Image: Matthew Loffhagen
A big part of being a well-adjusted person is accepting that you can’t be good at everything.
—Kelly Williams Brown
You probably came to Kelly Williams Brown’s realization a long time ago, but I’ve only recently admitted it to myself: I can’t be good at everything. I’m a perfectionist, which is a helpful trait in my work as an editor. But coming back to my editing work after a three-month maternity leave and with a new baby (my second child) in the mix, I just can’t pretend to be awesome at everything anymore. Since I’ve come back to work, I’ve learned all sorts of helpful things about how to prioritize and achieve a healthy work–life balance. I think five of these lessons apply easily to writers who are getting back into a daily writing practice after taking an extended break. So, I’d like to share these practical tips and tricks with you to help you get back into a successful and productive writing life.
1. Take the long view
No matter whether your break is self-imposed or the result of outside forces, starting back is a process. It’s not something that will just happen. Getting back to work requires intentionality, patience, and perseverance. But trust me, once you find that new normal and start seeing the fruits of your labor, you’ll feel much more motivated.[bctt tweet=”Getting back to writing after a break requires intentionality, patience, and perseverance.”]
One of the biggest hurdles to face is the reality that your life and responsibilities have likely changed while you were away, and so your writing practice will need to change too. Acknowledging this fact is a big first step. If you have realistic expectations and set measurable goals, you’ll be less likely to set yourself up for disappointment.
Take a hard look at your day-to-day responsibilities then prioritize them either in your mind or on paper. Now bring your writing back into the picture and set some reasonable goals. When do you have the most time and energy for writing? Set that time aside to work, and guard it viciously—don’t let anything encroach on your precious writing time. What can you realistically get done in that time? Set that as your first goal, and secondary goals will soon follow.
2. Be intentional and organized
What’s your time-tested method for setting and meeting goals? Do you use a daily planner or have a favorite scheduling app? Do you have a favorite work routine or dedicated writing space? Now is a great time to create new routines that inspire you to dig into your work. Maybe you’re not really a goal-setter. That’s okay—the point is to have a system that works for you.
So you’ve been sticking to your new writing schedule, but what if you’re floundering and the words just won’t come? Try not to worry about that, it’s natural after so much time away. You just have to get back into the flow of a writing practice. You don’t want to waste this precious time that you’ve set aside, so don’t sit there and stare at a blank page. Try something as simple as a daily five-minute free write to get words—any words—on paper. Or write from a prompt, revise an old story you’ve set aside, or start a collaborative project with another writer friend. Just get started on something, put in your time to work every day, and before you know it you’ll be back on track, creating something you’re proud of.[bctt tweet=”Struggling to start writing again? You could revise an old story you’ve set aside.”]
If you’re consistently unable to meet a goal you’ve set, don’t beat yourself up about it—just reevaluate and try again. It’s easy to waste valuable time blaming yourself, wishing things were different, or trying to force something that just isn’t working. There’s no shame in admitting that you need to change. The important thing is finding a practical routine that inspires you to be productive again. If you can, try and focus on that instead of lamenting the fact that your writing life isn’t what it used to be. I promise that if you do that, in a month or two when you’re back on track, you’ll be feeling much better about your work instead of floundering in a place of frustration.
4. Ask for help and know when to quit
This one is the hardest for me. If you’ve reevaluated and set new goals and you’re still not making headway, it might be time to ask for help. Starting back to work with a new baby in the house, I’ve had to ask for help with some responsibilities in order to meet my work deadlines. My husband has started handling the grocery shopping, and my daughter helps with more of the household chores now that she’s getting older. What are some commitments you can get help with to free up more writing time?
I have to confess that, at times, even getting help hasn’t been enough. Some things have had to take a backseat in this season of my life. For example, I’ve had to move my personal fitness goals down my list of priorities; I still exercise, but not as often or as long as I did before my maternity leave. Check your list of priorities and see if there’s something you can compromise on. You don’t have to abandon it altogether, but sometimes just scaling back can give you that extra bit of time that will make all the difference to meeting your writing goals.
5. Celebrate your successes
Creating a new normal isn’t easy because change isn’t easy. But change often means growth if we can embrace it with a positive outlook. For every small success or breakthrough you achieve in this new season of your life, give yourself permission to celebrate. Let go of the expectations of how things used to be and be proud of your new successes. Chronic disappointment or fear or regret will only paralyze you and hinder your writing.
Now that you’ve put in the diligent work of creating a new routine, reevaluating your goals, delegating any nonessential tasks, and getting down to the daily business of your writing practice, you have no room for self-doubt. You’re doing great! Give yourself some credit, and before you know it you’ll see success. At the end of every week, take five minutes to look back at what you’ve accomplished. Did you finish a new draft of your novel? Did you meet a new writing goal? Even if you just showed up for your writing time every day and did your five-minute free write—no matter how big or small your successes, they’re cause to celebrate.
These days I feel like I’m being pulled in five different directions at once. I know I can’t do everything perfectly, but there are a few things I need to do really well. Your writing life is like that. It may take time, but if you work hard to set new and meaningful routines, seek inspiration, and show up to put words on the page, you’ll soon find yourself in a flourishing writing practice again.
What tricks have you found helpful in coming back to writing after a long absence? What has surprised you about the ways your writing routines have changed over time? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.[bctt tweet=”Here are 5 quick tips to get you writing again after a break”]