As a writer, from time to time something can happen that breaks your writing groove. Perhaps you or a loved one get sick. Or maybe (hopefully not!) someone you care about passes away. Or you might get negative feedback that sends you down a negative spiral. Basically, any time our routine gets disrupted in major ways, we’re at risk of losing our writing habit.
In my case, I fell off the wagon after an intense writing challenge. After cranking out articles like there was no tomorrow for two months, I wrote a grand total of 2 new articles in 3 months. Which is… not great.
Granted, I was busy republishing all the extra articles on Medium so it might not even have looked like I was taking time a break. Still, that’s probably the longest I’ve gone without creating new content for a long time. Here’s what I learned from this experience and how I moved beyond it:
Why it’s hard to get back to a writing habit
Just like any other habit, writing involves an element of pain. While there’s often a beautiful reward at the end of a meditation, exercise, or writing session, it takes some effort to get started. When we do something regularly, the pain of getting started isn’t as obvious to us anymore. We’re so used to doing the thing that we generally don’t give ourselves the option not to do it.
Once a routine is broken, that is no longer the case. Suddenly, every planned writing session becomes a battle of will where you ask yourself if you really want to do
Instead of considering the reward at the end (such as feeling accomplished), you’re mainly noticing your resistance.
The key to changing that is to give yourself a sense of achievement by having a successful writing session.
When I did this, it helped me re-establish my writing routine. Here’s how I made sure I had a positive experience:
10 tips for a successful session that helps you re-establish your writing habit
While it’s always helpful to set ourselves up for success, this matters even more during times when we feel vulnerable. If you’re currently blocked around your craft, chances are that you feel somewhat vulnerable about the writing process.The following writing tips can help you make the most out of your session:
1. Remove distractions
For most people, it’s always useful to remove distractions (open tabs, notifications, a phone that could ring any minute) while creating. It’s even more crucial if you haven’t written for a while and need to strengthen your writing muscle once again. Make sure you won’t be disrupted and that you can fully focus for the duration of your session.
2. Pick the right music (optional)
For many people (myself included), listening to the right music is useful when it comes to get the creative juices going. If you used to listen to certain pieces of music while writing in the past, make sure to give them a try. The songs you’re listening to can act as a trigger, telling your brain to get into the right state for creating.
3. Set a timer
Before getting started, use the tomato timer and set it for 25 minutes. By setting a timer, you know that you won’t have to write indefinitely, which makes it easier to get started. Once the 25 minutes are over, you can either call it a day, or take a quick break and continue.
4. Only focus on getting words on the page
During the 25 minutes, only focus on getting words on the page. Don’t worry about the perfect headline, tags, image, or any editing that you need to do. You can do all that another day. For now, just having to deal with one task will make it easier for you to get back into the game.
5. Sit with the discomfort of the white page/screen
Creative projects tend to go through various phases. At the beginning, there’s a phase that we could call “creative discomfort.” It’s when that panicky feeling arises that tells us: “I have nothing to say.” When we write regularly, we’re pretty good at seeing that for the lie it is, staying in the process, and just continuing to push into the creative uncertainty. If you’ve gotten out of the writing habit, you don’t just need to train your writing muscle, you also need to train yourself to once again sit with the discomfort of not knowing which direction your writing will go.
6. Deliberately limit yourself
Creativity works best within limits. Give someone the instruction to “create something impressive” and they’ll probably blank out. If you instead instruct them to “write a 1000 word piece about something you recently learned,” it will be much easier for them to get started. If you’re just getting back to writing, deliberately limit yourself by picking a clearly defined topic (here's how to come up with article ideas).
7. Use a template or content pattern
This is related to the previous point. By having a writing template or content pattern, you define the parameters of your article which makes it easier to fill in the blanks. While there are many different templates, the simplest one might be the one I chose for this article: problem, list of suggestions for resolving that problem, and solution. If you’re feeling stuck, use a simple template like that.
8. Write to one person
If you still find it hard to get started, imagine that you’re writing to one specific reader whom you’re trying to help with your article. For instance, right now I’m picturing you, the challenges you might be dealing with, and what might help you. By addressing someone specific, I’m much less likely to get stuck in writer’s block.
If you’re finding it hard to picture someone, you could try creating an email or a Social Media post about the topic you want to write about. Because we’re trained to see emails and Social Media posts as more interactive than articles, this might make it easier for you to get into a communicative mindset.
9. Pay attention to how amazing you’re feeling at the end
The purpose of this exercise is to remind yourself of how good it feels to make it to the end of a writing session. When you’re in writer’s block, you’re associating your craft with pain. By deliberately paying attention to how great it feels to have written something, you’re resetting that pattern. To increase the positive reinforcement, you can literally pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for a job well done.
10. Plan your next writing session
While you are feeling great about your accomplishment, pick out your calendar and decide when you will have your next session. As long as you continue to write, you have just successfully restarted your writing habit!
When something substantial disrupts our writing routine, it’s easy to fall off the wagon. This tends to create a downward spiral where we associate writing with pain.
By creating a positive experience that ends with you feeling a sense of accomplishment, you can once again associate writing with pleasure instead of pain. This will help you move out of that downward spiral, get back to being a productive writer, and reach your goals.