Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, February 6, 2012

How to Return to Writing After a Long Break


Hello! I am back, after what I realized was my first extended blog break in five years. Five years! My how the time flies. I haven't been idle this past month as I have been hard at work finishing Wonderbar #3, but it still feels a bit strange to be getting back to the blog game.

To that end, I thought I'd tackle one of the most dangerous moments for any writer: The long break.

I've known writers who hit their stride, were interrupted for one reason or another, and then days turned into weeks turned into months and they were never able to get back in the saddle. All that work was squandered. Breaks = kryptonite achilles heel termite ridden ankle breaking weakening things. Don't let long breaks destroy you!

So. Once you break your writing rhythm, how do you get it back?

Here's how I do it:

1) Know that your first day back will not be productive

You must know that your first day back after a long absence will not be as productive as a normal day. This is okay. Knowing is the first stage of not panicking and not getting down on yourself. Don't set page goals, don't be hard on yourself. Just focus on getting your rhythm back. That's all you need to accomplish.

2) Don't head straight for the novel

Instead of going right back to my novel and feeling the crushing weight of the blinking cursor, I start off by writing something, anything other than fiction. E-mails, blog posts, forum posts, you name it. Chances are you have stuff that has piled up, and it's easier to write an e-mail than figuring out what is going to happen next in your novel.

Don't procrastinate endlessly, but get the words flowing for an easier reentry. Then it's time to...

3) Badger yourself into opening up your novel and getting started again even if it feels like you are peeling off your own skin.

It can feel so incredibly intimidating to start again. You might not remember where you left off. You had gotten used to filling your time with episodes of Downton Abbey.

Writing is hard. Getting back into writing is really, really hard.

Do whatever you have to do to get that file open. Cursing and threats of bodily harm against yourself are perfectly acceptable. So are rewards. Just get the dang file or notepad open.

4) Start somewhere easy

When you do crack open the old novel, start somewhere that will get things flowing and keep your confidence high. Know a scene you want to write but aren't there yet in the plot? Write it anyway. Need to do some revising to get back into the rhythm? Awesome, start there.

Writing a novel is full of tasks large and small, everything from figuring out the whole freaking plot to making sure the chapters are numbered properly. Tackling one of those smaller tasks still gets you closer to the finish line, and sometimes they can help you get back in rhythm.

5) Don't get down on yourself

Remember, the first day back is just about getting back into it. It's not going to be your best day. It might not be fun. But you did it. You're back in the saddle, which is why it's so crucially important to...

6) Follow up with a good day of writing

You slogged your way back into writing. Don't waste it! Chase it as quickly as possible with a good, solid, uninterrupted, productive chunk of time. Now you'll have momentum. So keep it up!

Also: Shouting, "I'm back, baby!!" is strongly encouraged.


What about you? What's your favorite technique for getting back in the writing groove?

Art: "A Love Story" by E. Phillips Fox






64 comments:

Josin L. McQuein said...

It's a bit like rehab after a major injury, isn't it.

Take it slow.

Make steady progress.

Don't expect to start at your former level.

Etc, etc, etc.

Robin Reul said...

Great advice! For me, whenever returning to a work I have been away from for awhile, whether it be a book I've not worked on for months, or a WIP I've had to put aside for a few weeks because life got in the way, I start by reading it from start to finish. Re-reading what's there refreshes my mind, and while I'm reading, inevitably I start to notice little things I want to edit, or ideas spark that I want to include. It puts me back in the skin of the characters anew. If I'm still struggling, I will often read or re-read a book that has similar subject matter to what I've written and see what the author did well and why it's working. I take notes and try and find ways to bring the same momentum to my own story.

Rebecca Bradley said...

This is a timely post for me. January seems to make my mind feel leaden. Great advice and a great time of year for it as I imagine I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Rashad Pharaon said...

Good to see you blogging again! To get back into the rythm, I like to throw myself into a story's prologue (which I end up never using). It's just enough to warm up the engines for the first day or two before I type out: C-h-a-p-t-e-r--1.

Best,

Rashad.

Donna Yates said...

These are all great suggestions. The most important thing, as you said, is to just do it.

L. Shanna said...

Love this! And glad you're back!

Anna said...

Welcome back! And thanks as always for the helpful tips.

Ada said...

