Stopping and Starting (or Starting and Restarting)

Note: I’m posting this one again now as a lead-in to the post that’s coming next week. I’ve also revised this post so it’s up to date.

Hi Folks,

This is a common problem for all writers. We all have to stop writing at various times for different reasons. The trick is to get started again.

I’m not talking about stopping writing once an hour or so to move around a bit. I’m talking here about stopping for the day and coming back to a blank page. Or stopping because Life Happens, perhaps you become ill or a loved one has a problem you have to deal with or whatever.

When those life events happen (and they happen to everyone), if you’re a mechanic, you deal with the life event, then go back to your job. If you’re a lawyer, same thing. If you’re a postal worker or a tuba player in the local symphony. If you’re a writer, after the life event you go back to writing. You start again, or restart.

But what if you don’t want to?

It’s extremely easy to allow yourself “time off” from your writing when you have no valid reason for doing so. What’s that? You don’t need a reason? So you don’t need a reason to stop doing your job? Remember, I’m talking to writers here. Writers write.

If you feel like you need to just not write for awhile for whatever reason, check in with yourself: which fear is requiring you to want “time off” from writing?

  • Fear that once you finish you’ll have to submit it for publication or publish it?
  • Fear that an editor will reject your work?
  • Or if you self-publish, fear that some other reader won’t like it?
  • Or perhaps you just realized you’re working on a NOVEL, this huge thing, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, like no possible way can you finish something so large and intimidating. Is that it?

Whatever fear is keeping you from writing, remember that it’s not an actual limitation. It’s a false limitation, a mirage.

When you identify that fear, push it down and get started again. Just put your fingers on the keyboard and write what comes. Smile. Enjoy it. Have fun!

If your immediate mental response to all this began with “But,” again, check in with yourself. Identify the fear. Laugh at it, push it down and write.

If you’re in the midst of a work in progress (WIP), the same thing applies. Read a bit of what you’ve written (a paragraph or two or three) to remind yourself of where you are in the storyline, then put your fingers on the keyboard and just write whatever comes.

Remember, your subconscious knows the story better than you do.

Ah, but what if nothing comes? Then chances are you need to begin a whole new scene. Don’t worry about chronology for now. Just Write. You can move scenes around later if necessary.

Just so you know, I’m not talking from on high here. This happens to me regularly. Especially while writing Wes 2 (file name for my second novel in a series) I find myself suddenly feeling overwhelmed. I know it’s going to be a novel, so I sometimes slip into feeling overwhelmed.

It’s like the old joke, How do you eat an elephant? The answer applies, of course: One bite at a time.

The notion that I have to “write a novel” is overwhelming. But writing a scene is easy. It’s fun. I get to run and play with my friends for an hour or so.

Then I take a break, then write another scene. Then another. Then another. Eventually, I eat the whole elephant, but only one bite at a time.

Try it. It works. I promise.

‘Til next time, happy writing!


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8 thoughts on “Stopping and Starting (or Starting and Restarting)”

  1. Encouraging post! Though I can’t say I’ve ever wanted ‘time off’ from writing, there’s been a time or two when I’ve returned and wondered where the heck I was going with that. Love the Elephant adage! But what if you eat like a pelican? (Pelican, pelican – your beak holds more than your belly can!)

    • Thanks Deidre. I never want time off from writing either. I figure, why would I want time off from something a lot of people take time off from work to do? I don’t know from pelicans, except they’re probably scared of shotguns and Thanksgiving if they live in a town full of near-sighted people. Just keep writing, Kiddo.

  2. My solution to not wanting to write is to set an underwhelming goal. One page a day. Which of course often leads to a page and a half, three pages, etc. But even one page a day adds up.

    Your equation box below won’t let me play. I tried (2×3) and 7-1 and it wouldn’t take those numbers. Sigh… All that math education gone to waste.

    • I just can’t imagine anyone who’s a writer not wanting to write. I mean, it’s such great fun. And to those who find it drudgery, I say why bother? Why not go do something they actually enjoy? My daily goal is only 3000 words (3 hours) and I often have trouble hitting that for some inane reason. It’s incredible. And some people thing 1000 words per hour is “fast” but that’s only 17 words per minute. (sigh)

  3. I suppose folks with daily “columns” might be the type of writers that could fall into feeling like it was drudgery. But heck, they’re getting regular paychecks from writing, so I can’t really understand that either.

    Hey, back to Debrah’s question: what’s up with the math box? Is that intended to screen abject morons from posting comments?

    • At every writers’ conference I’ve ever attended (at one point I was speaking or presenting at 18 per year) there are several capital W Writers who stand around with one arm draped dramatically over their forehead while proclaiming to anyone who will listen that Actually I simply detest writing. It’s such drudgery you know.” As if someone’s put a gun to their head and threatened to use it if they don’t write. What a crock.
      The math thing is to keep robots and other creepy crawlies from posting automatically. Fortunately, they can’t reason yet even to the point of 3 = 1 + __ so they can’t post if there’s a little CAPTCHA like that.
      I don’t use one on the journal site because it isn’t open to the public and isn’t indexed by search engines (so the ‘bots can’t find it).

      • Thanks for the explanation about the math box, that’s very interesting. I’m not very hip when it comes to internet technology.

        As for those poor souls doomed to perform that detestable act of “writing”, sounds to me like pathetic, ivy league intellectuals who have grown up within the chic of being bored. Present company excepted, of course, for any of you ivy leaguers who actually do love to write (not that I know any being an NAU grad myself).

        • Nah, the ones I met were those who thought they were Authors. They wrote something, it took them years to “perfect” it (reduce it to the common denominator) and then published it through someone like Wheatmark or AuthorHouse or iLibris and spent the next few months wondering why people weren’t bowing when they came around. Ugh.

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