical, depending on the story you’re writing. Moving from point A to point B. Getting in a fight. Spiritually learning and bettering oneself. Emotional inner turmoil.

Because there often isn’t enough time or space to create an entire plot, simply using movement or conflict can work to your advantage. Maybe you can’t create an entire plot about overcoming the enemy, but a simple fistfight could replace that. A quest might not fit into a short story, but a story about running to the grocery store and someone or something encountered along the way could replicate it.

While writing short stories, I am always looking for ways to cut down on writing without sacrificing story, and these are two of the ways I’ve found.

 

 

Why it’s important to remove the ‘fluff’ writing

As an editor, I often tell my clients to add more to their story. Most of it are the “how” and “why”s of a story.

“How did they get from Point A to Point B?”

“Why did they go into that room without any reason?”

“Why are they spending hundreds of dollars in this scene when in the last scene they lamented having money troubles. Did they come into money? Are they bad with what little money they have? Were these two parts written at different times and need to be justified with each other?”

On the converse side of this is having too much information. There are a number of ways this can spell disaster in a story.

First, false leads. By providing too much information to your reader you are creating the expectation that the information will be important later. Your reader will now spend time trying to figure out how that information plays into the story, and they’ll feel the information was misleading if it doesn’t matter in the end (in the sense that the extra/unnecessary information you provided doesn’t change the story if it’s ultimately removed.

Second, fatigue. Writing, and by relation, reading, is a fine balance of growing more tired and countering that with excitement from the book. Having too much fluff in a book or story that isn’t pertinent to the story creates fatigue in the reader but doesn’t offer excitement as a cure.

Third, and last, it might give the impression of bad writing. Saying, writing, too much comes across as not knowing where to end the sentence or the story.

It’s far easier in a short story than a novel to remove unnecessary writing, things that change the story in no way whatsoever. In a novel, some writing that seems unnecessary on first glance can actually have color and flavor in it that builds the characters. It’s hard to know without having an editor or beta reader to look over your work and provide feedback.

Artists critiquing artists

As an artist, or writer, specifically, I’ve been critiqued. I’ve been critiqued when I ask for it, but more often, when I don’t ask for it. (Which isn’t to say, don’t give unsolicited critique, just keep doing you, but try not to critique unfinished work unless asked.)

Creating anything, whether it be a painting, a book, song, dance performance, anything, is always a difficult undertaking. It’s fraught with questioning self-confidence, attempts at giving up, and the imposing question of ‘will it be good enough?’ There are someone people who seem to be able to create art and never feel the negative effects of showing it to people, but I highly suspect these people are hiding something.

When a piece of work is finally finished, and shown to the world, the inevitable comments demeaning the work start almost immediately. It’s strange, because these comments tend to come from people who don’t create. They aren’t writers, they aren’t singers, or dancers, actors, musicians, etc. They haven’t made themselves vulnerable, showing the entire world what only existed inside their head. It’s one thing to be insulted, and I think we’ve all been insulted at some point or another, but it’s another thing to have something you create be insulted. Hell, look at parents. Try insulting their kid in front of the parent, see how smashingly that goes.

So it’s often confusing, or downright perplexing, when an artist demeans another artist’s works.

You are one of them! You know how it feels to create something. You know the amount of pressure you’re under when making something The amount of times you change, edit, and alter something so more people will like it, or fewer people will be offended. What are you doing, insulting other artists?

This happened to me the other day. I had a few questions about the particulars of advertising my book (keywords, audience, etc.), and instead I get a comments about the cover or the synopsis.

On one hand, they are technically about advertising. Fine. Technically correct is the best kind of correct, and all that. But I find it fascinating when the comments are closer to “Worst cover I’ve seen,” than “I like XYZ, but your cover throws me a little bit. Have you considered taking another look at it?”

Critiquing should be constructive. The good with the bad. Reinforcing what decisions you thought were good, and highlighting the ones you found questionable.

I understand there’s a culture of “The worst thing you can tell someone is ‘good job’ because they’ll never work for anything greater,” but I find that to be a bit of a cop out. I think the people who take that ‘good job’ and keep pushing are worthy artists. This isn’t to say there’s nothing helpful about the vindictive energy you get when someone rips apart the beautiful thing you created, I just think you should become an artist if you want to. Not to prove someone else wrong. Because then you define your entire life by someone else’s, and forget to live for yourself.