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Wednesday, October 26

5 Ways to Restart Your Writing After a Break

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Writing breaks happen for many reasons—from life getting in the way, to a lull in creativity, to being busy with other writing things that aren’t putting words to paper. For the lucky writers, getting back to work takes little to no time and the muse picks up where she left off.

For the rest of us… [repeated sound of forehead hitting the keyboard]

I’m not quite at the keyboard-hitting stage, but I’m scowling at it after months of book releases and blog tours. I know it’s time to get back to fiction, but it’s daunting to dive into a project right away. I’ve been here before, so I know what to do, but it’s the doing part than can be rough, especially for writers who haven’t faced this hurdle before.

If you’re caught in this, “I want to write, but sweet mercy does that have to involve actually writing?” stage, here are some things to try to find your motivation:

1. Re-Read Your Current Work in Progress


If you paused in the middle of a book, just reading it again can get those creative juices flowing and bring back the excitement for that book. You’ll remind yourself why you loved it, what the story was all about, and who the characters you fell in love with are. It’s also a good way to put yourself back in the mindset of your protagonist so you can pick up where you left off. This is the first thing I do when returning to a project after a long break. If I have no draft yet, I’ll review all my notes, outlines, or research.

2. Create (or Update) an Editorial Map


I start with #1, but then I take the time to either create an editorial map or revise one I’d already done (it depends on what stage the project is in). This helps me remember what the book is about and how the plot unfolds, as well as shove my brain closer to the technical aspects of plotting and story development. I put the story back in my head, then I start thinking about ways to make that story better. Often, the break has given me new perspective and I’ll see fresher ways to write a scene or tweak the plot.

(Here’s more on how to create an editorial map)

3. Work on Something New


If a current project is just too much to deal with or needs more work than I have energy for, I’ll play with a new idea. It gives me time to be creative without stress, because I’m just brainstorming or dashing off a first chapter I know I’ll revise later anyway. If I’m lucky, things go well and I can work up a solid synopsis that will make writing that book easier when I’m ready to truly work on it. Sometimes the muse is so strong I keep working and shift my focus to this new project until it’s done. When we’re avoiding a project, sometimes it’s because we’re stuck or tired of it, and don’t want to write it anymore. Guilt in leaving it behind is why we’re avoiding it.

4. Work on Something Old


If you have no new ideas to explore, an old idea can work just as well. I’ve gone back to outlines and rough drafts of books I started but never finished. If a lot of time has passed since I last looked at it, I often spot ways to improve the story or the answer to whatever stopped me working on the manuscript in the first place. Just reviewing past ideas can be enough to spark my creativity and rekindle my love of writing. A long-forgotten project just might turn into your debut or breakout novel (It was for me and The Shifter).

(Here’s more on staying motivated in your writing)

5. Start Writing and Work Through the Pain


If all else fails, write. It might be hard, every word might stink, but it won’t be too long before the words get easier and the suck-factor lessens. I’ve written plenty of horrific scenes until I found my voice again, and there’s something satisfying about deleting really bad writing. It’s like exorcising a writing demon. If you grit your teeth and dig in you will make it past the wall. Writers do it every day, so take strength from their fortitude.

A loss of writing momentum doesn’t have to keep you from your writing. A little focus, a bit of mental cajoling, and a lot of determination will get you back into your story and once again on track.

How do you restart the muse after a break? 

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).



A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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16 comments:

  1. I force myself to write at least one scene per day. Even if it's 100 words. Another way I use is to work on other parts of the story, whether it's the research or editing with the spreadsheet (editorial map) (goals, conflicts, senses, etc) I have for each scene I've already written.

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  2. Read my favorite scene(s). Depending on where I left off - a love scene, family scene, etc. I have to do this sometimes when I'm just starting again the next day - to renew the "feeling".

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    1. I like that! That's similar to the advice to end a writing session mid-sentence so you know exactly what you plan to write to start the next session.

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  3. If none of those work, or I need to stay focused on a WiP, I write what I like to call "scenes that must have happened". The scenes could be the villain changing plans to counter the MC's actions; side characters reacting to events in the plot; or fluffy stuff between main characters.

    The scenes don't go into the novel, but they help me get back into the feel of the world and the flow of the MS.

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    1. What a great way to add insight and flesh out a character. I have a friend who does this with her short stories. (She writes shorts for backstory/history in the book)

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  4. I find the less I think about it the better off I am. I just start writing even if I don't have an idea. I know an idea will come if I just blather on long enough. Has yet to fail me! However when I sit and worry about picking the perfect idea, word, or sentence I will just sit for an eternity!

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    1. This is exactly why I walk away when I get stuck :)

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  5. Right now when I'm stuck I plan for the novel I'm going to write next. It's mostly world-building, though. I'm always afraid if I plan too deep I'll wander onto this next project and not keep going on what matters. A little aside- I just got Revising Your Novel in the mail yesterday. I can already tell it will help me immensely!

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    1. Oh good! (and thanks so much). World building's a good distraction, because it's still creative, yet uses a different skill set.

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  6. Sometimes, if I get really stuck, especially in the mire of: everything I write is no good, I say to myself, "You can write one word." Usually I don't stop at one word, but sometimes. Sometimes I get a sentence. Sometimes I jump to somewhere else in the (messy!) outline I have and can write something there. I have gone through and written a line or two on several chapters before. But, usually, I do like JC Martell says: reread a favorite scene...or if I'm really lost, I reread starting from the beginning.

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    1. What a great phrase to frame and put by your desk.

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  7. Usually I just need to begin writing again and tell myself it's ok if it is terrible... Eventually the good will come. (Sooner rather than later I hope.) Often I write very descriptive paragraphs to ground me in that world again and then cut back or tweak those in revision. That said I must stop reading this timely post and persevere with the current troublesome seen!

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    1. The old, "butt in chair" approach :) It's hard, but it works. Hope you're scene is working itself out now.

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  8. Re-reading what I was last writing is definitely my first step. Sometimes this leads to "omg, this is terrible, I'm a terrible writer. What was I thinking?" and sometimes to "wow, this is way better than I remember. I could never write that well now."

    Which leads to reading writing craft books, particularly the ones that combine inspiration with instruction. By the time I finish I'm so inspired I can't help but write.

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    1. Been there. The downside to re-reading.

      I should have added read craft books to the list! I used to do that, too (now I find I write them when I get stuck on my fiction -grin-).

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