How do you come back to writing fiction after a long break?

How do you come back to writing and editing novels after months of working on other things?

How do you come back to writing and editing novels after months of working on other things?

What is it like as an author of fiction to come back after a substantial break from novel-writing?

With the release of “Writing for You” behind me, I’m back on the fiction bandwagon. It has been months since I’ve worked on my fiction. I can’t believe that. This is the first long break I’ve taken from my novels in years, and it happened for a few reasons.

Coming back has been quite the experience! I thought I’d share some thoughts of the joys and difficulties of returning to a WIP after an extended break.

  • IN SOME WAYS IT’S LIKE REUNITING WITH OLD FRIENDS. It’s like I never left the characters or their world. I know my way around Herezoth pretty well by now, so in a sense I do feel right at home again. But still….
  • I FEEL A BIT UNSURE OF MY FOOTING, SO I PLAN TO START OFF SLOW AND PICK UP STEAM AS I GO.Β I wrote only one scene–a new introductory scene–yesterday, and I’m expanding it today. I’m really intrigued at how influential a character the Princess Melinda is becoming. When I started outlining this novel for NaNoWriMo it was all about a commoner sorcerer named Zate! (Zate’s still there, of course. But he’s sharing the spotlight, and I think my edits are going to decrease his percentage of it.)
  • GETTING BACK IN THE SWING OF THINGS WILL TAKE A WHILE, AND THAT’S OKAY. I’d rather take my time with the edit and do it right rather than make mistakes rushing it before I fully have my bearings again. I need rest and relaxation, and I need my fiction to be part of that, so I’m not setting myself any kind of timeline right now. The edit will be done when it’s done.Β 
  • IT FEELS PARTLY LIKE RETURNING TO MY TRUE SELF. As much fun as I had putting “Writing for You” together, I’m not sure abandoning my fiction while I did so was the right choice, because I feel very free now…. I feel as though everything has readjusted so that my life is “right” again, if that makes sense. Now I know that, if and when I write a followup to “Writing for You” or pursue another nonfiction project, I shouldn’t abandon my novelist roots. Hey, you live and you learn πŸ™‚
  • MY MOOD IS TONS BETTER THAN IT WAS. One further hint that when you’re meant to be a novelist, writing fiction really does function as therapy and is key to mental health πŸ™‚ I’m a person of faith, and for some reason, my fiction is one of the major ways I connect my faith to the real world, test it, and make sure it continues to develop. I have been stressing lately, but returning to fiction is somehow easing all that. Awesomeness!
  • I COULD DO ANOTHER READ-THROUGH, BUT I THINK I’LL DO AN EDIT FIRST AND THEN READ-THROUGH AGAIN. If I didn’t have hundreds of notes from my last read-through and my breakthrough about some fundamental changes I need to make to the draft, I’d probably read it again. But I think I want to jump in instead, so that’s what I’ll do. I’ll go on my gut and on my notes and then read through the results when I’m finished πŸ™‚

Have you ever taken a long break from fiction? How did you come back to it? How do you think you’d approach returning, if life intervened and took you away from your fiction for a while?

This is something you don’t hear many people discuss. You hear “write every day” a lot (I’ve said it myself!), but you don’t hear, “This is how you come back when you haven’t written for weeks or months.”

Please feel free to share your thoughts if you’re so inclined. Also, if you enjoyed this post and would like to follow my blog, you can sign up at the top right to follow by email.

 

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63 responses to “How do you come back to writing fiction after a long break?

  1. I find once I get going, writing comes back to me fast–like writing a bicycle.

  2. This one hits home in a major way for me. Due to life happening (as it does everyday) I had to step away from writing for over a decade. It is completely like reuniting with old friends. Sure I talk everyday, but it’s not the same as diving into words and shaping them into something great and wondrous.

    As for getting back into the swing of things, I just jumped in with both feet. There was no testing the water with my toes first. Just jump in. I’m happy to say that surprisingly my writing improved dramatically. Also, the book I wrote (I just started writing again in December of last year) is getting published in September! Plus I have eight other books already written to rewrite and fix and send out to print.

    I’ve still got all the rejection letters I’ve gotten from novel and short story submissions (back when everything still went through the mail- electronic submissions were a no-no back then). I still plan on wallpapering a bathroom with those gems. πŸ™‚

    So on the topic of getting back to writing after a long break… I recommend jumping in with both feet. Great post, Victoria!

