4 Things Not to Do When You’ve Taken a Writing Break

As much as we hate to admit it, we writers are a fickle bunch.  We work hard on a project and make tons of progress, and then we do nothing.  We have a bad writing day, or something gets in the way, and we end up taking a longer break from our writing than we wanted to.  It happens.  The trick is in going back to your project.

I don’t know about anyone else, but the longer I spend away from my project, the harder it is for me to go back to it.  I start doubting my story, my ability,  and whether I should work on it at all.  It’s hard to get up the motivation to open that file or pick up those papers.  Sometimes it seems easier to start a new project altogether, but if you always do that, you’ll never finish what you start.  Before you know it, you’ll have tons of started projects and nothing that’s publishable.  Sure, it’s fun to start a new project, and maybe you already have an awesome idea that you’re excited about, but what happens when you give up on it too?  Then you’re just in a cycle.  That’s why it’s so important to go back to your projects.

So, if you’ve decided that it’s time to go back to your novel, screenplay, or other project, and I hope you have, here are some tips to get past the stress of diving back in.

1.  Don’t write… For a Little While

I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but if you’ve taken a break, especially a long one, you probably need to refresh.  You probably won’t remember all the details of those complicated family relationships, or what you had planned for later.  You’ll need to remember what the tone was and how to get back into that flow, so take a day or so and go over your notes.  Get your bearings and take time to decide how you want to get back into your project. It will make the task a lot less daunting if you have a solid plan.

2. Don’t Reread What You’ve Already Written

Again, that probably doesn’t sound quite right, but just like many writers suggest not rereading when you’re writing, it can be particularly difficult to keep writing if you are rereading when you’ve taken a break.  You aren’t in that “just get it down” state of mind anymore, and the temptation to go back and make changes can be overwhelming.  If you give in, you might end up rewriting your whole project and never getting anywhere.  You may realize that you need a rewrite if your time off has given you a particularly drastic revelation about where your project needs to go, but try not to fall into the same rut.  You just need to keep moving forward.  Rather than rereading everything, just review any notes you have, or, if that still isn’t cutting it, just read the minimum to get back into the flow and figure out where you’re heading.  Skimming chapter notes and headings is a great way to do this without getting too bogged down.

3. Don’t Go Back

To keep moving, start where you left off rather than going back to make changes.  You will probably have made changes to your story after your break, like tone, point-of-view, or even a character’s name, but you can make those edits later.  Just get it all down while you’re still motivated, and you can edit for consistency after you finish the first draft.  If you try to edit it now, you may start feeling like you aren’t making progress, and diving back into a project is frustrating enough without that added stress.

4. Don’t Give Up

Yes, going back to a work-in-progress is really frustrating at times.  You’ll notice inconsistencies you didn’t before.  You’ll want to make changes.  You’ll probably re-encounter those same fears that kept you away in the first place.  Just stay positive, and keep pushing!  You’ll get there!

How do you stay motivated when you come back to a project?  Leave a comment.

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11 thoughts on “4 Things Not to Do When You’ve Taken a Writing Break

    • Well, I would obviously encourage that as well! Trying not to take a break definitely prevents the problem, but I think it’s important to give yourself a break when it does happen and have a solid plan for how to fix the problem. Thanks for reading!

  1. Thanks for the tips. I think they’ll be helpful to me. I have been doing a lot of writing, but just not on my novel. I need to get back, but after a flurry of activity that led to the end of the first part of the story, it started to feel like tedious work that I did not want to do.
    Well, back at it, then.

  2. I usually work on outlines, storyboarding, or research to get me back in the mood…it helps me feel close to my characters again so that when I start the writing back up, it feels more natural than just a hard start and stop.

  3. Interesting thoughts. I’m totally dependent on breaking #2, though. I find that going back and re-reading what I was working on before being sidetracked has two tremendous benefits: 1) It helps me to reconnect with my story, characters, etc; 2) It gives me some momentum as I try to go forward again. For whatever that’s worth.

    • While I can definitely see the benefit of this, I think for most people it would be too tempting to make changes. That’s great if it works for you, though! Thanks for leaving your thoughts!

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