Writers are notorious for not writing. We often have “dry spells” during which we simply can’t get a single word typed. When these periods of non-productivity get out of control, we may wake to find it’s been weeks, months, or even years since we last put pen to paper (or fingers to keys).
This is a guide for getting back into writing. Or, if you’re new to it all, a guide on how to get started.
If you’ve been slacking in the creative department, chances are you haven’t been reading as much as you ought. No matter what genre or medium you write, reading is essential for finding the motivation to get back into the game.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot” ~Stephen King
Reading teaches you the craft like nothing else. It trains your brain to recognize good writing versus bad. If you write novels, it will help you understand the trends of the market — what stories are selling, what styles are popular, and what genres are “in”. It will help you understand how to write prose, dig deeper with character motivations, and create strong plots with sound structure. If you have a blog, reading others’ will teach you formatting standards. It will give you a feel for how long articles should be and show you how to condense information.
Reading trains your brain to recognize good writing versus bad.
Additionally, reading will inspire you. I often find ideas for characters or settings from the books I enjoy. Sometimes, I’ll realize how to fix a broken character or think of a solution to a gaping plot hole just by enjoying stories written by other professionals. The same concept applies to non-fiction — reading helps you solve problems, and it makes you want to write.
2) Warm Up
After you’ve been reading for a while, the desire to write will slowly emerge within you like homesickness in a man whose journey is nearing its end. Let that longing settle in, and use it to knock the rust off your skill-set (or develop it for the first time if you’re a new writer). Do this one simple thing, and you’ll be on the right path:
Every time you have the urge to write something, stop what you’re doing and fulfill that urge.
If you think to yourself, “Oh, that would make a cool short story” or, “I know enough about such-and-such to write a quick article on it”, do it! Don’t worry about how poor the quality is — the only thing that matters is that you write.
Listen to me carefully. This next part is hard for many writers to hear. But it is very important. This is what you need to do when you finish a side-project:
Yes. Get rid of it. Don’t edit it, don’t re-read it, and definitely don’t try to publish it! These quick exercises are like a goalie warming up for a soccer game. It gets his/her reflexes up to speed without any risk: the shots he/she fails to save don’t count if they hit the back of the net. That’s what makes it a warm-up. The same concept applies to these side projects. The stakes are low (it will never be published), so you’re free to let your creativity take you where it desires.
While you continue to read as much as you can and warm up with small chunks of writing here and there, you should begin planning your first real (re-)entry to the writing scene.
No matter what you’re writing, you absolutely cannot skip the planning step.
For novels, this step is much, much longer than for most other forms of writing. It means world building, outlining, drawing up characters, and spending way too much time picking out actors/actresses to play them if it were ever made into a movie. I understand some people need a lot of time for this phase while others can sit down and start a novel without having a clue about where it’s going. That’s fine. But at the very least, you should know who your main character is, what goals he/she may have, and what stands in their way.
For non-fiction, the planning stage is usually consumed by research. Be thorough, and when it’s done, be sure to organize your findings into a proper outline.
Short stories will take a similar route to novels, only much more condensed.
This is the big moment. You finally get to start that project. You’ve learned the techniques by reading, warmed up with some practice runs, and patiently planned out your work. All you have to do is write.
But how do you start? What happens if it’s terrible? Will you ever be as good as “the greats?” Why did you ever think this was a good idea?
So much pressure.
Except that there’s really not. As writers, we are our own worst enemy. That’s why we’re in this mess to begin with, right? Just relax. It’s okay to write garbage, especially when you’re starting something new. Remember, you’re going to edit this later. Right now, all you have to do is mash some keys on your keyboard. Start writing and don’t look back until you’re done. When you finish that first draft (whether it be a 500-word article or a 50,000-word novel), you can go back and fine-tune that garbage until it’s a work of beauty.
Right now, all you have to do is mash some keys on your keyboard.
Hopefully, this process will help ease you back into the world of writing. Notice the word “ease” there. Don’t burn yourself out by diving in too fast. Take your time, trust the process, and realize that it’s going to take practice to get the results you want. And a lot of editing. So much editing. Seriously, way more editing than you thought was possible.
All that said, writing should be something you enjoy. This process only works if you’re working on projects for which you have passion. So if you’re still having trouble writing, think about this quote I read recently from one of our generation’s most beloved story-tellers:
“If you write something that pleases yourself, it can be genuine” ~Stan Lee