Something weird about being a writer is that no matter your degree of success, you basically find yourself facing the same personal and professional challenges as everyone else who’s doing the writing things.
Like, you might think people like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King never have days when they don’t feel like doing their jobs. But despite what they may have claimed in the past, in reality, they’re just like you and me. They struggle. They have bad days. They drop their work and have a hard time picking it back up again.
They might be more skilled in the art of “sucking it up” than most of us. But that doesn’t mean they write without roadblocks. None of us would be writers if we didn’t face roadblocks. They’re what teach us to be persistent and push harder to achieve our goals.
One of the hardest things for many aspiring and working writers to do is pick their work back up after leaving it alone for a while. It’s such a common struggle that even John Green has admitted he’s afraid to hold off on starting a new book for too long after finishing the previous one for fear he’ll never even start another novel again.
All of us have fears like this, at least to some degree. We’re afraid to let that momentum slow down. Once we get going, slowing down just seems reckless. Dangerous, even.
But eventually, whether it’s purposeful or not, we do end up stopping — because we’re finished with what we’ve been working on, or life has gotten in the way and forced us to put our writing aside. Or maybe we’re just tired and worn out and even if we don’t want to stop, we find we actually don’t have a choice.
The problem isn’t that we stop. It’s getting back into it that’s the most challenging.
Have you ever thought about why that could be?
It could be that you’re not stopping at a good endpoint — one that’s easy to pick right back up from when you do return. For example, you’re setting your novel aside before you finish a first draft — at worst, you’re stopping in the middle of a sentence that was supposed to end some way but you can’t for the life of you remember how.
Perhaps you’re trying to jump back into a big project too quickly. At the beginning of 2019, I tried and failed to return to a daily 1,000-word goal so I could finish the first draft of my book. It was too much. So I reduced the total to 500, and was able to meet it — and plan on increasing in intervals until I’m ready to get back to 1,000.
It’s also possible that you’re not using your time away from writing in a constructive way — meaning you’re not giving your body and mind time to recharge. I’m guilty of this one. Sometimes I burn out, but instead of replacing writing with rest, I fill my time with another creative outlet when I should be giving my brain and body the time they need to heal. If the reason you stop writing is because you’re exhausted, exhausting yourself further is not the solution that’s going to make transitioning back into writing any easier.
First, know that taking breaks is not only OK: it’s necessary.
Second, pay attention to why you’re feeling the need to take a break. The simplest issue could be that you’re just not excited about what you’re working on anymore and want to stop. That’s OK. It sometimes takes some trial and error to figure out what you want to write about and what you really don’t.
Third, if you’re struggling to get back into it, just take your time. There’s no rush — in fact, rushing will only make you sloppy and inconsistent in your writing. Take things slow. And try to enjoy it. Not all writing has to be work, you know. At least, not all writing has to FEEL like work.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.