On Taking Breaks and Returning to Writing
It’s been over a year since I’ve done any serious, daily fiction writing. Oh, in that time I’ve been busy. I edited three editions of an anthology series. I took on a part-time teaching job. My family moved across the country. But the writing has been limited.
But now that we’ve moved, I’ve suddenly found myself with the time to return to writing. Hooray…? Let me explain. Being in the flow of a project is amazing. It’s one of the best experiences out there. But returning after some time away… Well, that just sucks.
Yes, there are the practical problems of not being able to remember every single detail of every line I threw into the ether more than a year ago. But that’s not really the main problem.
I’ve learned to see writing like going to the gym. When you take a break from working out, your first time returning to the gym (or the treadmill, in my case) is hellish. You wheeze. You stumble. You sweat… a lot. And it’s not just because you fell out of the habit. It’s much more than that.
See, writing, like working out, requires both stamina and strength. We not only have to train our brains to be used to a certain practice of sitting and staring at a screen, with only one app open for a long period of time. We also need to train our bodies to be able to manage those postures. We need to train our fingers and hands to move across the keyboard at a certain rate. And we need to train our imaginations to open up. To flow more freely.
But still, this is just the beginning. Because, like with a workout regime, getting your body back into shape also requires a plan. It’s not just about working out every day, or five days a week, or whatever your plan is. It’s about working out in the right way, focusing on the right things, and aligning all of that with your goals.
If you want to be a distance runner, don’t spend all your time at the bench press. And if you want to be able to bench twice your body weight, you’re going to have to get off the treadmill from time to time.
What does the right have to do with writing? Certain types of books require a certain kind of regimen. If I want to write a tightly plotted thriller, I may have to plot it out very carefully in advance. If I want to write a long-winded literary masterpiece, a more free-form approach will probably be more beneficial. But having one approach and applying it to the wrong kind of book can set you back days or even months.
In my own writing, I am returning to the series I started over a year ago. As a way of getting back into it, I’ve tried to do some outlining. Now, I am what most people call a “pantser,” which means I write by the seat of my pants. Now, this is a misnomer because every author does some amount of planning. For pantsers, the planning usually happens in their heads rather than on paper. But it can be easy to look at other people’s success and assume it is something in their process that is working for them, and if only I could adopt that process, it would work for me as well.
But the problem is that this entire series was pantsed, not plotted. And trying to change my approach as I return to it is a bit like deciding you’re going to start training for a triathlon when you’ve been training for a marathon. You have to add all sorts of new workouts into your routine that you hadn’t already been doing, and that can be death to your progress.
What it all comes down to is that the most important thing is to have a plan. If you know what your goal is, you can set yourself up for success. Don’t train for a marathon if all you need to do is sprints, and don’t waste your time with short distance running if you have a marathon looming in your near future. Know your plan. Prepare for it accordingly. And start your training.