    • thanks! And congratulations on your success and upcoming release. That’s fantastic! It always used to be my policy to jump back into a project with both feet but for some reason I have a lot of stuff going on right now demanding my attention, so from a time perspective and even from an emotional sense, I don’t feel I have what I would need to jump back in with both feet. But I’ll get there! πŸ™‚

      I’ve kept all my old rejection slips too (when I got them from literary magazines.) It’s kind of a badge of honor πŸ™‚

  3. Some great reactions to picking up the pen again. I always find after a long break that my writing doesn’t sound like me anymore. It’s almost a good thing because it gives such a great objective view of whatever project I’ve been working on.

    • that’s a great point: a break definitely gives that perspective we need to judge our work more objectively because it’s less close to us and we’re not all that familiar with it anymore.

  4. I have so many interests, I sometimes will go for months or years working on projects other than fiction writing. Getting back into fiction writing requires that I put those other interests aside almost entirely, because they will distract me and take me away from my writing otherwise. I’ve never considered myself ADD, but sometimes I wonder.

    It helps when I am getting back into writing fiction if I am excited by both the plot and the characters. If I have a good plot or great characterization but not both, I can too easily be distracted by some other type of project.

    • That makes a lot of sense: it’s definitely important to be excited about the project on multiple fronts. I like how you focus on the story and the characters. If an author can’t get into the story or the characters, distraction is really easy. I’ve definitely been there too!

  5. I know how you feel. I returned last week back home from a 5 1/2 week holiday in Greece, and already uni has started and creative work has to be submitted. I’ve gone back to my third novel that is a WIP. It’s good to get to know your characters again and see how you’ve improved on your writing. I’m trying to do some free-writing so I can get back into it.
    Great post,
    Claire

    • I don’t know how the thought of some free-writing to loosen up and get back in the groove never occurred to me. That’s a fantastic suggestion, Claire! Thanks!

      Free-writing is a great way to hone up your writing skills before you jump back into a larger and focused project, for sure.

  6. For me it’s something that just brings you back of its own accord… I took a few months off and couldn’t hear the little voice in my head. It was faint and far, far away. I restarted when it got unbearable… πŸ™‚

    • haha, I totally understand what you’re saying there! The muses sometimes just call. And they won’t be turned away! πŸ™‚ I love the way you describe that experience. I talk about a story stuck inside that just needs to get out and forces its way out almost on its own accord.

  7. Your post really resonated with me too. I was writing academic essays for so long I think I forgot how to write for me. Then its like buses, nothing for so long and then they all come at once, lol πŸ™‚

    • Oh my gosh, I hear you! I took four years of graduate courses. Got a master’s and was working to my PhD when I realized it just wasn’t right for me. Academic writing was work, and though I was good at it, it wasn’t work I enjoyed, so I somehow stopped being able to see the value in it where my life was concerned, I left.

      Academic writing is SOOO different. It never was writing for me. Never.

  8. Longest break I took from writing was about a year and it wasn’t self-inflicted. I was not a happy person during that time and it really showed. I got back into it by angering the people stopping me and defying them. I started small with a personal project to write a poem a day for a year and I did that. A few months into that I got back into my fiction and I’ve been staying there every since.

    • Love this! You have to do what you have to do. When you’re meant to be a writer, you really do need to write. It’s an emotional NEED, not a want.

      • Exactly. Wish people would understand that.

        • Me too! I’m lucky in that those close to me have never told me not to write or tried to make me feel bad for writing, for sure, but they don’t understand the drive.

        • You’re definitely lucky. I have about 2 conversations a week about when I’m going to get a ‘real job’ and quit writing. People around here thing this is a hobby for some reason. It really does show how authors can be driven by different things. Some have glowing support and others have to work off the desire to prove everyone wrong.

        • Very true! I’m the process of trying to find a “real job” just because my writing isn’t financially stable and I need to support myself… but I would LOVE to be writing all day, every day, and making a living from it!

        • I’m still trying for the writing job. History has taught me that a ‘real job’ doesn’t let me do any writing because the house is chaotic in the evenings and weekends. I hope things improve when I boost my book’s price in September, but I’m learning that I can’t predict anything.

        • Yeah, the instability is what scares me. Wishing you tons of luck!!!! πŸ™‚

        • Thanks. It’s Sunday, so I expect a slump. Always seems to happen.

        • Weird how that’s the case! My blog takes a huge hit on Saturdays lately. HUGE. It makes sense but it’s still odd to track.

        • I think the good weather is driving people outside.

