Heya! It’s been a minute, but I’m back from my vacation to Alaska and the San Juan Islands and finally back to the blog. If you need rejuvenation or perspective, I highly recommend visiting this part of the world. Boundless glacier blue sea, evergreens, whales, white-capped mountains you mistake for clouds. There’s magic in that sea and sky.
Have you ever returned from a magical and expansive vacation only to feel too foggy to get back to your writing routine? That’s me. 🙋🏻 Every time.
Instead of writing, I’ll stare out the window lost in the fairytale of my vacation stories. It’s a challenge to re-awaken the willpower and discipline muscles after a few weeks off.
Or maybe you recently got over sickness, or (and I hope not) a setback or tragedy. You know you’re ready to revisit your writing routine and come back to a place that looks somewhat like normalcy… but it’s not clicking.
I’ve had my share of breaks (good and bad), sickness, and setbacks to know: beginning again is the hardest part of the process. Here are some tried-and-true strategies I’ve used to bounce back into writing after a break:
1. Cut Yourself Some Slack
No matter how long it’s been since you’ve put words down... no matter how many times you’ve stared at a blank page and walked away to watch Netflix…
STOP the toxic thoughts. Yes, you. Right now!
STOP 👏 THE 👏 TOXIC 👏 THOUGHTS! 👏
You are a writer. You have stories and ideas and words to share. You are enough.
I know what your inner critic is saying to you. My own internal critic (I call her Diane) has screamed at me too. You’re a shitty writer. You’ll never publish anything. You’re lazy. You’re a screw up.
Cut her off, and cut yourself some slack. You have permission to give yourself grace.
And no, this is not “letting you off the hook.” Forgiving yourself, being gentle with your spirit, is psychologically necessary to move again.
Gretchen Rubin, a leading voice in the study of happiness and habits, explains that folks who show more compassion and less shame toward themselves are more likely to get back on the horse. People who feel guilty and self-blame have a harder time beginning again.
Do this exercise with me:
Close your eyes, sit comfortably, and relax your shoulders.
Take three deep breaths – in through your nose, out through your mouth. Hold the breath at the top for two heartbeats. Release.
Say this aloud to yourself (and I do mean OUT LOUD): You are enough. I forgive you. I offer you compassion and grace. You are enough…
Repeat for three-to-five minutes.
The first time you do this exercise, the second-person “you” is important. You must address your inner artist directly. Give her grace. The second time around, you can switch to the first person: I am enough. I forgive myself. I offer myself compassion and grace.
You can do this. Forgive yourself, and get to work.
2. Revisit Your WHY and Your WHAT
Why do you write? When’s the last time you really thought about that question?
If you’re working on a project––especially a long one like a novel––but can’t get back into the swing of writing after a break, it’s time to revisit your why.
Coming back from a break is the perfect time to meditate or journal on the questions, “Why do I write?” or “Why am I writing THIS piece?”
Digging for the why behind the important things in life requires real work. I recommend working through Marie Forleo’s audio training, How to Get Anything You Want, to unearth your why and clarify if your what (see below) is aligned. Ruth Soukup of the Do It Scared podcast also has a helpful episode on finding your why.
Once you’re clear on your why, then you can clarify your what.
Does the project your working on (the what) align with your why? If not… why not? Maybe that is the reason you’re not bouncing back. Maybe it’s time to “kill a darling” and work on something else––something that really gets you excited and ignites your why.
If your WHY and your WHAT are aligned, awesome! Revisiting those questions, keeping them front-of-mind, and journaling around them puts fuel back into your willpower tank.
Now that you’ve given your creative spirit a jumpstart, it’s time to get to work.
3. Start Very Small
How many times have you looked at your to-do list and wanted to collapse? You look at the deadline looming or the emails piling up. How do you even start? This feeling is especially strong when coming back to a writing routine after a break.
Once you’ve 1/ cut yourself some slack, 2/ fueled up on inspiration from your why and your what, it’s time to start very small. I’m talkin’ teeny tiny baby steps.
Psychologically, collecting small wins rebuilds confidence, reawakens our willpower muscles, and builds speed until we’re back at normal velocity.
Think of it this way: If you’re a morning runner, you don’t pop up in bed––barefoot and in your pajamas––and sprint to the door at full speed. No. You ease into it because you were prostrate and asleep for the last six hours. You wake up, go to the bathroom, drink a glass of water, change into workout clothes, lace up the sneaks, and maybe stretch for 10 minutes.
You hit the pavement after you’ve built up to the big event. Even then, you run at a reasonable pace until you reach full speed.
How to Start Small
Still unsure where to start? Revisit your what. Write your what in big bold letters on a fresh page in your journal. Then, plot out one tiny step you can take today to move in the right direction.
So you’re working on a novel. Your big what is: finish the first draft of my novel in 10 months. You’ve returned from two weeks away at a family reunion in another country. You’re finally back home. But you’re drained, there’s two tons of laundry to do and 10,000 emails to answer.
Instead of manhandling yourself back to the desk for two hours, take a baby step. Set a timer for 25 minutes. (This is important. If I don’t set a timer, I squirm and whine until I’m off into the Twitter vortex.) Then, choose one small thing. Maybe you…
Freewrite two paragraphs of your next chapter
Write a letter from the POV of a minor character to your main character
Write a letter from your main character to you, the writer
Brainstorm five new opening or closing sentences for your book
Choose a writing prompt that has nothing to do with your novel
What you do in that short time is up to you, but it needs to be small. Give yourself a high-five, do a little dance, and celebrate once you’ve hit 25 minutes.
