Monday, October 04, 2021

5 Ways to Restart Your Writing After a Break

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Finding momentum after a writing break isn't easy, but there are tricks to ease yourself back into it. 

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, returning to writing 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 haven't written a word in months due to a family medical issue, but unlike my previous breaks, getting back to work is harder this time. My focus is off, I'm easily distracted, and I run out of energy far to quickly. I suspect it'll be a while before I'm able to do any real quality writing. 

In the past, this would have frustrated me to no end. This time, though, I know why it's so hard (just stress, and that's not changing any time soon), and I just have to take it a step at a time. Whatever I can do, I'll do, and when I need to stop, I will.
Which is the easy part, really. The hard part is not beating myself up over it, and ignoring that inner voice that whispers "You're falling behind, you should be writing, look at how productive everyone else is." That voice isn't helpful, and it only adds to the stress, which makes it harder to write and so on, and so on. But I'm trying, and I keep reminding myself that, "It is what it is." The writing will happen when it happens.

If you’re finding it hard to write after a break (or any reason at all), here are some things to try to kickstart your motivation:

1. Re-Read Your Current Work in Progress

If you paused in the middle of a book, 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

An editorial map helps you remember what the book is about and how the plot unfolds, as well as jogs that memory on where the story was going. It gives you an opportunity to look at every scene and note what happened and where that scene was going, and after a break, you might even spot elements you missed during the last draft. 

Working on my editorial map helps me put the story back in my head, then I can think 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 with 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 you have energy for, play with a new idea. It gives you time to be creative without stress, because you're just brainstorming or dashing off a first chapter you know you’ll revise (or scrap) later anyway.  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.

(Here's more with Should You Follow the Siren Song of a New Idea?)    

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 with A Three-Step Plan for Returning to a Partially Finished Manuscript)

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.

(Here's more with Rebooting Your Writing When You've Stopped for too Long)    

A writing break or a loss of 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? 

If you're looking for more to improve your craft (or a fun fantasy read), check out one of my writing books or novels:

In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel. 

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue 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 (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structureand the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound


  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.

  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".

    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.

  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.

    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)

  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!

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

  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!

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

  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.

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

  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!

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

  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.

    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-).