When a Writing Project Gets Sidelined

We've talked a little about some general coping strategies when something major comes up in your life and needs your attention NOW. Today, let's get more specific. If you're at all creative, you know how difficult it can be to keep momentum on a project. With time and practice, we get better at blocking out distractions, but some things can't be blocked out. Some things, like the death or serious illness of someone you care about, or a health crisis of your own, or a last-minute visit from your far away best friend who you haven't seen in years, cry out for attention, and you should not feel guilty about giving it to them.

But what about our writing?

Take heart. There are things we can do to safeguard our progress and ensure that all is not lost.

First, though, be honest about something: how much of your time is this going to ensnare?

This is less mercenary than it sounds. All you're really trying to ascertain is whether this is a one day aberration (still tricky, if you're just getting into a writing groove and reluctant to leave it, but doable), or a week, or if this will have less definite parameters, as in the case of an illness or grief. For brevity's sake, I'll tailor the steps that follow to the middle-of-the-road category, but you can apply them however you like.

Centre yourself

Take a deep breath. Be gentle. Whatever is going on right now, remember: it's important to maintain a connection to your life, the people and things that make you who you are. Soon you'll be on the other side of this situation, whether it be one of joy or sorrow, but for now it is here and it needs to be dealt with and processed and, in some cases, enjoyed!

Back up your work

Ideally we'd do this on a regular basis anyway, but now, when you're about to go on hiatus, is as good a time as any. If you don't already have a back-up method, for now just keep it simple and email your current draft and any reference materials to your own email account as attachments. The last thing you need right now is to lose your precious work!

Keep track of what's next

If you were about to introduce a new character or weave in a subplot or incorporate the suggestions from your beta reader, write that down, and any other notes you need. You want to make it as easy as possible to slip back into the writing flow upon your return.

Let go

Whatever's going on right now, it needs you more than your writing does. Step away and don't look back. It will wait for you. I promise. This is the time to practice those coping strategies we talked about earlier.

Don't be hasty

Once your time is your own again, you might be tempted to jump right back into your writing, full steam ahead. Depending on what's been going on, though, you might need a day or two to decompress. Take it. Listen to music, read a book, go for a hike. Whatever you need. (And if that music happens to inspire a plot bunny to run across your path, write it down!)

Get your bearings

Remember the notes you made before, about what scene you were going to write next or what part of the rewriting process you were in? Now's the time to pull them out and review. If it all feels hazy and unfamiliar, find a prompt and do some freewriting. It doesn't have to be about your story, though it can be.

(On the hunt for new prompts? I love the ones in Judy Reeves' A Writer's Book of Days and Lesléa Newman's Write From the Heart. For ones you can access online, I regularly update this collection of prompts.)

Ease into it

If you've only been away a day or two, you might be able to jump right back in. If you were away for longer, though, or if your writing routine had only just been established and is still in the fragile stage, proceed cautiously. You might need to work up to where you were before. What you don't want is for everything else to be knocked off-kilter just so you can get your writing back on track. Consistency is key.

Watch for roadblocks

From this point on, it may be smooth sailing, or you may hit the occasional bump in the road. Either way, it's okay! You're getting back on track and that is awesome. You should be proud of yourself. Remember, if the event that brought this on was particularly emotional or traumatic, you may still be processing it. Don't be surprised if it seeps into your writing, or if you just need to step away for a bit. The main thing is to come back to it, again, and again, until the story trusts you again.

When all's said and done ...

Even in the best of times, it's not always easy to maintain a steady writing routine. Returning to it after a hiatus can be tricksy but it can also be an enormous relief! Settling into the rhythm of putting words on the page, listening to your characters, crafting your story ... it's a meditation all its own.