Misplaced Your Writing Groove? A Lesson in Getting Your Groove Back

Have you ever taken a substantial block of time away from your writing? Maybe a lengthy break away from your blog? Or has a family crisis interrupted the latest draft of your manuscript, and getting back to it seems impossible?

The last 20+ months for me have been what seems like a never-ending break from not only my writing but also blogging and social media, not to mention life in general. How do I recapture my momentum in those areas? How will I manage to return to what I was as a writer pre-January 24, 2016?

Initially, it didn’t seem so serious. Then the chronic pain hit with an intensity I couldn’t rise above. My pain management doctor, doing what he thought best, prescribed an opioid (more on this crisis in another post later). Literally, my head space didn’t cooperate when I wanted to write. It was as if I’d lost the ability to focus on taking my thoughts and putting them down in written form.

Now I am somewhat improved and working toward regaining physical stamina and strength daily. I also want to return to doing what I love most–writing, whether it’s on my memoir or a blog post or a simple Tweet. Some days these tasks are still hard. Too much brain time can be as tiring as physical activity.

Doctors tell me that the amount of inactivity requires an equal or greater amount of rehab to regain the physical strength and stamina. A reduction in mental activity over time will likely require similar rehab to regain flexibility and creativity.

What am I going to do? What could you do if confronted with this kind of downtime?

Let’s take a look at some options I’m attempting to use in my daily attempts at writing:

  • Accept that your writing habit has been disruptedLike a runner who doesn’t run for three weeks, you are out of shape and so is your writing. That runner will run at least three weeks before regaining his stride and pace. Initially, your writing will seem inadequate or inept. Don’t be hard on yourself. Writing is going to seem harder. Ease back into it. Don’t try to pick up where you left off. This is going to take time.
  • Make drastic changes in your expectations. If you have been writing a certain amount of time (i.e., two hours, 60 minutes, etc.) each day, scale this back to a segment of time that seems stupidly easy. Say three to five minutes. The same applies to those who write a certain number of words per day. You will want to follow the same exercise. Set goals that allow you to hit the ball out of the park.

  • This is the hard part of this new goal. Take slow, easy steps in increasing your time or word count. Don’t move too quickly. Stick with your new goals for at least 10 days. This will ensure you experience feelings of success and motivation. Both are necessary to feel good about your writing.
  • Increase your goal, either timed or word count, slowly. This will likely feel painfully
    S-L-O-W. After the first 10 days increase by 50%. At the next 10-day mark add another 25%, and lastly, after yet another 10 days add the last 25%.
  • Understand that whatever you can write is better than not writing at all. So write daily. I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway’s quote below. If all you can write is one true sentence, then accept that as your success for the day.

These are the five principles I’m putting into practice. I’m tired of struggling to find blog post topics and content. I’m tired of thinking about picking up my manuscript and beginning to rework it. I want to be actively engaged as a blogger and a writer.

I’ll keep you posted on my success in finding my writing groove, and I will share more suggestions of how I’m going about it.

Have you ever faced similar struggles? How did you cope with them and make a comeback in your writing? Sharing here may help someone else. 

10 Quotes on Writing from Well-Known Writers

Who better to look to for quotes on writing than well-known writers. A fan of quotations of any kind, I’ve collected a few on the topic of writing from some of my favorite writers:

E.L. Doctorow

Quote from E.L. Doctorow
Quote from E.L. Doctorow

William Wordsworth

Maya Angelou

Via Writing Sisters
Via Writing Sisters

Anne Lamott

C.S. Lewis

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

Ernest Hemingway

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

Louis L’amour

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

Anne Tyler

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Anton Chekhov

Do you have favorite quotes on writing from writers? If so, feel free to share below. Some of our best writing advice comes from those who’ve gone before us down this pathway called writing.

(Images all via Google; clicking on image will take you to the proper site.)

Ups and Downs of the Writing Life

Quote from Sandra Brown
Quote from Sandra Brown

When we sit down the first time with either pen and paper or in front of a computer, we’re not fully aware of what the beckoning calls of the writing life hold for us. And if we haven’t availed ourselves of the vast published books on writing, we need to do so.
The ideas were fermenting in my heart and mind long before I ever set one word down. I knew I had a story to tell, and I wanted to tell it. I made several assumptions about writing a memoir:

  • I knew the story inside and out. How hard could it be to write it down?
  • The characters were real, living and breathing human beings, my family. How difficult could they be about my writing this story?
  • Little or no research would be needed making it a faster process. HA!
  • I loved writing, but everything I had written had been a short essay or some project at the office. I knew nothing about writing a book.
  • And I could give you a longer list, but I don’t want to bore you.

