It’s been a week. A month. A year. Maybe more. You feel like a stranger at your desk; the white abyss of the blank page you’re staring at stares right back into you, just as Nietzsche said it would.
It seems less than impressed.
But how do you get back into writing after a long break? How do you pick up a pen, or set fingers to the keyboard, and jump back into the flow of a current you no longer know how to navigate?
It won’t be easy, not at first. But it’s not impossible. Just take it one step at a time.
First, recognize your reason for writing.
Why are you trying to get back into writing after a break, anyway? You walked away for a reason. What’s your reason for coming back?
For some people, writing is a passion. In this case, you might be coming back to it simply because you miss it. Or if you write for a living, as I do, getting back into your craft may be a matter of necessity.
Understanding your own motivations is important not just for the sake of self-awareness, but also for determining how quickly you’ll need to get back into the swing of things. So once you know your “why,” ask yourself: how vital is your need—and how urgent?
If your writing timeline is forgiving…
If writing is a hobby for you, or your deadlines are fairly generous (if they exist at all), it’s okay if you can’t dive right back into wordsmithing like you used to. This is the perfect time to experiment, to try things, and most of all, to take it slow.
Try the following to dislodge a pesky case of post-break writers’ block:
Freewriting—write for a short, set amount of time without stopping to plan or think, and see what comes out
Journaling—write about why you want to write, what sort of things you want to write, or how you feel about coming back to your craft
Prompted writing—look up some free writing prompts online, or turn art and crafting prompts into creative story ideas
Write badly on purpose—sometimes you just need to get the purple prose out of your system before you can get back to spinning gold
Join a writing group—a group of fellow writers of similar skill levels and interests can provide a wealth of motivation and much-needed encouragement
Seek out inspiration—don’t wait for it to come to you; read your favorite books, look at art, listen to music, and visit places and people that spark your imagination
Don’t put undue pressure on yourself to perform. Explore what works and what doesn’t. Pay attention to what, where, and when you’re writing when you enjoy it the most, and see if you can’t replicate some or all of those circumstances regularly. With time and patience, you should be able to find your flow again.
And if you don’t? Assuming you don’t rely on your writing for your survival, it’s okay to walk away again. It’s okay not to write if you’re not ready yet. Forgive yourself (even though you haven’t done anything wrong), and do what will give you the most peace of mind.
But what if you do need—need, not just want—to start writing again?
If your writing schedule is strict…
If you have deadlines to meet and contracts to fulfill, you may not have the luxury of taking it slow. This can make the task of getting back into writing after a long break especially daunting—but again, it can be done.
Just take a deep breath, and…
Set down a clear schedule for yourself. If you haven’t already, clearly lay out everything you need to do (breaking things down into steps as necessary) and by when.
Cancel, postpone, or delegate whatever you can. This will help take some of the pressure off, giving you more room to breathe and ease back into your workflow.
Use what used to work; ditch what didn’t. Think back on your past writing habits; reinstate anything that made it easier to get your work done, and change or let go of routines that no longer serve your goals or best interests.
Set the mood. Clear away clutter (if you have time), light a candle, play background music, drink some tea—whatever you can do that will help you focus. Doing so consistently will help train your brain to recognize when it’s time to write.
Set realistic expectations. Accept that it may take some time to build your writing muscles back up to what they used to be. Strive for the best you can do now, and build up from there one day at a time.
It’s not easy to be patient with yourself when you’re forced to dive directly into the deep end, but you deserve your own respect and empathy. Plus, the better you can manage your time and stress now, the less likely you will be to burn out in the future.
When getting back into writing after a long break, above all, be kind to yourself.
Many of us struggle with imposter syndrome, a curse that is often exacerbated by the struggle of getting back into writing after a long break. Don’t let your writing demons get you down. The most important thing you can do during this time is to be kind to yourself.
Keep up good self-care habits you picked up during your break; adopt new ones if you need to. Give yourself permission to write badly, if you have time; if not, accept that you will need to work back up to your former glory one day at a time.
Equally importantly, acknowledge that your writing style may have changed since you stopped—and that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
If, in spite of your best efforts, you remain completely overwhelmed, consider whether you might need another break—if not now, then as soon as possible. You may also need to consider a change, even a temporary one, of career.
Not every writer is meant to write every day of their life; not every talented wordsmith can produce content constantly year after year. It’s okay to need different things than you used to. It’s okay to walk away, if and when that is truly the right choice for you.
Change, after all, is the only constant in this universe; nothing stays the same forever. Not even stories. Especially not stories. And, as a certain time-traveling “doctor” once eloquently pointed out, that’s all we really are in the end—stories that change and grow over time and with each retelling.
Don’t force yourself to try to stay the same if sameness no longer feels right; embrace your evolution. Brave the unknown. You never know where your story will take you next.
Meet Kim Berkley
Kim Berkley is a fantasy author and narrative designer whose published (and soon-to-be-published) works include interactive fiction novels such as The Harbinger’s Head and chiaroscuro as well as visual novels, poetry, and more.
When she’s not writing, reading, or playing video games, she enjoys going for walks, swimming, enjoying the company of cats, and gazing lovingly at her personal library. Read her blog and sign up for her newsletter via her official site, or feel free to follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.