How to Come Back from a Writing Hiatus
It happens to the best of us. It happened to me, last October. And it will probably happen again. The dreaded writing hiatus. Sometimes, taking a break from writing is an intentional choice. And sometimes, it just comes from nowhere until one day BAM! You haven’t worked on your WIP for months.
But never fear! From my experiences with writing slumps and unintentional hiatuses, I have learned some of the best tricks for coming back stronger than ever. From simple tactics to last-ditch efforts, one of these tips is sure to get you back into your writing groove.
Dealing with a Writing Hiatus
A writing hiatus is that ugly, gross, despicable break you may take when working on your projects. This can be a novel you’re working on, a short story, a poem, a blog post – you name it!
Personally, I know that sometimes taking a hiatus is necessary. Occasionally, I will just need a mental break, or I’ve hit a roadblock in my writing, or I’m in-between projects. But usually, these are unwanted breaks.
My personal opinion? Avoid taking these breaks whenever possible.
But, you might say after reading the text above, you said that sometimes a hiatus is necessary. Yes, sometimes a hiatus is necessary, but I think that is only true when you have developed bad writing habits. If you are stuck in a bad writing habit, chances are a hiatus is right around the corner. But luckily, this hiatus could be a blessing in disguise in order to get you into the right writing habits.
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Reorienting Yourself After a Hiatus
After a long absence from your WIP, sometimes the juices just aren’t flowing. Hopefully, some of these tips will be able to help you get back into your writing groove – or develop good writing habits.
1. Re-read the last thing you wrote
Nothing will get you back into writing like re-reading what you have already written. This helps to familiarize yourself with your characters, your setting, your scene, and where you’re at within your story.
a. Re-reading from the beginning
Sometimes, you may need to read your entire story from the beginning. If you are still currently working on the first draft, you MUST ignore the need to edit your work. At this point, you’re not trying to edit what you’ve written so far. You’re trying to continue writing.
b. Re-reading your last segment
This might be reading the last chapter you wrote, the last scene, the last stanza, etc. This will help you re-orient exactly where you’re at within your story, and remind you where the story was heading.
2. Revisit your outline
If you’re an outliner (as opposed to a pantser), it will be very helpful for you to review your story outline. Your outline is the most critical piece in the puzzle of crafting your project, and will tell you exactly where your story needs to go. From your outline, you can see which plot points you’ve already hit, as well as look ahead to what you’re working towards.
3. Plan out your writing
This can be very helpful to do the day before you plan to actually begin writing again. It’s important to take the time to review your previous writing and your outline, but you need to have a plan to put into action.
a. Set writing goals
Set a goal for your writing. This can be writing until a certain point in the story, or reaching a certain word count.
b. Create a safe writing environment
You don’t want to sit down to write only to realize that you’re space is cluttered, you’re hungry, or you have an important phone call to take in 15 minutes. Create a clean and clutter-free space for you to sit down and write where you will be free from distractions. Make yourself a snack, and bring a drink along. Carve out the time in your day to dedicate entirely to writing – don’t try and multitask during this time.
Getting Into the Writing Groove
Now that you have revisited your work, reviewed what you are working towards in your outline, and dedicated the time and space for writing, it’s time to actually start writing.
At this point, some people might have no problem getting back into the writing groove. You’ve spent time away from your characters, and you’re eager to put them back to work surviving your story. That’s great!
But for some people, writer’s block might prevent them from getting work done. I know the feeling – we’ve all been there. Sometimes, this just happens even when you’ve written everyday for three months!
Here are some tips to get started writing.
1. Try to write as much as you can in one sitting
This involves just sitting down, and putting your fingers to work. Know objectively where you need your story to go, and let your fingers fly across your keyboard as you attempt to reach that place.
Freewriting means writing without judgment. Who cares if what you’re writing is crap? That’s what editing is for – and we’re not there yet! Write knowing that you’re writing crap, and embrace it. Because look: you’re writing! And that’s the whole point.
3. Write a scene you’ve been dying to write
We all have those scenes we’re just itching to get to so we can finally write them. Whether that’s the final climax, the first kiss, or the heart-wrenching plot twist, the point is we’re excited to write it. So if you’re having trouble getting into the swing of writing again, forget chronology! Write the piece you’re passionate and excited about, and that will surely get the creative juices flowing and get you back into the writing groove.
If nothing I’ve mentioned above is working for you, there are a few last tips I can offer to help you continue writing.
1. Edit a small chunk of your last write
I know, I know, I said that this isn’t the time for editing. But if all else fails, going back to what you have already written and playing around with that might be a good way to get your fingers moving across the keyboard. Editing will not only improve your draft, it will give you a boost of confidence in your writing and your WIP. This can be a great motivator for continuing on with your project.
