Starting over again: developing a writing habit

5 minute read

When I started writing my novel I didn’t think years later, I will be in the same place, still writing.

“Why am I still writing this?” – a confused unpublished writer

Stuck in a writers graveyard experiencing book death yet refusing to grieve the lost of not-finishing-my-first-draft-in-the-first-year. My writing journey has had various up and downs, and the challenges have made me more confident of my writing abilities and more determined to finish. It has helped me to (finally) accept the place I am in. For that I am grateful.

I did not think I will one day embrace my writing challenges

The one challenge I struggle in embracing, is always dealing with ‘starting over again.’ Each time I start again I feel like my writing muscle is ripping and reforming and for weeks I am in pain. Those fitness health freaks out there know what I am talking about! It is a painful and frustrating process. Re-learning how to write with no restrictions, organising time and containing the disappointment of failure. Why did I stop in the first place?

Surely at some point I will learn to reduce but not stop. Slow down and relax but still do something, no matter how small. There is a Caribbean saying I have heard throughout my childhood, usually when doing something I was not meant to, and it ended with me getting hurt.

“If you can’t hear, you must feel!” – a Caribbean parent

Basically, if you are stubborn and don’t want to listen, then you would learn the hard way!” I did not listen to the little voice saying “Don’t you dare stop Traysi, it’s gonna be harder for you! Still do something, anything!”

“Re-starting is a painful process.”

I struggled to get back into a healthy writing habit, not choosing self-control amongst social media temptations and box set binging. After a stressful and hard day, I told myself writing is not a relaxing activity, just find something else unproductive to do. I have no idea when writing stopped being a relaxing activity for me.

Someone told me recently that writing helped them when they were going though things and that’s when they started writing their second book.

So you have not written for awhile? Suddenly you feel that spark of motivation, a feeling you have not felt for ages. Your writing space has become a dumping site for household crap and you start to declutter it. You wipe the dust of your laptop keys and try to remember the file name of your recent writing project.

Now you are motivated? What’s next?”

The longer it takes to finish the first draft of my first novel, the harder the starting over becomes. The transition takes longer and I become more disappointed with myself.

Here are a few things that helped me to start again:

You have to make time

Writing sessions can be planned or unplanned, however when starting over again it helps if they are planned. Remember you are trying to build a writing habit and like all healthy habits, you need a plan and have to be consistent. Planning your writing time helps make your writing a priority, it finally finds a place in your busy schedule and makes you think twice before doing something else.

For working published/ unpublished writers, the frequency of sessions will vary and the idea of having a daily habit is a distant dream. Every two days, weekends only or weekly are fine, it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is there is a routine in place with short gaps between each writing session.

“Plan! Schedule! Organise!”

The simplest way is to slot time in your schedule. I look at my week ahead and plot out writing sessions amongst my other commitments – mummy duties, work and so on, in my diary.

Once back into a healthy writing habit, I include unplanned and spontaneous sessions. Sometimes these will replace the planned sessions, depending on life’s unexpected chaos!

You have to start small

There is no point with being over ambitious and think out of nowhere you will have an awesome first session with amazing material that needs no editing. Hats of to those writers who can do this! I need to first test the waters by sitting down at my laptop and not thinking about how long I will write for. I already know it’s gong to be short, I just need to see how my writing flows.

Can I still write? Do my fingers gracefully touch keys as sentences flow from my thoughts? Or is it a struggle to make it to the next comma and full stop?

It doesn’t matter how much you write or what you write”

Having no duration removes some of the writing pressure, at this stage all you need is a start time. How long you write depends on you – if you’re tired, not in a writing mood, unable to switch off to environmental distractions.

Sometimes it helps not to clock watch. Other times you need to set yourself targets, write for a certain amount of time before you stop. It doesn’t matter how long you write for, it could be for five, fifteen or thirty minutes.

When I re-start, I have regular breaks during my first few sessions, sometimes after thirty minutes I will stop for fifteen minutes and do something completely different. I will often get bored, distracted, unsure if I am taking the right writing direction.

It is okay to stop

At some point in my writing journey I stopped feeling bad about stopping. I think it was when my ‘starting over agains’ just kept happening and I lost count of how often. It seemed like a never ending journey! I use to let it really get to me. I questioned what I was doing and allowed myself to be consumed with doubts. Maybe it just isn’t meant to be? Is it the right time to do a writing a project? if I really want this why do I keep stopping?

“Maybe it wasn’t meant to be”

A light bulb moment happened a couple of years ago when I realised the guilt I felt about stopping kept wearing me down. It was not helping me and I knew I needed to be free from it. So what if I stop! There is tomorrow or next week to do better. I told myself not writing for a few weeks or a couple of months is okay.

Sometimes when you spend a long time on a writing project you need breathing space to read, plan and reflect. It does not mean you will never finish and if writing is the passion that you inhale and exhale, you will ‘start over again.’

You work on another writing project

Writing something for a long time creates an opportunity for boredom to creep in. I have eye twitching moments at some of my chapters and the thought of trying to finish it makes me want to scream! I have re-read and re-written sections so many times and they still remain unfinished.

“My writing became my kryptonite!”

It has taken me a long to realise it is okay to work on something else. I am still writing right? Does it really matter if for the rest of that writing session I work on something else? Or if I take time out for a week? I will come back to it eventually, just not right now.

If you enjoyed hearing part of my story and feel it will help someone else. Please recommend and share, and leave a comment below. Thank you for your support!