Here I am nearing completion of a manuscript. I’m thinking about titles, beta readers, editors, marketing, publishing. I have many questions tossing and turning in my head:

  • Is my platform strong enough?
  • Traditional vs. self-publishing?
  • Digital only or digital and print?
  • Have I made any egregious errors in my story?
  • Will I be sued by an irate relative?

And yes, there are more. [tweetthis]Bottom line is the writing life is a sacrificial existence requiring hard work.[/tweetthis] Without the support of an online writing community and my encouraging and Head Cheerleader, Husband Bob, I wouldn’t have made it this far.

Last week I asked you to take part in a short survey about title options. You responded, and soon I will share the results with you in a larger and more detailed fashion.

Via Google Images
Via Google Images

As a result of the survey results, I face one of those up and down rides of the writing life. You see I thought I had the title I wanted, and then many of you responded with such great comments about another of the three possibilities, I am now confronted with a decision about my memoir’s title.

The strongest showing turned out to be a title I had not anticipated at all. As I think about this twist, I now perceive another way to present my story but it means some rewriting. It means a rearranging of some timing issues and placement of sections of the story.

Do I take the time to do this to make sure I have an engaging title which will attract more readers?

Do I go with the title I’ve had in mind for years now and have written around and chance losing some marketplace splash?

Do I assume that those of you who wrote such clever responses to my questions are experts on title choice?

More questions to add to those in my first list above. What’s a girl–er, writer to do?

Faced with a potential change from your original working title, what would you do if you thought it changed the structure of your story and how it reads from beginning to end? Inquiring minds, or at least this one, want to know.

6 Books Added to General Writing Resources List

Winter has been too kind to the populous of the Pacific NW, and the season overlooked us in favor of other parts of the country. But in place of unkind and unending blistering cold, freezing precipitation, snow depths unbelievable to most of us, the lack of same at our end of the country allowed germs to blossom, multiply, and infect.
My husband and I must have passed someone stricken with respiratory issues with the instinct that “paying it forward” meant anything and everything. If we could find the kind soul, we’d gladly pay back the germs shared. However, we’ve had some good reading time as we rested, drank lots of liquids, and healed.

According to Stephen King, we must read to write so I gladly read these past couple of weeks. Today I want to share some stellar books specifically written for writers. Excellent tools to have at hand or at least in your library. Here are thumbnail sketches of them:

Everybody Writes by Ann Handley is an easy to read guidebook on writing and publishing good content. Not only is it suited to writers and bloggers, anyone who writes and/or markets in today’s fast-paced Internet markets will find Ann Handley’s advice well-tested and palatable.

Helen Sedwick’s Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook provides a step-by-step guide to the ins and outs of self-publishing. The legal issues inherent in any business undertaking are presented in lay terms for ease of understanding and use. Helen Sedwick is not only an author but also an attorney with 30 years experience.

Writing Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon shares the story of the journey involved in writing Blue Highways. Heat-Moon wrote of a 14,000 mile, 38-state trip he made, and now he shares the four-years spent writing Blue Highways. He shares not only his success along the way, but also the rejections and other stumbling blocks writers face. Numerous drafts, unending revisions, balancing personal life and the writing life, and much more bring to light what every writer must understand–“the tricky balance of intuitive creation and self-discipline required for any artistic endeavor.”

Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers is part memoir and part intellectual journey. Powers is a brilliant writer drawing on not only the constant question faced by today’s digitized person, “Where’s the rest of my life?,” but also dropping back quietly to past technologies and the likes of Shakespeare and Thoreau. At times, I found myself laughing out loud and/or giggling at how ridiculous we’ve allowed the digital world to become. Remember when we were told computers would save us time? I still need to learn how that works. Enter Powers’ book.

Recently, I had the pleasure and opportunity to hear Gigi Rosenberg speak to a writers’ group here in Portland. My husband just happened to win a copy of Rosenberg’s latest book, The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing. Rosenberg has written a transformational guidebook to take starving artists of any art form to a driven researcher of grants, fellowships, residencies, and yes, grant writing. The money is out there, waiting to be spent on the creative arts, if we only ask. Finding it is key, and Rosenberg’s book holds the key to unlock the treasure.