All so true. Thanks for spelling it out like that. I totally agree with the first commenter: it is a lot like rehabbing an injury. And you know what. Rehab = not a great time at first.

Mr. D said...

Good to have you back.

Veronica and Thomas said...

Welcome back Nathan! We've missed your humor and suggestions! BTW your twitter comment about Madonna last night made my husband about roll off the couch laughing!

Christy Farmer said...

Great advice! That first day may not be productive, but the advice is solid:

Just start!

Welcome back, Nathan!

Jesse Koepke said...

By long break, you mean the gap between today's writing and tomorrow's, right? This is a great list for even a break over the weekend. Thanks, Nathan.

Rick Daley said...

For me, I need to completely remove all distractions. I wake up early while the house is quiet and hit the computer. No email, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, or surfing until I met my starting goal (which may be as few as 500 words).

WORD VERIFICATION: inkies. Writers who prefer pen and paper to the computer.

PS My book THE MAN IN THE CINDER CLOUDS is only $1.99 on Kindle!

Matthew MacNish said...

I've always found other creative writing to be the answer. Especially fun, easy stuff like flash fiction. But I also like how you point out that writing anything, even email, is still writing, and is better than not writing.

Nice to have you back, NB, and for the Clippers to be in first.

Ann Best said...

I can't add anything to this. You just have to sit down and write something! Hope you enjoyed your break.
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

abc said...

How did you know about the Downton Abbey?!

Vanessa K. Eccles said...

I loved this post. It was just want I needed to hear. I've been on a long break, for about six months because of school, and I think this advice will help me get back into the swing of things. Thanks! :)

Hiroko said...

After a break from writing, I'll often skim over what happened last in the novel and brainstorm how to continue. I like preparing myself for not just the first day return, but for the rest of the writing days that follow.

Steph Damore said...

Hope you had a wonderful break. I'm terrible at getting back to it. Hoping to gain some ideas here.

Bryan Russell said...

Aloha!

I'm with Robin; reading your work is helpful. If you start reading your work, you'll start seeing the story inside your head again. The characters will start moving and talking. Now you're back inside the story, and when you read up to that blank page in the manuscript it will feel much more natural to simply continue on, putting the new words on the page to fill that blank space.

Vera Soroka said...

This is a timely post. I've been writing but had a week and a half off before getting back to another ms to hopefully finish up this month. This one has been like pulling teeth out of a wild horse. Today is awful. I just can't seem to see any point but yet I can't let this one go. Keep going I guess and hope I figure it out.

~Sia McKye~ said...

It's hard to get back to it when you've been away, that's for sure.

I also start slow. I write other things--god knows I have enough of those to keep me occupied. I also try to write something fun that loosens me up.

I'm realistic and know while I might have been putting out a couple thousand or more words when I was in the groove, I'm not in that groove yet. First I have to get all the dust out of that groove and I hate housekeeping.

I love your idea of writing a scene you've been thinking of adding even though you're not there in the story yet.

Yes, I do mutter and shout. I've been known to threaten death and destruction, and channel Captain Picard--Make it so, #1.

Enjoyed your points, Nathan, they were good ones.

Sia McKye OVER COFFEE

Steven J. Wangsness said...

Good advice, Nathan. Now that my mystery novel TAINTED SOULS is up and running on Kindle, and I'm done will all the formatting for Smashwords, too, I really have excuse for not getting back into the writing of the work in progress.

That doesn't mean I won't find an excuse, of course....

Pamala Knight said...

Thanks for the great advice Nathan. Nice to have you back.

Stephonavich said...

You have so much good stuff that honestly, I was glad to catch up on it without the added pressure of ”keeping up”. Thank you for coming back to it, but also thank you for letting me catch up!

Catherine said...

Thanks for the encouragement. I've been on such a long hiatus (2 months!) from my novel and, besides a few blog posts, have done very little writing, to the point that I don't even know if this comment is grammatically correct.

Melanie said...

A lot of times I'll listen to specific music while writing a certain novel. If I take a break, I'll get back into it by first listening to that music again, think about my characters. Then I'll read what I wrote previously, make a few edits until I get to the place I left off, and then I'm back!

Mira said...

Yay! Nathan's back! Nathan, with his intelligence and fun, interesting discussions and his wonderful humor. Yay!!

I missed you, Nathan!!!!!