        • Nice point. It’s not just the weekend, it’s a fair weather weekend in most areas. It is here in Chicago….a bit too cool for my taste for this time of year (Chicago is almost ALWAYS comparatively too cold for any time of year for someone from New Orleans) but nice.

        • I’m getting the distinct feeling that a fantasy book shouldn’t have a summer debut. At least an indie author without a stable fan base. I was doing okay until I hit today. Hopefully the night sees better numbers like before. Starting to question a month of .99 cent pricing too.

        • Hope things pick up!!! One good thing is that you can always adjust pricing any time and in any way you want πŸ™‚

          I’ve noticed my book pages on amazon have your books listed in “also bought” / “also viewed” category. And that makes me happy πŸ™‚

        • Interesting. I tried to get Listmania working to put your book in a list with other writing books. For some reason the Listmania system isn’t working.

        • 😦 Good to know it isn’t working. Thanks for the effort, Charles! I should look into listing my stuff on listmania but I’ve never really understood how it works.

        • Basically, you make a list of books that have similarities. For example, I did one for my first book titled ‘Twin-Sword Warriors’ and another of ‘Stories with Dragons’. Never say ‘best’, ‘greatest’, or anything that puts you on a pedestal. Put your book at the top of the list and then list other books that fall into that category. Try to hit the big ones like ‘On Writing’ and whatever else there is. When somebody looks at one of the established books, there is a chance that the list will end up in a side window. Your book would be the first one seen as a connection to the book people are looking at.

        • ah, GOTCHA! That sounds really useful. Thanks so much for taking the time to explain how it works. I’ll have to do that!

        • If they ever get it working again. System thing, so it isn’t only me blocked. 😦

  9. When I finished To Be A Magician, I did take quite a long break. I started at university, and that was pretty overwhelming. I had a few personal issues as well. I remember I actually wrote a bit of (terrible) poetry and that made me feel better, but I wasn’t immersing myself into this whole other world.

    (A funny story about the poetry. I accidentally left my memory stick in a university library computer, and two guys I knew noticed it. Apparently they found my poetry file and took a read. I was mortified.)

    I started another blog on WordPress before this one, and I noticed how great the creative writing community was, so I started a whole other account (this one) for my fiction work and now this one has really become my main blog.

    It definitely has been a motivator, especially to do new projects. I recently had an idea, and before WordPress, I would never have acted upon it, but now I’ve posted about it, I feel like I have to see it through to the end!

    • Oh my gosh, I can’t believe those people read your poetry!!! That’s awful!!! Poetry is extremely personal. It’s NOT something you read unless the author invites you to do so. I also have a lot of terrible poetry on my computer…. I’d be HORRIFIED if anybody read it!

      • They said it was good, and they were pretty nice guys, so I kind of forgave them. Still, quite embarrassed. I’ve been thinking of posting some of them on WordPress, then I actually look at them and think… No. Really, no.

        • I would be the same way! πŸ™‚ I’ve never even been brave enough to consider posting my poetry

        • This time last year, I joined a Facebook group a friend was running called, Poems For August. The point was you had to post a poem everyday, and it didn’t matter how bad it was. It was really good, but I ended up leaving halfway through because of an argument I had with said friend. :/

        • that’s a cool idea, posting a poem every day! Would function great to break down the “oh my gosh I am putting me on display” reaction.

  10. I had a year when my life got so stressful and i was so absorbed by all of it, that i didnΒ΄t get to writing fiction at all. But when i took a time off and the stress finally faded, my long forgotten characters started to rampage allover my imagination again, coaxing me into dreaming and thinking… still it took me some time to get back into writing. Feld a little like waking up πŸ™‚

  11. “…you’re meant to be a novelist, writing fiction really does function as therapy and is key to mental health. I’m a person of faith, and for some reason, my fiction is one of the major ways I connect my faith to the real world, test it, and make sure it continues to develop.” So true, so true, to both points! I have also recently swapped from editing to writing a first draft from scratch, and, at first, I was writing broken sentences. Once I moved pastt those intial steps, though, it is as if I’m back to what I should be doing. Not that I think editing is less important, but I feel…more secure all over when I simply write.

    • Editing and writing really are different processes entirely. When I’m editing my fiction I lump it into the same category as “working on my fiction” or “writing my fiction” but really, it’s not the same thing. At all. Uses different thought processes and different skills. You’re focusing on different things.

      It’s always a jolt moving from editing one WIP to writing another one. glad you’re getting over the adjustment period. I prefer writing to editing as well. It’s less stressful to me.

