In May this blog went on hiatus. Between exams and travelling it wasn’t feasible for me to keep it up, so I decided I’d take a short break and restart in August. A good plan. Nothing wrong with taking a break when needed. Except it almost wasn’t so much a break as a break-up.
What went wrong?
It’s not that I was too busy. I did have a busy summer, but I found time to write thousands of words. I could have fit in a few more.
What’s worse, this blog isn’t the only major project I put off. Those thousands of words? None in my novel. I put that away in April and barely looked at it until the end of September. And while I strongly believe no writing is ever wasted, I could have a finished draft by now if I hadn’t written 50000+ words of other things.
Clearly, I’ve got a problem with picking back up what I put down. I doubt I’m the only one. Lucky for you, I managed to get going again and so can share tips to make it easier.
First, identify why you’re avoiding the project. With this blog, I felt I shouldn’t give advice. With my novel, I was sure I’d irrevocably screwed up the pacing. Hell, when I was recently ill I missed a few martial arts sessions and didn’t want to go back, scared 2 weeks was enough to send me back to square one.
See a pattern? It’s all doubt. Doubt in yourself and doubt in your abilities makes trying again hard.
So do what you can to assuage those doubts. I planned posts that relied on my own experiences. I created a timeline with Scrivener. I practised forms at home. Whatever you can do to dismiss those creeping doubts – do it.
Or, get a friend to give a pep-talk/kick you up the butt. (Cheers Beth – without you this blog would still be dead.)
What are you doing instead of your project? I procrastinated through short stories and fanfiction. For me, they’re a lethal combination of instant gratification and productivity. Your Achille’s Heel might be harder to spot, but it’ll be there. Find it out. Cut it down. Spend more time with your old friend.
If cutting it completely is a no-go, find a workaround. I get one evening of free writing I want every 5000 words of manuscript. Don’t let it drown out what you really want to be doing.
So you know why you’re not doing it. That might seem good enough reason to never touch your project again. But before you burn that manuscript, think. You put it down because you had to. Why did you start? You had something to say, a story to tell, a world to explore, a skill to learn, a need to create.
I see this advice a lot and it’s good – reconnect with the feeling that made you start. If you can do so with sensory triggers (I use MANIA by Fall Out Boy) it’s more effective, but you can also just focus on what exactly makes that project special. Write it down if that helps. Once you’ve got that spark back, it all gets easier.
Now is the time to start, but if you’re still putting it off there’s a final resort. Make a plan. It can be as simple as scheduling twenty minutes of writing time into your bullet journal, or as complex as rejigging your outline. I like to bullet point the upcoming scene. Put yourself in the best possible starting position. Just make sure that preparation doesn’t become procrastination. Eventually, you have to take the plunge.
Ideally, that plunge is into an infinity pool overlooking the Mediterranean. Technical hitches aside, restarting this blog was on that end of the spectrum. But other times you’ll fling yourself headfirst into a swamp. That was returning to The Guard’s Heart. Every touch made me squirm, thick mud smothered all paths, despair settled in and all I could think was ‘What am I doing?’ as I inched slowly (incredibly, frustratingly slowly) in the direction I guessed was right. ‘Swamp walking’ was a popular birthday party when I was little, so this metaphor is based on grimy experience.
When swap walking, there’s nothing at the other end but a bucket of cold water and maybe some damper bread if you’re lucky. Writing holds richer rewards. It’s normal to have that horribly sluggish phase, but it is only a phase. You’ve been away a while. It’s natural you’ll need time to get back into it. Keep your expectations low and be proud of every word you achieve. I remember when 2 hours writing time meant 2000 words for my manuscript. The other day I had to be content with 170. Be patient. Build the habit. Work hard. You’ll find your way before you know it.
A final note. Don’t be surprised if the work you find isn’t the one you left. No gremlins have messed with it, but in even a short time you’ll change and grow. You’ll look at it from a different place. Scenes you were proud of may seem childish, or characters you disliked somehow settle in your heart without your notice. Both happened to me. Don’t be afraid to change direction if you think the story needs it, and take as many breaks as you need to get it done. The important thing is that you always come back.