I gave myself a leave-pass on holidays and did very little work on my novel. Time I would spend writing was taken up with lie-ins, reading, surfing, eating, long walks on the beach and lazing about with friends. Now I am back at home and the break from reality is over. Getting back into writing after time off does require some intentional effort. After all your imagination was on holidays as well if you weren’t exercising it.
What happens when you try to get back to writing again after time away from it? Do you stare awkwardly at the computer unable to access your imagination through the fog in your head? When you do manage to put down words are they crap? Do your characters seem distant? Do you wonder what happened to your flow? Is there is a temptation to give up?
I am almost half way through the twelve months I took off work to focus on writing and all those unfinished projects in the garden. Despite being a disciplined and organized person, I do not feel that I have accomplished as much as I expected to when I started my break. The main reason is that (as usual) my plans were too ambitious for my timeframes when life and day-to-day responsibilities are factored in. At times there is a temptation to focus on what is not done and abandon all plans. Why not just kick back and enjoy the rest of the time off? It’s a sophisticated form of procrastination. Nothing is stopping me getting started again except myself. So, this week has been dedicated to some writer wrangling. At its core is re-creating a routine, discipline and patience. Here are my five tips to get your writing mojo back after a break.
Set aside some uninterrupted time to write on as many days as possible each week (even 15 minutes): During your writing time remove distractions like social media. Do not allow yourself to indulge in your favorite procrastination activities like attending to the washing or the weeds that need to be pulled in the garden – whatever it is that draws you away from your computer (or pen). I am at my best in the morning so I set the alarm for 6am, get up, make coffee and stand at my computer until at least 8am. When I was doing my day job my uninterrupted time was the hour on the bus on the way to work. I would put ear buds in to discourage others from interacting with me and write on my iPad. During that time read over some completed material, reacquaint yourself with your characters and give yourself permission to write crap. Expect it to take some time for your writing to return to your expectations.
Schedule in space for procrastination and life commitments: There are things that you have to do and things other than writing that you want to do. Attend to them when you are not at your best for writing. For me this is toward the end of the day. I try to book appointments, check social media, read or weed in the afternoon.
Exercise: In my view this is one of the most effective activities to jolt you back into a routine. Aerobic exercise facilitates information processing, thinking and memory functions, stimulates the growth of new connections and is protective against getting down on yourself or anxious if you are finding getting back into a routine difficult. If you exercise out in nature there is the added benefit of the environment providing stimulation for your imagination and you can use your movement time to think about writing. You’d be surprised how often activity will provide inspiration and boost your flow. Destructo dog is now six months old so I’ve started to teach her to come running with me which is great fun for both of us and afterward she makes an excellent writing companion.
Immerse yourself in some writing related activities: Go to a literary event or a writer’s group, and read. In the evenings I am reading The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid, a fiction work in the genre I am writing my own novel in, and How Fiction Works by James Wood a book about the main elements of fiction. I managed to catch a couple of events at the tail end of the Melbourne Writers Festival and have planned with a fellow writer friend to organize our own writing retreat for a week in November.
Be patient: It takes a bit of time to get back into the flow after a break. Expect that, and don’t give yourself a hard time about it. When you get distracted, keep returning to your routine, until it becomes your routine. Just like it was before you took a break.
Main image: The Guggenheim Museum, New York
Inset images in order: Writing Supervisors; Destructo dog after a run; A Toast: Judith Lucy’s Dream Dinner Party, Melbourne Writers Festival.