  12. Not writing is almost a physical pain, and it does have a tendency to make me crabby–just ask my friends and family. I stopped writing to focus on serious revision of my first novel, so I could submit it for publication. Then I had to stop revising to do nothing but read and study because I realized I had a lot to learn about the craft before I could even revise. The upside is, I’m so desperate to return to any kind of writing, revision actually sounds fun now. I agree, though, there’s got to be a better way to do it. Instead of all or nothing, perhaps a balance of fiction and nonfiction or new writing and revision?

    • Great point: I think the balance is the way to go, if one can find and establish it on a regular basis. Back in grad school I set up a schedule that had me writing or revising for an hour or so each morning before I did anything else. It worked fairly well for me as a structure.

  13. Great post, Victoria! My situation was a bit different on a larger scale, but similar. When in college, I wrote a lot of short stories. I even hosted a writer’s group in my apartment. It was lots of fun and we all learned a lot. I was even Vice-President of the Literary Society Club and a journalist on the college newspaper. Then, I was encouraged to think “practically” and get a “real” job that would make money. There is no money in writing unless you are famous and it takes many years to do that–and that’s if you’re lucky. So, that is what I did. I quit writing. I worked in the customer service industry for over 30 years. I didn’t hate it because I do love people, but I was always discontented. Something was off. I would hate going in to work after awhile, then I’d change jobs. I felt trapped. It was like a epiphany..I realized that since my creativity was stifled, by my own doing, yes, but stifled nonetheless, I was not happy. During this time I read of course, not just for pleasure either. I would read Writer’s Digest, books about writing in general–but still, I didn’t write. I came up with excuses. I don’t have time, I work full–time and I’m too tired, or I don’t have a computer..etc. Well, when I was forced to retire for health reasons, I realized that I had no more excuses. I had bought a computer from a job I had before I retired, now I had all the time in the world. With the change of now being able to self-publish, I felt like it was now possible and with the encouragement of my roommate, I decided now was the time to get back to writing. I could live my lifelong dream of being a full-time author. So, I am in the process of writing my first novel. I feel sometimes like maybe due to the fact that I didn’t finish college, I might have trouble writing a full length novel, but I have decided that it is the story, the creativity that matters the most. All the other stuff, the mechanics, I have been teaching myself along the way anyway. What I need to do is just get into there and write. The fear is still there though. I procrastinate and read and study and research more. I need to just write. I know this and I am working on it. πŸ™‚

    • I love your strategy and your approach, and am so glad you shared your story!!! It’s so true….just write. You can do other stuff too; you can write for just a few hours a day (one or two) and spend some daily reading about writing or reading fiction. For sure. But at some point each day, writing is important for all of us πŸ™‚

  14. I completely agree with all of this! After I graduated from high school, I took a long break from writing, thinking that I had to ‘put aside childish things’ and grow up. I didn’t write anything for two years, but after a long, dreadful semester, I pulled out my writing binder and it was like I’d never left.

    It’s exactly what you said. It’s like returning to my true self. Even though I’d abandoned it for so long, I found that I was much happier, much more comfortable in my own skin after returning to my former love.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  15. Jane Austen took a ten-year break, redrafted some stuff she’d written previously and bingo! πŸ™‚ I usually write every day but had an eight month break a while back. I was really stuck but managed to kick start my writing again by joining a local writers’ group.

  16. I’m making a return to writing after an 9 year break. There has been a lot of rust to break off, but the hard work over the last 8 months re-training myself is starting to pay off. Just found your blog today, I will be back.

    • Glad you dropped by, Liam! There’s definitely a readjustment period, but it sounds like you’re making some great progress. I definitely hope the blog here proves a resource for you!

  17. I took a three-year break at one point. Also various nonfiction projects interrupted my fiction writing for about a year. So returning to fiction was like returning from a stay overseas. I had culture shock. I felt like I was in a place I used to know, but had to get to know all over again. I read books by authors I love to inspire me. I wrote notes on scenes I wanted to write. Thankfully for my first fiction outing, I had decided to turn a short story I had written into a novel. So I was already familiar with the world. But it still had to be fleshed out and characters developed.

    I gave myself time to write. I didn’t have a goal of a certain amount of pages in a certain amount of days. I also gave myself permission to enjoy the process.

    • I don’t give myself page number or word count goals either πŸ™‚ And I love how you describe it as culture shock. In a lot of ways, it is. I found going overseas my culture shock coming HOME was far greater than going away!

  18. Pingback: Fiction Writing Tips Blog Carnival Issue #5 | Fantasy Scroll

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