I think anyone who has ever undertaken any kind of writing (even essays at university and such) faces two kinds of dread; the first being that of looking at a blank page and wondering how you’ll ever start and the second, being when you’ve left a piece of writing unfinished for a long time and know you have to go back to it. For me both of these happened with my dissertation that has now evolved into the novel I am working on. The project began at the end of my second year with writing my proposal, giving me the entire summer to do appropriate research and time to think about how my ideas would mesh together. We came back to university, were given out dissertation tutors and then it took me 2 months more to actually start writing thanks to a weekend writing retreat in Whitby organised by my univeristy so I was sort of forced into starting my piece. Despite the pressure, the deadlines you face in education do push you into producing work but what about after university? You’d think that once university is over and the pressure is off that writing would become more freeing and enjoyable again but then months pass by without you producing anything of note and that project you spent so much time on is just sitting in a folder on your computer that mocks you with the “date last modified” telling you how long you’ve ignored it.
Well, I know everyone who is reading this didn’t do a creative writing disseration but the tips I’m going to give you aren’t just for that situation but for any writer who is avoiding a bigger project that deep down they know they want to complere. So, without further babbling here are my tips for how to get back to writing:
- Bite the bullet and read what you have so far
Yes, it is going to make you want to delete everything you have already written and wonder what your past self was ever thinking with all these metaphors and clumsy, over-dramatic sentences but you’ll also find things that you forgot you wrote and you’ll actually like some of the genius moments you had before. It’s going to remind you that you are in fact very capable and also that the awful blank page part is over already!
2. Free writing will get you going
One of the most valuable things I learnt whilst studying creative writing was free writing, where you sit yourself down for a period of time with paper and a pen and just write about anything that pops into your head. It will probably be unusable nonsense but it gets your brain going and back into sitting and just writing. This technique was how I managed to finally go back to my novel. I mused on my main character for a little while and then decided to just write a stream of consciousness instead of just wondering what the hell I was going to do with them on long metro trips. It meant that I didn’t forget what I was thinking about particularly if I wanted to refer back to my original thoughts later.
3. Talk to someone you can bounce ideas off
What I found exceedingly helpful when I first tackled my dissertation was talking to other people in the situation as me about my ideas and any problems I was having with pulling them together. Not only will you feel less lonely but stressed out because they can empathise, they can also give you some good advice on how they have dealt with similar problems in the past. Furthermore, just saying your ideas out loud can help you to realise how you actually want your writing to develop and what you want to gain from completing the project.
4. Find your method!
For me, I always had this weird fear of actually writing on paper as if by doing so those words became solid and permanent, where as on a computer I could just delete what I didn’t like and never have to look at it again. I have since gotten over this and discovered that the best way for me to work is to handwrite first and then the next day, type up what I have written but with more editing and finesse so that I am much happier with the overall piece on my laptop instead of having to constantly scroll back and edit. You have to find what works for you whether that be pen and paper or writing notes on your phone, find what makes sitting down and writing enjoyable to you. Let’s be honest, we all love buying new notebooks so maybe buy a nice one to get you going again and give you a fresh mindset.
5. Put your phone on do not disturb/turn it off completely, put on some music you love and relax.
Sometimes, when you’re about to face the project you’ve been dreading you’ll find any excuse to avoid it. You’ll clean your house, sit on social media and then randomly decide to look up whether one of your toes being an odd shape means something and before you know it you’re on WebMD and you think you’re dying (you’re not). Set aside a bit of time where you will be left alone, put your phone away and sit back with what you’re working on open and just think about it for a little while and when you’re ready get to writing (refer to previous tips on how to get started). Even if you just start with one sentence it is a start and like anything, you’ll get back into rhythm and then you’ll wonder why it was so hard to start again in the first place.