How to Restart a Writing Practice after a Long Long Time

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Dear Sara,

I used to be a pretty good and very prolific fiction writer, but I set it all aside 15 years ago.  I had two young children at the time and was making myself crazy trying to “do it all.”  Now I’d like to return to writing, but I find I’m really stuck – I don’t know how to get back into it.  I think about it all the time, but when I have time to really sit down and do something, I avoid it and go clean out my kitchen sink or something…  Any ideas how I can get back to the writer I used to be?  Thanks for your thoughts - "Winnie" 

 

Dear Winnie, 

 

Congratulations on your intention to return to your creative work!  I commend you on your resolve to recover your writing self.  Getting back into the swing of a writing practice after even a week off can be tough, but after so many years you are poised to truly begin anew.  For that reason, I would begin by suggesting that you not try to “get back to the writer you used to be” and instead get really curious about the writer you are now.  

Once you release all intention to return to a past version of yourself, there are two ingredients that will help you begin to get comfortable in a brand new writing habit:  1. Begin to create a habit of self trust and 2. Begin to explore the themes, topics, and stories that feel most relevant and inspiring to you today.

It occurs to me that an assignment that you might give yourself by way of developing both ingredients might be this:

THIRTY DAYS OF WRITING AND REMEMBERING

You’ve asked your creative self to be dormant for so long, I think you need a gentle way to re-unite and catch up with the person you’ve become.  So, let’s stage an inquiry into your own life that will both catch you up with yourself and begin tilling the ground of your experience – airing it out so that you may begin to glimpse the seeds of what comes next.

For the next 30 days, make an agreement with yourself that you will devote that time every day to the following assignment:

First, decide on a schedule for your new writing practice that you think you can stick to.  Say 20 minutes a day, early in the day if possible.  Set a specific time if you can stick to it, or a “no later than” time if you need the flexibility – but make it early in the day so that you don’t ruin your days feeling haunted by ghoulish specter of “will I or won’t I?”  (I urge you - don’t make a habit of that drama – you won’t need it where you’re heading!)

Second, for each of the 15 years you have been away from writing, take 2 days to write and shape a short piece about what happened that year.  Here’s the pattern of your 2-day cycle:

Day 1:  Freewrite

Topic:  What happened in year 1 of your non-writing years?  Freewrite, letting yourself just remember what you can, perhaps just a single incident, or perhaps a smattering of different impressions and memory fragments.  If you need photographs or other mementos to jog your memory, fine, but don’t let hunting them down count toward your 20 minutes of writing time.  Use your timer and hold yourself to that being your “fast pen” free association time.  Exercise your memory – a writer’s most essential tool!  

Day 2:  Revise and Shape

Read your year one notes from yesterday.  Use your 20 minutes to revise and shape them into something slightly more refined or more complete.  Take one memory and go further with it, add something you forgot, bring in additional details to a story from that time, make a connection to something happening today…give yourself the experience of getting your hands into the mix of revision and editing that is so much a part of your craft.

Day 3:  Freewrite Year 2

Day 4:  Revise and Shape Year 2 

Get the pattern?

In thirty days, you’ll have:

A 20-minute-a-day writing habit which you can sustain as is or expand to create the space for your next self-assignments

A new level of self-trust – you will remember that you can count on yourself to show up and write

An exercised memory and a deeper understanding of your own life experience

Revisited the terrain of your life that is also the terrain of your inspiration – watch for themes and topics that give you a sense of direction for the topics you want to address and stories you want to tell today.  (In fact, I guarantee you’ll want to keep a notebook handy just to capture the story and character ideas that pop up over these 30 days.)

How does this sound?  Doable?

Please write again and let us all know how it goes!

Best wishes,

Sara