And you're right. 5 years is too long without a break. So, I'm really glad you took a rest and please do take many more breaks in the future so you can rest and be energized.

But in the meantime, it's so nice to have you back!

I really like this post, especially since I'm struggling with it. I was writing before Grad school, but I've had a terrible time getting back to it. It's validating to have you write a whole post about this, and I appreciate the suggestions here alot - thanks!

Robena Grant said...

Glad you're back, and that you got to work on book #3.
I like the advice. Especially the bit about writing out of order. I sometimes do that and write a scene that is a few chapters ahead. Just seeing the word count increase is enough to make me feel good, and get me back into the work with enthusiasm.

Susy said...

Good to see you had a productive break!
I had to go back and start small with a new short story before tackling the novel head on.
Short story = fun, short sharp and getting me in shape to climb that jolly mountain again aka novel

Sigal said...

Thanks! I really needed to hear this. Going to take your advice and tackle something small in the novel tomorrow.

Karen said...

I haven't been away from my WIP but my computer crashed and burned over the weekend and took all my backups with it. (Lesson learned not to trust my computer with my backups.) I do have some work saved in another location but it's not everything. Trying to start again is really difficult after this major blow.

Imagine my delight when I read your post. Your advice is so timely and gives me comfort that I will recover and get back into the groove. A big thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Cathy Mealey said...

Fortunately there are a finite number of Downton Abbey episodes...

Sommer Leigh said...

I'm very happy to see you back Nathan!

Janne said...

YAY! Nathan is back! I'm sure I speak for many people when I say I missed your posts!

wendy said...

Welcome Back, Stranger. :)
Nice to read you again. This post couldn't be more timely as I started back on Winter Roses again only last week...after some positive self-talk. The novel is finished, but it always needs fine-tuning. When I sent the first chapter to you, Nathan, a year ago, I managed to paste one of the paras in the wrong spot. (Concentration not everything it could be.) I didn't find it hard to get back in the swing, except I'd forgotten some of the finer points. Luckily I'd done illustrations for the story, and that jogged the memory. 'Oh, that character has a dimple in his chin.'

BeccaLathorn said...

Staring at my keyboard usually works.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I need to follow your advice. Because I'm being pulled in too many directions which don't include my manuscript.

Anonymous said...

I once went through a serious family crisis and had to stop writing for three months. I spent three months watching a family member in the ICU. Editors were great. They told me to take my time and not to rush. But I started to worry how I would write again. I'd never taken that much time off.

But it just happened. One day the family crisis started to get better and I started to write again. Writing actually took me away from all the intense drama I'd been dealing with. It was therapy. When you experience this once, you always know that even if you have to stop for a while, you'll go back eventually. It's a good feeling.

Nancy Kelley said...

Thank you, Nathan. I'm trying to get back to my novel after two months off. I've had several false starts--hopefully your advice will make my next attempt more productive.

D.G. Hudson said...

Treat it like an old friend you haven't seen for a while.
OR
Start with short fiction, as some others have said.

Nice to see you back, Nathan.

TeresaR said...

Sometimes it's hard to get back into writing after getting up to get another cup of tea.

This was an awfully great post for your being out-of-writing-shape from your break. :)

Ishta Mercurio said...

"I'm back, baby!" LOLOL!

Great post. Josin summed it up well. I usually start with revision, and then go to that scene I've been itching to write but haven't gotten to yet. The trick is keeping the momentum going, isn't it? Not stopping when you're this close to finishing. Maintaining that momentum once you get it back is key.

Welcome back to the blog!

Imogen said...

I find that when I've been away from writing for a bit, just sitting down and writing something, a few words in the novel, a character sketch, a thought for a story, or even not writing but listening to writing music gets me going again. When I sit down and put my fingers to the keys with my earphones in, I know it's time to work, and I do. Force of habit I think.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Excellent advice. Wish I'd had it 6 months ago but no worries. I am sure I'll use it the next time I get sidetracked on my novel. Life sure gets in the way of writing about life.

Donna Amis Davis said...

Timely word, Nathan. Thanks! I need to get back to my novel after a long break. So want to finish it this year!

J.C. Martin said...

Welcome back, Nathan! And this post comes at a most opportune time. When I finished my final edits for my novel and subbed to my publisher at the start of January, I thought I deserved a break and rewarded myself with one. Well, I'm still "rewarding" myself, and finding it hard to get back in the swing of things! Time to get butt back into chair...

