Getting Back in the (Writing) Saddle

I’ve written on this topic before, but I’m doing it again. I have a terrible habit of losing all motivation to write every few months and end up screwing around on the internet or in whatever computer game I happen to be interested in at the time (Skyrim and the Sims 3 at the moment, a combination more addictive than chocolate). Regardless of my flighty brain, I always manage to get back to the keyboard, open that Word Doc I left festering and get the hell on with it. I have a number of strategies for getting back in the writing saddle once I’ve dramatically thrown myself off.

Open the document, close the internet

This is a strategy I mostly employed during NaNoWriMo, where I’d do a few basic things like check emails in the morning before closing the internet and refusing to reopen it until I hit my daily quota, usually of 2000 words unless I was having a bad writing day and had to be a little easier on myself. I’ll admit my discipline began to shake after the first week or so, but I did exhaust myself by hitting 50k on day seven. I had a few bad days where I wrote very little, but this system became effective again when I finally got my butt back into the chair.

Butt in chair

This is a commonly touted technique for making yourself write, and one I believe in. You can’t write if you’re nowhere near your computer or pen or finger-paints or whatever the heck you use to write. Forcing yourself to sit in that chair until you’ve written a sizeable amount will generally get it done.

Getting out of the chair

While this one does seem at odds with the previous point, sometimes we focus so hard on making ourselves write that we have the opposite effect. Taking a break to go outside, walk around in circles, read a book, whatever, will get those creative juices flowing again. Taking in new sights or new creative works, or even just having a little exercise, gives us something new to inspire us. While I’m not a huge fan of waiting for inspiration, those little sparks of brilliance certainly help the process along and can jolt us back into our writing again.

It also helps to step away from the computer if you feel tired. I had this happen while writing a query letter last night and it would have been pointless to continue soldiering on in that state. It didn’t help I was halfway to screaming in frustration with the thing.

Write something new

Sometimes we get so tied in knots about what we’re supposed to be writing that we lose sight of our goals or we become bored and thus our energy is drained. Taking some time to write something different can help remove the block inside our heads. While many writers are opponents of multitasking, I’m not. I actually started a new novel last night once I’d become too tired to write that query letter. That, and the aid of a little chocolate, got my head back in the game and I was able to return to that query letter after a while and knock out a better version with some help from Nathan Bransford’s query letter mad lib, which helped me separate the random stupidity that works its way into my queries from the stuff people actually need to know.

Get help from someone

If the reason you’re struggling with your writing is because you’re having trouble writing a particular section, sometimes looking to the advice of more experienced writers or publishing professionals can help you find a solution. If you’re writing a query, googling how to write one tends to bring up some great results, like the mad lib I mentioned above. I’d also recommend QueryShark for how to write queries. Websites such as former agent turned author Nathan Bransford’s blog, literary agent Kristin Nelson’s blog, author Maggie Stiefvater’s blog and literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog tend to be great resources.

Talk to other writers

Or lurk in writing forums, whichever works for you. I tend to lurk and occasionally say something when I have something to say on the Absolute Write forums. Listening to other writers’ problems (or successes) can give us the kick in the pants we need to get on with our own writing. However, in order for this to work we have to set envy and bitterness aside. Those evil twins tend to make us believe we are worthless or will never get anywhere.

The above techniques may not work for everyone, since our writing processes are all different, but they’re a place to start. If you have any other techniques that help you get out of a slump, let me know in the comments.

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13 thoughts on “Getting Back in the (Writing) Saddle

    • Sometimes during NaNo I left Twitter and the NaNoWriMo site open to post wordcount updates, but I restrained myself from much more until I wrote a decent amount. I also used music and headphones to great effect, but haven’t done that so much since. Some people have better restraint than others when it comes to the internet. Some people use software to block the internet entirely during certain times of the day. It all depends on the person.

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  1. The “Butt in chair” is a hard one for me. My family keeps my “to do” list so scattered that I can’t seem to find the time. I hate that. I have to take my netbook everywhere I go just in hopes that I might find that one moment where I can create some content or dialogue between two characters.

    Just as I open my netbook with an idea, my husband gets back into the car at the local gas station, “Here’s a fountain drink and I got us some chips.”

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    • I take a paper notebook when I go out, generally, so it’s quicker to open and jot something down. Some people plan out their stories while doing basic repetitive chores so when they do have the time to write they spend less time thinking up an idea. I hope that helps in your quest to find time to write.

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  2. The Internet is my biggest vice when I’m trying to ‘get back in the writing saddle’ as you say. It’s far too easy to get stuck on a chapter, say something like, “Well, I’ll just check my blog real quick,” and before you know it, four hours have passed.

    I definitely agree about taking fresh air breaks though. I’ve had plot breakthroughs walking in the woods, or even in my car. I think the distance helps somehow. Fewer potential distractions, or something.

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  3. Great advice, Ann! When I’m really low on motivation, I make writerly dates — I meet up with another writer or two for a two-hour writing session. It holds me accountable (I can’t re-schedule a writing date!) and keeps me focused (no Internet!). 🙂

    I recommend having 10 minutes of chat time at the beginning and end, though. (Because you know you’ll end up chatting at some point!)

    Thanks for a great post!

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  4. Pingback: Getting Back in the (Writing) Saddle « Ann Elise Monte – Coldfire ... | The Writing Wench | Scoop.it

  5. Sometimes I use a timer. I will write for 45 minutes before I allow myself to [fill in the blank] then only allow myself to read one chapter or play (love Sims!) for 25 mins or something, before the next 45 minute stint.

    Another tip I found works is DON’T write yourself out – that is, quit while you are still happy and excited and know what comes next. That’ll make it easier to pick up where you left off the next day or session.

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    • For NaNo I tried to do 1000 words in an hour. Sometimes it was laughably easy because I knew what was already going to happen. Other times, not so much. I have a terrible habit of writing myself out, but I’m getting better 😀

      Taking breaks is a great idea.

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  6. Good ideas! I’m trying something I call 500 for 5; 500 words a day minimum for 5 days. Relatively simple, achievable, and if you keep it up you will have tangible progress!

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