After a month of not writing, you feel like one of those aimless, masticating creatures from the walking dead. You wake up bleary-eyed, confused, covered in what you hope is sweat, and wonder, “What the hell am I doing with my life?!”
Don’t get me wrong. The first week of not writing felt great. I felt like I could breathe. My shoulders and testicles loosened up. I smiled more.
But as the days elapsed and the word count remained firmly at zero, I began to go stir crazy.
I was recently pushed into a psychotic breakdown or what normal folk call “moving house”. So I didn’t write anything. And the most troubling part of it all was, when the dust had settled and I was ready to write again, I found myself staring at a blank page.
Not one for simply bending over and letting writer’s block settle deep inside my most intimate cavity, I decided to remedy the situation. I’m back into a writing routine again and here is how I did it.
How To Start Writing Again After A Long Break
When you’ve been writing every day for three years, getting faster each year, the last thing you want to do is stop completely.
It is easier to ride momentum than it is to build it from scratch.
So… When you go MIA from the keyboard for a couple of weeks, a month, or longer, you will inevitably face difficulty sinking back into the rhythm of things.
You lost flow. Now you gotta get it back. Here’s how.
Get out of your head
I don’t mean take a six-pack of Bulmers down to the local park and be sick on the see-saw.
I mean you’ve gotta stop analysing what you’re doing.
If you were prolific before – or at least hit the flow state – you’ll know there are a few things you DIDN’T DO.
- Editing while writing
- Taking pauses to think longer than 1 minute
You shouldn’t be doing any of that.
You know this. You just need reminding.
Remember “shitty first drafts”?
That’s your default position when you come to the blank page.
You have an idea of your story and your characters but when it’s time to type, it’s time to type.
Thinking time stops.
You are now a monkey who knows how to use a keyboard.
Make a mess. Clean it up later.
Don’t take those fingers off the keyboard for very long.
Remember that sexy little fish with the bad Finding Nemo spin-off? What would she say if she was giving you writing advice?
Decades of frustrated failed-writers-turned-English-teachers have vomited the advice that good writing requires writing slow. But look at the vast amount of the great works of literature from On the Road to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to any of the entertaining stuff from the pulp era and you’ll see that slow writing ≠ good writing.
In fact, you can argue the case that fast writing = good writing.
Art is a subconscious process and utilises a ton of intuition. Keep typing, something good may crop up. If it’s crap, you can cut it later.
Typing fast and reducing thinking is also helpful because it will get you back into that flow state.
Your mind/body/soul/daemon doesn’t know if what you’re writing is good or not. All it knows is “HOLY SMOKES! I’M TYPING FAST! I MUST BE ON A ROLL!”
You then ride that positive momentum forward and worry about cleaning things up and improving your craft once you’ve got your pace back.
Nurture your subconscious mind
Getting out of your head/writing without thinking has a flip side – you need to nurture it in ways that require you to be away from the keyboard.
You want to refine your intuition and improve your subconscious impulses.
Take David Mamet’s advice and increase the quantity and quality of your leisure time.
James Patterson breaks up his writing day by hitting the golf course. He then returns to write in the afternoon with even more creative energy. If you’ve ever golfed, you know the combination of being in nature and gentle exercise results in a lot of fertile ideas.
You can nurture your subconscious mind by:
- Walking in nature
- New experiences
- Looking at art
Find what works for you. What makes you energised after you finish with it? What results in different ideas sprouting inside your noggin?
If you want a book that specifically aims to get your subconscious writing mind working, I highly recommend Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer.
Ditch word count & increase time commitment
I’m a disgusting hypocrite.
One moment I tell you not to pause and just keep typing. Next I tell you to ditch the word count. What’s going on?!
Well it’s not that hypocritical.
Sure, keeping your fingers running over the keyboard is 100% going to ensure you hit a high word count.
If you’re returning to writing and you’re feeling resistance, ditch the psychological burden of having a word count. At least until you get back into your stride.
But coming back to writing, I ditched my minimum word count and decided to “just write”.
Time spent dreaming counts as writing too (if you’re having a really bad day).
My point is this: don’t make things more difficult for you by introducing guilt into the equation.
Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to slip back into the flow of things. And you can do this by unshackling the pressures of the daily word quota.
Instead of tracking words, track minutes or hours spent in a writing frame of mind/in front of your manuscript. That’s a measure of success that won’t leave you feeling guilty and will encourage you more each day.
A goat, a naughty child, a village of heathens.
I mean sacrifice some time-suck that has crept into your life.
I took a month off from writing. That means small new habits crept into my life that I didn’t have before. For me, I read more manga.
Now that you’re coming back to the page, a few other things have to go.
Evaluate how you’re spending your days.
- Are you waking up later?
- Are you watching more TV?
- Are you jacking it on an hourly basis?
Carve out pockets of time by reducing the time-sucks.
Be strict… or be lazy
Here are my top two methods for busting out of a writing rut… And they are both completely conflicting.
You can only do one at a time.
- Follow a simple set of writing rules to the letter.
- Ditch the rules completely.
Depending on the day, your mood, your frame of mind, and the alignment of the moon, one of these is going to drastically help you.
Some days I just want David Mamet Sensei to tell me that a scene has to answer three questions:
- What do the characters want?
- What happens if they don’t get it?
- Why now?
This structure, keeping only these questions in mind, had the power to propel me forward in my work-in-progress.
Other days I just want to say, “Screw these rules!” and write like a child who doesn’t care how ridiculous he sounds.
Both work. But it depends on what you need right now. Try them both and find out.
The point at which you become so excited about a brewing story that you suddenly stop being a perfectionist and self-editing is the point where you write like a madman.
Sometimes you just need to chill. Put on a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Listen to some beats. And dream about the world and characters you want to spunk into reality.
Get yourself so excited about telling the story that you feel like you’re going to burst.
Then let it all flood out.