In other words, it will take you three days (after skipping writing) for you to get back into the flow of your writing project. Even taking one full day off will cost you in focus.
De-Railed Once Again
Because of some unexpected events in January (including a contracted nonfiction project that was taking hours and hours more research than I had figured on), I laid aside my novel about mid-way. After five weeks, I was at a place to pick it up again. But I couldn’t get moving.
So I did what I am always telling other writers to do. I found an online challenge that lasted a week. (Beth Barany ran the challenge through a special Facebook page. For my challenge, I chose “writing 500 words per day” for a week on my novel.) I got behind early in the week, and on Friday had to write 2,000 words to meet the challenge for the week, but I did it, and I got unstuck. I’ve been able to write 30-60 minutes every day since–and I plan to keep it up.
The other thing I did was buy an ebook (free on a daily free ebook notice I signed up for) and read Master Your Time in 10 Minutes a Day by Michal Stawicki. I had also let go of several smaller projects in January that I wanted to restart (reading, studying) that had overwhelmed me. But by using his “10 minutes a day” approach, I got back into all five projects again. I set my timer, worked hard on each thing for ten minutes, then moved on to the next thing. I learned (again!) how much I could get done in ten minutes. More importantly, though, I got unstuck and moving again.
Time of Re-Entry
I don’t know why this is, but when you finally get back to writing, you can expect some uncomfortable, not-fun writing days, producing stuff that stinks. Several writers I’ve read lately say that if you’ve been away from your writing for a week or more, you can expect about ten days of writing that is no more fun than getting teeth pulled when you start again.
When I say “away from your writing,” that’s what I mean too. Sometimes–and I am sooo guilty of this–we fool ourselves that we’re writing when we’re:
- Reading a writing magazine or blog
- Marketing a story (looking for publishers and agents)
- Answering email to writers, editors and family members
- Speaking at writer’s conferences
- Going to book signings or book store readings
- Posting to Facebook or Twitter
That’s not the kind of writing I mean. Those are writing-related tasks, and writers today have more and more of them, it seems. They have to be done. But they don’t take the place of writing.
In the Flow
To stay in the groove, so to speak, you don’t have to write for hours and hours every day (although hours are lovely and the more, the better.) I have found that if I work on my novel for even twenty minutes a day, I can avoid that horrible getting started angst the next day. And I don’t have to waste time trying to remember where I was, what the characters were feeling, what the plot problem was, or that new insight I realized about the theme. Our brains seem to be able to hold onto those things for about 24 hours.
As Heather Sellers said in Page by Page, “I try to avoid missing days. The not-writing days aren’t worth it! It’s too hard to get back into it. This is why athletes cross-train off season. This is why people who are successful with weight management stay below a certain weight. It just isn’t worth it. Getting back into shape is just too hard. It is easier to keep doing it, tiny little writing periods, day after day. Without missing a day.”
What if you’ve already missed a few days, or weeks, or months of writing? Then start again. But you can also take this to the bank: your writing will stink, you will hate it or question your story or your talent or your motives, you will feel self-indulgent, and writing for twenty minutes will feel like hours. But this really uncomfortable period is usually necessary. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that–if you stick it out for about ten days straight–it will pass. The muse will return, the writing will be fun again, you’ll realize how much you missed it, you’ll love your writing rituals and routine, and you’ll wake up eager to write as you did in the past.
Once you regain that wonderful writing state, do everything you can to maintain it. If you know you have a super busy day tomorrow, set your alarm twenty minutes earlier and write before the day takes over. It doesn’t take much writing to stay in the flow–not nearly as much as it takes later if the writing stalls.
Write daily, if at all possible. As the note stuck to my computer says, “You don’t need more time…you just need to decide.”