Getting back on the writing wagon

Between being pregnant and having the flu shortly after my Design Your Writing Life class series and the holiday whirlwind, I found myself flat out not writing for much of January. As someone who pretty much always writes six days per week (with the exception of vacations), I was surprised that I actually couldn’t write.

The flu this year is a particularly bad one, and I was in bed for two weeks straight, between fever, exhaustion, and a “bonus” sinus infection and massive headaches. And since my immune system is busy doing other things (like not attacking the baby), it’s taken me an extra long time to get better, let alone “get back on the writing wagon”. (And even longer to get back to blogging, which I’ve been missing.)

Here’s the thing.

Even once you have a solid writing habit established, major life disruptions CAN come along and throw you off your game. And when that happens, what can you do about it? Resistance is a tricky, stealthy operator, and it can concoct all sorts of bizarre reasons and excuses not to start writing again.

So how do you tell the difference between being too tired to write and being “too tired” to write?

What I tell the writers in my Writer’s Circle is this: The only person that can ever really know the answer to that is you.

And interestingly for me, that answer has been, “Yes.”

In other words — BOTH. I’ve been truly exhausted and unable to do much of anything other than feed myself, take care of my son, keep my business running, and do the minimum amount of work to keep participating in the classes I’m taking. But I have ALSO had days where I’ve been in a resistance pickle over not wanting to write — not wanting to face the challenge, being afraid I won’t be able to do the work “properly” (perfectionism alert!), and otherwise just avoiding the writing. Plus my regular writing routine (and schedule) have been disrupted by my desperate need for sleep and rest at weird hours. So it’s all been tangled up together into one confusing lump of writing, exhaustion, angst, resistance, and not writing.

These kinds of situations can result from all sorts of things, like suddenly having a crushing deadline at work, losing a loved one, a relationship ending, losing a job, other major illnesses, pregnancy, birth, long vacations, etc. Major life transitions can wreak havoc with our regular patterns and we’re suddenly back to square one — having lost our writing habit and feeling resistance to getting back on track.

Getting back on track

So let’s talk strategy — how to get back on board:

1. Step One: Acknowledge what’s going on.

Pay attention to the realities of the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual needs that are coming up for you. Also notice what’s coming up on the writing front in terms of resistance. Are you avoiding it? Does it feel scary? There’s no need for judgment here, just compassionate observation.

Acknowledging what’s going on will help you make new choices about how to best support yourself through it.

2. Step Two: Coax yourself through the resistance.

If you’ve gotten off the writing track, there WILL be resistance. It’s normal, it’s nothing to worry about, and it can be hard to overcome. So coax yourself through it.

At times like this, I tell myself, “How about writing for just 15 minutes? I bet you can do just a little bit.” And then once I get the ball rolling, I feel the tremendous sense of relief, accomplishment, and positive energy that I need to keep my writing habit going over time. (Actually writing instead of resisting is anxiety relieving. For more about why, see this article here.)

3. Step Three: Make an “ease back into it” plan.

One of the principles we use in the Writer’s Circle is goal refinement. Start with what you think is an attainable writing goal for yourself, given all of the above in steps one and two. Then test it. If you achieve it, great! Do it again the next day. But if you find yourself NOT able to hit your target, make it smaller. Keep making the goal smaller until you KNOW you can and will do it. You can — and will — build back up to more writing time later on.

My choice was to start very simply, with morning pages. Once I had the minimum amount of energy I needed to actually get up more or less on time, I made a commitment to spend my first 20 waking minutes (approximately) writing in my notebook, stream of consciousness. It was a wonderful way to ease myself back into writing regularly.

4. Step Four: Begin building back up to your regular writing routine.

Then, over time, begin building your writing habit, schedule, and routine back up to where it was before you got off track. It’s okay to make downward adjustments here too. For instance, if you were writing for two hours a day, but now you’ve been ill or had a major loss that you’re dealing with, you may find that aiming that high just doesn’t work anymore, at least not in the short term. So perhaps you’ll aim for one hour now, and work up to it incrementally.

Before I got sick, I was writing between three to four hours a day. Over the last few weeks I’ve been hitting more like one consistently. I’ve also found that my normal six days a week schedule just isn’t working for me, and I’m needing to cut it down to five days a week. Starting this week, I’m working on ramping back up to two hours a day. And I’m being extra gentle with myself about it. Aiming for it, but not self-flagellating if I don’t make it.

5. Step Five: If you can, get support.

Having people around you who believe in you and support your writing is a powerful tool to get back on track as well. I’m so grateful to have my Writer’s Circle group members cheering me on, each and every day, helping me observe my writing choices and keep my writing top-of-mind, even when the going gets tough. I also have my screenwriting pals to commiserate and celebrate with in equal measure. It helps to have people who “get it” — how hard it is, how much joy it brings, and how much it means to us. So surround yourself with people who can help you keep the dream in focus, even when you’ve lost your way.

Thanks for reading!

I always love to hear what you think in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

Writing support from the Writer’s Circle

If you’re a writer looking for community and support on your writing journey, join our next session of the Writer’s Circle, which starts soon! You’ll be surrounded by other writers who are serious about making their writing happen over the short term and the long haul. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

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Comments

  1. Jenna,

    Congrats on your pregnancy! Sorry to hear about the flu. I think the above blog post would make a good mini-book. Life is a series of cycles. It all sounds extremely normal. I sang the Whitney Houston song, I Have Nothing. It came out fab! But it exhausted me and I had to take a break from singing. And have started to rev up. Singers sometimes wear themselves and their voices out why not taking that much needed “break.”

    Best wishes for a full recovery.

    G.

    • Lenore Marquez says:

      Congratulations Jenna!! So happy to hear your son will be having a new little sister or brother!! But the flu on top of being newly pregnant had to be pretty miserable. I’m sorry. And I hope you’re well on the road to recovery. Thank you for bringing this article to my attention when I really needed it. I have been having bouts with similar symptoms that you describe, (Accept, I’m beyond the pregnancy one :-). And this is one of the reasons I love being a part of the Circle for the kind of support you and the coaches and the other members give one another. So thank you for the post and I’ll apply some of your tricks to get back on the writing wagon.

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