How to Restart Your Work after an Unplanned Pause

How to Restart Your Work after an Unplanned Pause

Episode 383: Checking out for a bit isn't the end at all. It's a new beginning!

Ok, we probably don’t feel as cheery as that little subtitle sounded after we’ve been away from a project for a while. Most of the things that yank us away from our work unexpectedly aren’t good things. (There must be exceptions?)

In my case, I got sick, and then I overdid and got sicker, and the result is a project I haven’t touched in a week. Which is SO not that bad or that long—sometimes things happen and it’s a month or more before we can get back into the work—but it made me think about what I do when I’m forced to stop and re-start.

  1. Forgive yourself. Might you have been able to do better? Maybe. Would a real writer have managed to work through whatever it was? Maybe. And maybe, if you’d really had to, you would have. Or maybe not—sometimes even people with deadlines and editors and fans clamoring need to put their work aside for a while, because sometimes you just cannot. Or sometimes you do anyway, and maybe, as I once did, you turn in an article during one of the worst weeks of your life thus far and it includes a recipe for Miso Roasted Cod in which you forget to include the miso, which is published because apparently there were no backstops at this particular entity, thus ending your recipe writing career forevermore. (Obviously that worked out ok, but 21 years ago I would have told you my life was over.) Let it go. You needed time. You took it. It’s for the best.

  2. Check in. Is it really time to get back to this? Can you look ahead and see yourself getting back into whatever routine is in the cards for you now, or are you setting yourself up to disappoint yourself? Look, only you know. Some people write at the worst times. Some people wait for better times. Sometimes those are the same people at different points in their lives. It is okay to hunch over a laptop under circumstances when people think you should be doing something else, and it is okay to decide to re-read all of Anne of Green Gables even when the waters are calm again.

  3. Do your commit-thing. If it’s time and you’re ready, do whatever you do when you start something. Tell a friend, tell the world, stick a post-it on your desktop, re-up your timer app on your phone, make a list or a plan or a mood board, make a promise, light a candle, stand outside and scream up at the clouds to tell them you’re back in the game, babies!

  4. Allow for some prep-time. Maybe you need to read over your project or your outline. (Or maybe you shouldn’t, because going in an unexpected direction could be a great thing.) A thinking-walk or drive could be good, or a re-read of your favorite motivational or craft book, or even just a page of it. If you’re a pre-writer, start there and let yourself hit a downhill before you start actually sticking in all the punctuation.

  5. Start somewhere easy. Maybe that’s right where you left off. Maybe it’s a scene you’ve been writing in your head. Maybe it’s the end or a new beginning.

  6. Go all in. Once you open the file, stay in the file. You’re out of practice. This will be harder than it was last time. Your text messages, your laundry, that annoyingly long pinkie nail, all will beckon. (Actually it’s ok to go trim the nail. But you do NOT NEED YOUR PHONE to do that.) Set a timer, throw your phone across the room, handcuff yourself to your desk, do whatever you do. Maybe for a teeeeeny bit less time than usual. But do it. And then stop even if you’re rolling. Every day this will get easier if you just do the thing.

  7. You might need to go back and forgive yourself again. Maybe this is harder than you thought. Maybe it feels like you’ve lost the thread. Maybe you don’t feel like you’ll ever, every get it going. What would you say to a friend right now? Bet it’s nicer than whatever you’re saying to yourself. You will keep going. Be kind.

  8. SAVE THIS POST. The time will come when you need it again. And so do I.

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Entertaining, actionable advice on craft, productivity and creativity for writers and journalists in all genres, with hosts Jessica Lahey, KJ Dell'Antonia and Sarina Bowen.