Hillsy said...

Hey dude, welcome back.

Hope you better anyways - "sick as a dog" is rarely a good description for anyones state of health.

WV - Phaltio: (I can't, it's too easy!!!)

Lauren said...

Welcome back, Nathan!

For me, rereading what I've already written gets me back into writing mode.

Ainsley Shay said...

great post!! we expect so much from ourselves and sometimes we need to give ourselves "permission" to ease back into the routine of writing great.

thanks

Nadine said...

This post came at the perfect time. I've just sat down and am short several handfuls of hair from trying to "get back into it". My writing-return methods are similar to Robin Reul up above--I like to read through the entire novel, just to remind myself what I've written, why I love it, who I've missed in my novel, and to put me back into the right world before I try to expand it.

I also like to read snippets from a favorite novel to get my imagination spinning again and thrust my brain into the love of writing/reading/words/etc.

Elmer Escoto R. (Likantropo) said...

Great advise. And to me, its timing is just perfect. I retufned last night to my text after six months. It's not easy. But this advice came in with encouragement. Thanks!

Kevin said...

It's pretty much like you said. I just sit down, me and my blank screen and start writing. What I start with might be crap and might have to be revamped later, but at least it's a starting point.

When writing a long piece, I go back and re-read what I wrote the previous day, to get myself back into the grove of that piece before I start on today's writing. Might slow me down a little, but at least I feel like the style and quality is consistent.

Meghan Ward said...

Welcome back, Nathan! Did you finish Wonderbar 3? Your tips are great and timely for me since I've been on a book-writing break for a couple of months now. Drinking wine also helps to loosen up the flow of prose those first couple of days back :)

Nathan Bransford said...

Meghan-

Yep, done with the first draft of #3!

Peter Dudley said...

You forgot the whiskey.

I find the more I drink, the better I write.

Also, the more I drink, the better I sing, the better I dance, the better I look, and the smarter I am.

It's miraculous, really.

Gary Taylor said...

Just stopping by to say, "Thanks! I needed that."

Didn't know I missed your sage-ness 'til you showed up again.

My issue isn't the break, it's worse: getting started after several false starts through the year.

Anonymous said...

So, in the "good times" department, I stopped work on my novel on October 18th. I didn't return to it until the end of January, but I FINALLY finished a first draft shortly thereafter.

The thing is, I stopped working on it because problems in my personal life became absolutely overwhelming.

They remain overwhelming.

But at a certain point, I realized that I was looking at having both a permanently unfinished novel AND a personal life that's a mess. It seemed to me it would be better to have a completed novel and a personal life that's a mess.

So I got back to work on it.

Here's the upside - when you're looking down the gaping maw of what might be a truly gut wrenching future, opening up the file of a novel just no longer ranks too high on the things that suck scale.

Perspective.

And again on a silver lining point, revision is going really well. Luckily for me, it's a dark story, and God knows I've got a lot of fuel for the fire these days. At least I can do something productive with it.

Nathan Bransford said...

Hope everything gets better, anon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Nathan...glad you're back to blogging. We writers need you!

The 44 said...

I relate to the writing dark things comment... I let my inner demons get some excercise and wear off some energy that way...

I may be the only one like this, but I find long times away from writing to be like any other time of writing. I just sit down and write.

The only time I was really affected by this was while writing my first novel, which still needs divine intervention to make it readable but thats another story (no pun intended).

Dawn Montgomery said...

I definitely needed this advice six months ago. Unfortunately, I was one of those who jumped back in and was frustrated b/c my word count was terrible. I couldn't believe how much my writing had changed.

I also changed the way I work, b/c my old way didn't work out any more. It was tough and slow going, but it's good to be back.

Welcome back!
Dawn

Kristina Emmons said...

I heart Downton Abbey!

I do all the same things when I've had a long break. I do tend to start with writing a long email! Then I have a long painful conversation with myself that I really should open the dang file. Then eventually I do, but don't really look at it for a time. Then I tiptoe around a few scenes to see if they need revision. Then I try not to stop working for a large chunk of time (say, 20 minutes, which seems like forever!)

I'll say, it's painful to get back into it!

Christine Senter said...

I really needed this post as I've been out of the writing game for over a year. I really want to get back into writing but I feel stuck. Thanks for posting this

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