I loved Melissa’s guest post last week…the letter she’d written to her writer self of a decade ago, the self that quit writing. It was a great big smack in the face…‘cause I’ve quit, too. Sometimes for years. Sometimes only weeks.
Sometimes days. And dammit, even days is too long.
Whatever your excuse was for quitting, legitimate — death in the family, moving house, hurricane — or illegitimate — because it feels too hard, is taking too long, or you’re just get frustrated with all you don’t know about writing — it’s tough to set down the pen. But once done, it’s harder than hell to pick it up again. Doesn’t matter whether you quit for a week or a year…or ten years.
It can be an agonizing decision to start again, perhaps more agonizing than stopping.
I quit for a long time once, to have babies and work full time. I don’t recommend it (giving up the writing for babies and working, not the babies and working themselves). I felt like I couldn’t do all of that at the same time…not and avoid having Child Protective Services show up on my doorstep holding hands with a bill collector.
But really, I used them as an excuse to stop writing, because writing was hard. And I didn’t get that most things worth doing ARE hard.
It’s not like I didn’t do anything else but burp babies and slave over medical documents during that time off from writing, either. In my downtime, I tole painted and crafted. There’s a couple of afghans kicking around that I managed to find the time for, as well as some seriously intricate counted cross-stitch pictures hanging over my parents’ mantel.
But I have no writing to show for those years…and, like Melissa, I frequently think, “What if I’d kept going? Where would I be in my career right now?” That, and, “What the hell were you thinking?!”
It doesn’t have to be an extended absence from the writing world that waylays you either. It doesn’t even have to be a conscious decision to quit. It could be a matter of just thinking you’re too tired today or that running errands is more important. Tomorrow when it’s writing time again, it’s just a tiny bit more difficult to get going. The day after, you’re getting kind of comfortable with this extra time.
I think we’ve gone over this before…how easy it is to quit. Let’s not even get into that. You quit. I quit. We all quit sometimes. Let’s figure out how to fix it.
Here are some ways to trick yourself into getting writing again…cause sometimes that’s just what it takes:
1) Set a ridiculously low goal. Like 1 paragraph a day, 1 sentence. So low that you’d have to hang your head in shame not to get it done. There’s no excuse not to write a paragraph a day. You can do it in the bathroom if you need to.
2) Don’t write. Brainstorm instead. Write down as many ideas as you can think of to write about when you do start writing again. (It’ll trick you into getting excited and inspired to do the actual writing.)
3) Skip over the hard stuff. When you get writing and things stall you (like a sex scene you really don’t want to write, because you just changed a dirty diaper and you’re not feeling it), just skip it. Instead, leave a blank, such a [insert sex scene here] or [XXX], which is easy to search for later. Hint: Don’t forget to go back and fill in those blanks later. I had a friend who once used [insert sex scene here] and forgot to do so, earning her a frustrated call from her editor later for getting her all hot and bothered and then not delivering. The point is, don’t let the hard stuff make you stop again.
4) Time yourself. Timers work wonders. Even I can write for 15 minutes.
5) Hold hands. If you need your hand held to get anything done, set up writing sprints with friends online. Thirty minutes of heads-down words on a page. Ready, set, go! Everything’s more fun with a partner and the competition alone may get you going again.
6) Re-read your old stuff. I love discovering something I wrote a while ago and realizing I don’t recognize it…and I like it! It inspires me to get going again.
7) Don’t push it. There’s no reason to go from 0 to 60 in one day. Start small and work your way up again, flexing those writing muscles gradually. No need to give yourself a Charlie horse trying to get back up to your previous levels too quickly.
8) Use tough love. Don’t call yourself a writer until you’re actually writing again. Being a “writer” implies action. So if you’re not taking the action…
9) Write anything. When you’re just getting started again, you don’t have to work on your Great American Novel. It’s only important that you get words on the page to get that habit going again…write poems, write a letter to your best friend or mortal enemy, write dirty limericks. Just write.
10) Exercise. (Not physically, lord no! I’m no masochist!) I mean exercise your fingers and your brain by copy-typing a scene from a book. I tried this the other day after breaking from writing, and it felt really good…I just picked a book (one that stayed open easily on its own) and started copying the scene. It’s not about plagiarism. It’s about tricking your mind into thinking you’re doing the writing. Once it starts to feel good, delete what you typed fomr somebody else’s book and start writing your own. Your fingers are warmed up now and your mind is thinking about words and scenes. It’s actually fun!
So, there are 10 ideas to get going again. I hope some of them are unique. If one doesn’t work, try a different one. Because we’re each hard-headed in a different way, what works for one of you might not work for another.
The important thing is not how fast you go when you’re getting started again…it’s that you start.
Have you ever quit writing? How long did it last and what did you do to get back into the groove?