When summer arrived I knew I’d be traveling too much to spend a lot of time writing, so I adopted a few practices to keep the momentum going. A couple of things worked so well that I’ll continue them through fall and the busy holiday season, when life again whittles away at my writing time.
The first practice is something a lot of writers recommend: taking notes.
This seems self evident. Why wouldn’t any writer be scribbling notes, maintaining a writer’s bank to draw on when the imagination runs dry? But it wasn’t until I figured out why I was having such a hard time following through that I was able to quit procrastinating and start writing.
The main reason I didn’t take many notes was that my notes didn’t equate to good writing. Descriptive passages weren’t particularly inspired, some of the journaling was dull and I was too busy at the time to focus on the quality of the work.
This all changed when I was researching a story and tapped into some journaling I had done several years ago. It dawned on me that the quality of writing in my notes didn’t matter. The important thing was that I had access to details and descriptions that enabled me to flesh out a story. Without those hasty, mediocre notes I wouldn’t have been able to reconstruct my experiences with any detail or accuracy.
Jotting down story ideas as soon as I think of them, describing incidences and scenarios in detail and copying inspirational quotes and book passages for future reference have been lifelines when I’ve needed writing material.
If I want to be a good note taker, I need to abandon perfectionism and focus on recording words and ideas as soon a possible.
These days I keep a pen and writing pad handy, a notebook beside the computer, and I can take notes on my phone app. You never know when a church sermon, a scene in a restaurant or an overheard conversation will spark a story idea. My notes were essential when I was reconstructing short vignettes for my latest book. The vignettes included humorous scenarios of customer/staff interactions that I probably would have forgotten if not for my journal.
It might seem like an effort to take notes when you’re on vacation. You’re not in work mode; you’d rather savor the experience than write about it. But even if what you write seems mundane beside the reality of what you’re experiencing, jot down those ideas. You can flesh them out and elaborate later, but if you get descriptions and impressions recorded, you’ll have something to work with.
Another thing that helps jump start my writing after a break is to leave some unfinished work on the table.
If I’ve begun a couple of articles, it’s easier to pick up where I left off than it is to face a blank screen. Being on vacation leaves me rusty and out of the writing habit, but unfinished stories help me dive back in.
Tonya S. Ware includes the idea of leaving unfinished work on the table in a terrific article about overcoming procrastination to finish your writing projects.
It’s amazing how this simple practice can help you regain momentum. Even though I love to write, there’s something about returning to a blank page that fills me with dread. It’s a lot easier to slip back into work mode if there’s something concrete to work on.
You’d think that after a vacation or a writing break you’d have more to say, with ideas bubbling up from all those experiences. The more ideas you use up, the fewer ideas you have left in the idea bank. Right?
The opposite, at least for me, is true. The more I write, the more ideas flood in. The less I write, the drier my well becomes. Instead of storing a backlog of stories by not writing, I generate a backlog of stories from exercising my writing muscles. Stories lead to more story ideas, as if the creative part of my brain is nudged from dormancy by the work process.
One of the best ways I’ve found to prime the pump and get ideas flowing is simple. Just start writing. About anything. Don’t think about how your article might be received, or about how good (or bad) the story is. Just write for fun, for joy, for love of writing. Express yourself, tap into your emotions, let yourself laugh or cry or be inspired and forget about the rest.
Jennifer Harris (JL Harris) published a great article about writing the first sentence, which is always the hardest, when you’ve taken a writing break. If you can get the first sentence down, you’ve broken through the writing block and you’re on your way.
When I start writing, I frequently find myself creating a story that isn’t at all the story I planned. By going with it and forgetting about an agenda, my imagination takes over and leads me in a different direction. Some of my favorite and best performing stories have been ones that sprang from the creative force that takes hold when I’m writing for the sheer joy of it.
Reading and supporting other writers is another way to jumpstart the writing habit.
We harbor a desire to create something worthwhile, and we receive a much-needed boost when others read and enjoy our work.
I’ve heard a lot of writers say, “I write to help others. I think I have something worthwhile to say.” I believe we all have something worthwhile to say and many of our stories can help others. But isn’t helping others through our support at least as important as helping them through our work?
When helping others is a writing goal, the writer should be excited about the opportunity to recognize and encourage potential as another way of offering assistance.
“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them.” Proverbs 3:27
Don’t forget that commenting on someone else’s work is writing, too. It might not be your own story, but you’re thinking, practicing your writing and interacting when you respond intelligently to a thought-provoking story. Reading and responding to others will fire up your own creativity in addition to encouraging writers who are working as hard as you are on their stories.
Enjoy your vacation, your holiday activities, your writing break. But capture your ideas and experiences in your notes. Leave some unfinished work, even if it’s only a paragraph or two, so you can pick up where you left off. When you’re faced with writer’s block or you’re uninspired, start writing about the things you love and allow the words to flow. Last but not least, read and support other writers. Your own creativity will be enhanced and you’ll be on your way to completing some great stories.