As an adolescent, teen, and young adult, I was always late to the party, and so I am in reading Lee Gutkind’s book, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up. Lee Gutkind, also editor of Creative Nonfiction, has been called the “godfather of creative nonfiction.” His book breaks the genre of creative nonfiction down into an understandable, easy to grasp slice of writing education. I don’t know why I waited so long to read this handy tool, but I’ve not been able to let it out of my sight since finishing. It’s worth every penny I paid for it!

I have added these six books to my list of resources found under the menu tab, “Resources | General Writing Resources.”

 

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Why Taking a Break from Writing Is a Good Thing

Photo by Barbara Wells via Flickr & Creative Commons
Photo by Barbara Wells via Flickr & Creative Commons

It is time.Time for a break. A break from writing, researching, working.

I told myself no at first, but then I took stock and pondered the calendar. Yes, I feel the need for a break.

Everyone else is returning to school after summer vacation or back to work after the recent three-day weekend.

I’m reminded of back to school days heralding changing seasons. The air and shadows change. Perhaps I’m thinking how much I loved those days.

I am also returning to school, so to speak, mid-September for ten weeks for a one day per week creative nonfiction class.

Because of the intensity of the class, I’m working hard to get some domestic and gardening chores out of the way before then. Some blogging projects are completed, but other things I wanted to carry out were brushed aside yesterday in favor of taking a break.

Here are some reasons why I believe taking breaks is a necessary part of the writing life:

Try a Regular Day Off

I look back at Life Before Retirement and remember scheduling a day off here and there. It was always a welcome break from the pressures of the job, the clients’ unending questions, the cry of an attorney at 3:45 pm that “4 pm is filing deadline,” and then missing the last bus home.

One day, only one, was enough to recharge my batteries, allow time to catch up on home or family chores, and give the feeling of something luxurious — time. Writers need these “scheduled days off” too, even if your writing is going well. Time off helps avoid burnout as well as providing the benefits listed above.

Take Time to Work on Something Different

Maybe you want to work on a different writing project. Then again maybe you want to finish that quilt, knit the sweater you’ve been working on for your husband for three years (guilty as charged!), read a good book in one day, whatever. Shifting your focus from your recent writing project to something different refreshes the brain.

If you are fortunate enough to be talented in other art forms, the ability to switch back and forth keeps you fresh and interested in both projects. Exercising the brain in this way provides new insights and abilities not within reach prior to the break. Creative focus improves.

Allow Your Writing to Breathe

By the time a memoir or novel is finished, it is either loved or hated by the writer. Immediately set aside the draft for a few days before beginning the editing process. Once you’ve edited as much as you want/need to, consider setting the manuscript aside for months, maybe a year.

At this point, your objectivity has left the building, maybe the country. Don’t pick up that manuscript, look at it or think about it. When you sense your objectivity returning from its vacation, your waiting is over. You can renew your relationship with your book and proceed.

Take a Self-Imposed Vacation

An overused rubber band will do one of two things: (a) it will stretch too far and break; or (b) it will go sadly limp. To avoid either of these happening to you, schedule a self-imposed vacation at the end of a large writing project. Do yourself and your writing a favor.

Give yourself several months off, if possible, before starting a new project. This really isn’t vacation. Likely, the time you have given yourself will be spent working on marketing and editing other projects.

However, there are times when a total vacation is required. Step away from technology and loosen the ties that keep you at the desk. Watch movies, read good books, eat ice cream and chocolate, take long walks on the beach. You’ll come back to your writing refreshed and re-energized.

Could you walk away long-term?

So far we’ve looked at short-term breathers. But what about a need for more time away from your writing? Can you imagine yourself taking weeks, months, maybe a year?

Considering long-term time off from writing is often based in life changes or a growing disinterest in writing. Either one is a valid reason to consider taking a large block of time away. Life intervenes, and sometimes the choice is not ours. I know from experience. A hard choice but the best decision I ever made.

Through personal will and determination, we can push through and continue to write even in the worst of circumstances. And if you can, do so. However, do not feel guilty if you have to set aside your writing for a time. Only you can decide what is best for you, your family, and your work.

Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

~ Stephen King

I strongly believe in the importance in treating our minds, bodies and craft well. So, before my class starts, I’m going to fade a bit to the background of the blog and online activity. I need time to prepare some guest posts, a synopsis of my memoir project for class, do some pre-reading before class, and at times do as I please in the next couple of weeks.

So what about you? What do you think about taking breaks from your writing? Have you ever taken a break? Share with us, if you will, what that was like.