Thoughts and Tips on Jumpstarting Your Writing Routine When Life Interrupts Your Creative Flow by Marissa Stanko
As writers, we are constantly surrounded by a barrage of websites, blogs, studies, tips, and authors all telling us the same thing: take time to write every day. And that’s great advice. Writing every day, or as many days out of the week as you can, strengthens your style and keeps your creative juices flowing.
But sometimes, life gets in the way, and our writing routines quickly become a distant memory, replaced by family responsibilities, worry about international pandemics, and a fraught political atmosphere.
This summer, the cards dealt by life tossed my writing routine out the window. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was devastated and worried, always afraid that someone I knew would be the next to die from a rampant, mysterious virus. When I was furloughed from my job, I tried to make the best of all that extra time by tackling a new writing project. I’ve always stuck to short fiction and poetry, but I decided to try my hand at writing a very rough draft of a very rough novel. It was fun! I did loads of research and I had five chapter drafts written by the end of July.
I thought I wouldn’t have to put down the draft until I started classes again in September, but fate had different ideas. In the beginning of August, my boyfriend was in a car accident. I dropped everything to take care of him--medical and insurance claims, prescriptions, shopping for a new car. Then my manager asked me to come back to work. My free time had been totally annihilated, and my creativity was buried under a mountain of exhaustion.
If, like me, you’re struggling to unleash your ideas again after life got in the way, I have a couple of tips I hope can help.
Most importantly, ease yourself into it. Throwing yourself back into a dedicated routine will end in fifteen cups of coffee, thirty deleted Word docs, and uncounted tears making your coffee salty instead of sweet. Take your time. Be gracious with yourself. Try writing something small and unrelated to your current project. I’ve started thinking about my novel again, but for now I’m sticking to jokes and sketches for my comedy class. It’s helping my ideas flow and to build up my writing stamina.
Expose yourself to whatever sets your creativity free. My most unhealthy writing habit is staying up to write, because I always get my best ideas right as I’m falling asleep. But on days when I don’t have to get up for work the next day, I might indulge that. Or I’ll go outside and take a nice long walk and just maunder about little tendrils of plots, or I’ll use an avatar creator to design a character. Do whatever works. Don’t inhibit yourself just because your writing habits seem weird if you think about them too hard.
This is in direct opposition to what I just said, but make sure you’re sleeping! If your brain shuts down, so do your ideas.
Write down any ideas you think of, no matter how small. I recommend getting a writer’s notebook, a notebook you use specifically for writing ideas and plotlines and diagrams and whatever else helps you create. It’s nice to have something physical that you can carry with you--I find that my phone kind of takes me out of the moment and I may lose the idea if I attempt to record it electronically.
Need material? When you feel ready to talk about it, write about what caused your lapse in routine. Write about it, whether it’s funny or tragic or boring. You don’t have to publish it, just embrace it as part of who you are as a writer.
Next, write something lighthearted. A comedy sketch, a cheesy romance, a silly poem. Try to enjoy what you write, because getting back into a routine can feel like writing boot camp otherwise. Throw in some writing prompts and exercise to hone any rusty skills or obtain new ones.
Once you’re back in the swing of things, it’s time for the finale. Open up your abandoned draft, and greet it like an old friend! You’re ready to tackle plots and heavy editing, to world-build and characterize. Make your piece come to life the way you envisioned it before life got in the way.
One last thing. Be kind to yourself. You are a writer, and you will write again.