Write It Sideways

Writing Lapses: 5 Tips to Get You Back on Track

Today’s article is written by regular contributor Sarah Baughman.

True confession: for the past three months, I’ve been a terrible writer.

That’s not to say I’m usually great. But this summer, I disappeared completely from the writing scene: no blogging, no tweeting, no creative composition of any kind, and totally unreliable emailing. I became exactly what Suzannah gave us such good advice on not becoming: burnt out.

I had reasons. Don’t we all? The first week of June, my husband and I moved ourselves and our three-year-old son, ten-month-old daughter, and dog from Germany, where we’ve lived since 2010, to the United States. We spent six weeks bouncing back and forth between our parents’ houses in Michigan before driving to our new house in Vermont, where a jumbo-sized moving truck’s worth of boxes awaited.

Sure, it was a big transition, but at the same time, wasn’t there a lot to write about? Couldn’t I have done a better job of maintaining a writing schedule?

To both questions, yes. I could have prepared more carefully for what I knew would be a chaotic time. And while I can’t undo my silence, I can reflect on some lessons learned during this “writing lapse.”

1. There’s never a perfect time to write. Don’t be picky.

Moving overseas with young children has, for me, been uniquely stressful. But life is full of challenges, both planned and unexpected, and if I stop writing during all of those times I’m not going to end up writing much at all.

After having children I learned about the surprising benefits of writing under time constraints, but even with fewer free hours I had always benefited from fairly predictable recurring blocks of writing time.

My attachment to this regular schedule became debilitating instead of helpful as soon as we started living out of suitcases and moving between other people’s houses. Subconsciously I kept searching for a predictable space and time to write, when really I should have recognized that I wasn’t going to get it.

2. A little writing is better than no writing. Do a little. 

I usually write when I can finish an entire piece, or section of a longer piece, in one sitting. I don’t like starting and stopping. If I don’t have a strong idea of where I’m going with my writing, it’s hard for me to begin until I’ve settled on a clear path.

Usually, these perfectionistic tendencies don’t cause too much trouble because when life putters along with some normalcy, I can collect my thoughts well enough during my non-writing times to use the writing time I have productively.

For the past three months, though, I’ve felt frozen in place– the lack of daily predictability, combined with my self-imposed unwillingness to just write even without knowing how much I’ll produce or what exactly I’ll say, have made writing quite difficult. I wish I had “let go” more often this summer and written a sentence or paragraph even when I knew I wouldn’t be able to write more.

3. Inspiration is nice, but not necessary. Don’t depend on it, especially during stressful times.

Writer friends and I have often debated which writing strategy–waiting for inspiration or composing during fixed times–is more effective. While I do believe in dropping everything (within reason) to write when those wonderful moments of inspiration strike, relying solely on this method is dangerous.

Even when there’s a lot to write about, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed if we’re waiting for a divine spark to inspire every writing session. Sometimes true inspiration happens during the writing process, not before it.

4. Clearly defined writing priorities help. Don’t try to write everything.

I’m not sure I’m ever going to be a great tweeter. And, while I want to maintain my blog and update regularly, I’m not yet sure how regularly I want to post or how many blogs I can reasonably follow while devoting the majority of my time to my writing priorities, creative non-fiction and essays for Write It Sideways, and some print publications.

Someday I might be in a position to take on more writing tasks, but for now, honing my priorities and being okay with letting some of the rest go is important.

5. No need to dwell on your lapse. Figure out what it taught you, then start writing again.

My lapse has given me a pretty clear idea of what I need to put in place to keep writing in the future. A more manageable set of writing tasks and a clearer sense of my writing goals will hopefully keep me afloat next time life throws an inevitable curve ball (I could go without any more international moves, though).

Rather than waste time wondering where the past three months went, I think I’ll pick up and move on. Now that I’ve told all of you, I’d better get that blog up and running again!

What have you learned from your “writing lapses?”