4. Make a Date with Yourself
Did you know that ten to twelve minutes of planning can save two hours per day of wasted time? (Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!) That’s 730 hours––one whole month!––you save by taking ten minutes to plan ahead.
What could you do with an extra month each year? Take a dream vacation? A writing retreat? Spend more time with family? Finish your book?
Many folks take time in the morning for to-do lists. For me, I’ve found planning in the morning overwhelms me, and I hit analysis paralysis.
Instead, I take fifteen minutes at the end of the day to plan my goals for tomorrow. I like apps like Todoist and TickTick, but hand writing a list in my journal has been effective. Setting real appointments on iCal or Google calendar can work too.
Give each task a designated time slot. If I don’t do this, I end up with 25 things on my to-do list, and boom: analysis paralysis. Be gentle with yourself and focus on one or two tasks that push your what forward. Schedule those tasks at a time when you’re most productive (for me, that’s the morning), and plan the rest of your day around those goals. And yes, that includes 10 minutes of scrolling through Twitter and Instagram. Pencil it in, set a timer, and close out when the timer goes off. This diffuses the temptation to click over to social media when you’re stuck on a tricky sentence.
Then, stick to your appointments like my hair to the shower drain. (TMI? Sorry… it was the best simile I could think of. 😁) Treat your tasks like appointments you can’t miss. Protect those times like Gandalf guarded the fellowship from the Balrog!
If you live with family or roommates, give them a heads up that you are UNAVAILABLE during those time slots. You can leave a whiteboard or post-its on your door for someone to leave you a message. Remember: you’re working with a 25-minute timer. Unless something’s on fire, someone is bleeding or not breathing… it can wait until you’re finished.
5. Fire Up Your Energy Boosters
You know that feeling when you hear your favorite 90’s song or an inspiring talk? Or when you finish a hike or a conversation with your best bud? You’re energized, invigorated. You can take on the world. Things feel a little lighter, the world more open.
That’s an energy boost! It’s the product of doing something or interacting with someone who actively lights you up. We all have different energy boosters, and they’ll vary widely depending on if you’re an introvert or extrovert. I’m an introvert, so these are some of my energy boosters:
Sitting in the sun at the beach with a good book
Hiking to a mountain lake
Taking a walk with my dog, Nala, preferably near water
Having a heart-to-heart with a close friend or family member
Singing and dancing to Toto’s “Africa” on blast (and now Weezer’s cover! If their music video with Weird Al doesn’t make you crack up, we may need to re-assess this friendship)
If I find time throughout the week to do some of these things, I notice a productivity boost. Challenges and setbacks are a little less daunting. I have a little more stamina.
Do not underestimate the power of energy boosters. They can mean the difference between taking 25-minutes to write a scene in your short story or plopping on the couch with a bag of Cheetos.
What are your energy boosters? Write them down and figure out how to make time to weave them into your week. They don’t have to be big. Taking 10 minutes to snuggle your dog can boost your emotional, mental, and physical stamina.
CAUTION: Beware of energy vampires.
As all things have their opposite, for every energy booster there’s an energy vampire. Don’t forget to name and manage your energy vampires.
These are the people and things in life that, as the name suggests, suck the freakin’ life outta you!
Have you ever left a conversation and felt drained? Like you needed a nap or a hot bath? You’ve just encountered an energy vampire. These are folks who might be stirring up drama, needing extra extra attention, and are generally exhausting to be around. (There are two types of energy vampires––eternal and transient––but that’s a whole other blog post.)
Energy vampires can also be activities. Paying the bills, sitting in traffic, grading papers, giving a lecture.
Just like not all vampires are evil (hello Buffy fans and Twihards!), energy vampires aren’t always bad. They’re often necessary steps to reaching your goals. I love teaching writing, but after an hour-long class, I need some “me time.”
The important part is knowing your energy vampires and planning your time accordingly. Stake the truly evil ones through the heart. And yes, that can be as simple as unfollowing a friend that always complains and stirs up drama on Facebook.
Knowing what activities and people fill and deplete your energy wells is essential in having stamina to bounce back to your writing routine.
You can start by keeping an energy log. Set an alarm that goes off every hour or every two hours. Take five minutes to jot down what you’re doing, who you’re with, and how you feel. Do this for one week and review. What drained you? What filled you up? Did you notice any boosts in productivity? What pushed you forward?
Now that you know, weave in enough energy boosters alongside any vampires you need to slay during your week.
You’ve Got This
The hard part is getting started, but the really hard part is starting again. But you can do this. Give yourself a break, remember why you chose writing in the first place, take baby steps, and refill your energy reserves.
The world is waiting for your incredible stories.
How do you bounce back to a writing routine after a break? Let’s keep the tips going in the comments!
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Sources & Resources
Forleo, M. How to Get Anything You Want. MarieForleo.com. https://www.marieforleo.com/how-to-get-anything-you-want/
Rubin, G. (2015). Better Than Before. Random House. https://gretchenrubin.com/books/better-than-before/about-the-book/
Tracy, B. (2008.) Eat That Frog! Blackstone Pub. https://www.briantracy.com/blog/time-management/the-truth-about-frogs/