Return to Writing in Six Steps

Yesterday, I was frustrated, pessimistic. I was disappointed and pissed off. Today is different.

I’ve taken steps to ensure that the coffee is up to snuff, but you can’t really avoid it. The down times, I mean, not the coffee. Problems with coffee can always be avoided. You just dump out the pot and try again. With writing, not so much.

When I’ve been Not Writing for awhile, I tend to get melancholic. You might recognize these symptoms in yourself.

You take a favorite book down and read some words. You think, “How the hell did this writer find the time to do this?” Or perhaps you say, “I live in a different age. No one will appreciate this sort of work today. Philistines!” And then you slam the book closed and console yourself with a nice little rant or maybe just work on your own personal storm cloud.

All of which is really Not Writing, isn’t it?

Of course it is, but it’s also part of the process. You let it come and have its say and then you let it fade away. Then, you begin the work.

The body retains the memory of what it has done before and so does the mind. The pathways may be a bit overgrown but they’re there. You just need to practice a bit to get back into the swing of things.

For me, that practice involves writing but also reading and listening. I listen to podcast stories while mowing the lawn. I read books with honest-to-god plots. These are the things that will spark your imagination in a fruitful way.

Well, that and extremely strong coffee.

Six Steps to Returning to Writing

I went way back into my notes this morning, and I found the same pattern repeated over and over. The fits and starts are easy to identify. They’re usually punctuated at either end by some external distraction that’s taken over my life. I’m sure the same could be said for anyone. In any case, I also noticed that I had developed a series of habits that led to successful runs in my writing life:

  1. Show up – This is the first step. You must appear at the desk daily. You know this. You also know it is not optional. There is nothing more important than this.
  2. Purge – This is the second step. You must put your hands on the keyboard (or pen to paper) and purge yourself. You cannot get beyond yourself if you are stuck on yourself.
  3. Write – Once you have purged, you must write. You must not break or go wandering about. You must not take the relief of purging as a sign you are done. Write.
  4. Stop – When you are returning to writing, it is important that you stop before you are written out. You wouldn’t try to run a marathon or even a 5K if you hadn’t trained. You’ll hurt yourself, or at the very least burn out the desire to show up the next day.
  5. Be Patient – I’ve written for over 20 years, and still I have problems with this one. If I return from a break, I expect my work to come off like it did before. It won’t. It may never be the same. Depending on how you view your work, that may be a comfort. The thing is to be patient and take what the writing will give. You will return to form (some form) after a time.
  6. Show Up – You begin the cycle again… Perhaps, you’ll think I’m cheating here by repeating the first step, but this is part of the method. When you leave the desk and step to the door, do you turn out the light knowing that you won’t return the next day? Leave the light on, if only in your mind. Remember that this is a process, a habit. This is something you know how to do, but you have to commit to it first and foremost.

A final word about planning… By design, I have not included planning in the six steps. Many of you may wonder why. After all, isn’t planning an essential part of writing? Yes, it is, but we are not writing just yet. We are returning to writing after a long layoff. If you do not show up and you do not purge and you do not write, you will spend your life planning and not executing. Ultimately, writing is keeping your ass in the saddle. Get yourself into that habit first.

Author’s Note: Yes, I’m fairly certain it was the coffee.

13 thoughts on “Return to Writing in Six Steps

  1. This is great advice, for writing, not to mention life in general. Thanks for sharing.

    I particularly liked the expression “work on your own personal storm cloud.” It’s got me thinking about how often I do that. Maybe I need to focus on working on my own personal sunshine instead.

  2. You don’t know how much I needed this.

    I have been Not Writing for about a year now. It’s depressing, because while a part of my mind (happily) ignores it, another part feels a crushing weight, like all my dreams are slipping away. Because when I’m Not Writing, that means I’m also Not Exercising, and Not Losing Weight, and Not Learning That Foreign Language. Frankly, it means I’m playing a lot of Xbox. And while I love video games, am I content to sacrifice all my dreams to it?

    I’m glad to see that someone else struggles with this sort of thing. The same lack of discipline and yes, laziness that I feel. I try so hard for pleasure and fun in the short term, that I miss out on the long term. Your post is a good reminder, and I’m going to write today. Thanks.

  3. @rp It’s always good to look at it from the opposite angle. I’m all about the sunshine!

    @Clint Mmmm. Xbox. Black Ops is calling me, calling me… Stockpile. Hardcore Free For All. {shiver} So, yeah, I know where you are and what you’re going through. Get back in the saddle and write. 🙂

  4. I cannot write for toffee, that is- when I’m not inspired. I think everyone is different. If I’m not in the mood, I don’t write, and neither do I force myself to. Because I believe that if you force yourself to write, you end up writing stuff that’s not as good as what you normally write in those fits when you’re inspired. And when you check your article out later, you get less motivated to write again because of the substandard quality you witness :S

    (^My opinion).

  5. Sometimes the hardest part of the writing process is sitting my butt in chair. After that difficulty, it’s much smoother…until #5. I have trouble with the whole patience thing!

  6. Thank you Jamie for the timely advice. After a long period of not writing, I recently took some of these steps. Showing up and shaking the rust off (your steps 1 and 2) were my natural first steps and now it is time to write. It helps to know that I am not alone and that there is a road back.

  7. I don’t have any problem getting my ass in the saddle, but the horse keeps wanting to run off and read blogs. I have a friend who doesn’t have an internet connection (or a TV) in her home. She writes ten times as much as I do. Maybe I should unplug the ethernet cable.

  8. Oh, I like this. Writing after Dry. Or Writing to save from Dry. I acknowledge the need that addressed the topic.

  9. Thanks for the advice. I have trouble with the showing up part. But I’m trying, once again, to establish a routine for myself. Only I can make sure it works this time.

  10. Ah, I loved this!

    It’s what I did – although I didn’t actually put it in steps like that!

    I set a goal – something easy, because getting back in the saddle is not the time to stretch yourself, and I picked 200 – and committed myself to reaching it every day I wrote (I take Sundays off). I did that for… a while. And then the fog lifted. My goal now is 400 words, and most days I can easily surpass that (sometimes up to 1k in a day), but the 400 is still a hard thing to reach some days. And your writechain has done me a lot of good! Thank you so much for creating that.

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