2. Get feedback
If this doesn’t get you worked up, I don’t know what will. Handing over your WIP is one of the most terrifying things a writer can do. But letting a fresh pair of eyes look at your project will motivate you to continue writing. If someone reads your WIP and provides you feedback, you can use their construction and criticism to your advantage by helping you find a reason to write. There are always things to work on in your draft. Even a negative criticism of your book should draw upon your defensive emotions and make you want to continue writing to prove that person wrong.
3. Eat something with sugar or caffeine
This is something that personally helps me, even in my day-to-day writing! Sometimes, I know in my head that I really want to write, but I’m feeling lethargic or lazy. For me, caffeine doesn’t do much. But sugar will get me going! I actually had a bowl of frosted flakes right before writing this blog post, and I’ve written it straight through! Sugar and caffeine give you an artificial high and boost of energy that can sometimes be necessary when you’re not feeling in the mood to write. Lots of authors and artists swear by chocolate.
4. Write anything
If you’ve been staring at your screen for the last 4 hours and haven’t even touched a key on your keyboard, you have got to make yourself writing something. Anything. Open up your emails and respond to one. Update your Twitter feed. Respond to a comment on Facebook. Just write anything. Then come back to your WIP and write anything. Write one sentence. Write one word. Even if that’s all you can manage, at least you won’t end the day a total failure. You can look back on it, and see that you did something with your WIP.
Avoiding a Writing Hiatus
Now that we’ve covered ways to treat a writing hiatus and how to get back into writing, let’s talk about avoiding them. As I mentioned before, a lot of writing hiatuses will occur when you have bad writing habits. Here are a few ways to help avoid a writing hiatus:
1. Write everyday
This should be obvious, and I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you this. But I want to stress that you don’t have to write magical, wonderful prose every day. It comes back to one of my suggestions above, just write anything. Of course it’s always better to set aside a set amount of time to write everyday, or give yourself a word count goal to hit. But you can’t always manage that. On days like that, remember to write even a single word. It’s the consistency and habit of writing everyday that will keep you on top of your WIP and help prevent unwanted hiatuses.
2. Leave and return mid-sentence
Here’s a handy little trick I haven’t actually tried myself, but would be interested to see if it works. The idea is that you stop writing before you’ve finished your last sentence. Leaving it open-ended like this gives you an automatic place to pick up the next time you start writing. You will always have something to write this way.
3. Reward yourself
Knowing that there’s a little treat for yourself at the end of a writing session can be a great way to motivate yourself. This could be in the form of food, it could be a present to yourself, or it could be the gift of relaxation. Whatever it is, make sure it’s enough to keep you motivated through your writing. It can also be a great way to ensure that you keep writing. Give yourself a bigger reward for writing x-number of days in a row, or for hitting a certain point in your project.
4. Remember that it’s hard work, and it won’t always be good
I am a perfectionist. My number one instinct is to take three hours writing one sentence in order to make sure that it’s absolutely perfect. I will always want to go back and edit what I’ve already written, even if I haven’t finished my first draft. But it really helps me to push through the bad writing days when I remember that it isn’t always going to be good. My writing won’t be amazing every time I sit down at the keyboard, but that is not what’s important. Getting from start to finish is the most important thing when working on your first draft, so as long as you are writing to that end, you’re doing a fantastic job.
My Experience With a Writing Hiatus
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I experienced a really rough writing hiatus around October of 2016 that lasted until the end of January 2017. I mentioned this in my writing journal where I post regular updates of my writing process. I was dealing with some really tough family issues, and then the holidays came around, and then at the beginning of the year I got sick for like a month straight. I didn’t intend to stop writing, but it just happened.
What really helped me was writing everyday, regardless of how good the writing actually was. Getting into this habit not only helped my word count and creativity, but it also sparked a newfound love of writing in me. I was once again excited to write, and I found that I would occasionally have writing days where I was writing upwards of 3,000 words a day! Which is a lot for me, considering many days I will write less than a hundred words.
The point is, a writing slump or hiatus can be a really scary thing to deal with. Especially if you have deadlines, or personal goals that you are trying to reach. By setting yourself up correctly, you can avoid these hiatuses in the future. Getting back into your writing groove is simply a matter of reorienting yourself in your WIP, and forcing yourself to begin writing.
Check out my Writing Journal blog posts:
- Writing My First Novel, Part 5: OUTLINING AFTER THE FIRST DRAFT? 1 YEAR REFLECTION
- My Second Book: A NEW TALE! OUTLINING?!
- Writing My First Novel, Part 4: I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT??!!
Let’s talk about it
Have you experienced a writing hiatus? What were some of the things that helped you climb out of the writing rut? Share your experience below in the comments!