How to Recover When Your Writing Habit Breaks Down
You made a commitment to write regularly. After a handful of false starts, you found your groove and have been making steady progress ever since. Your habit tracker shows a perfect streak. But best of all, the words are adding up. Your goal finally seems to be within reach.
A few days later, you find yourself mired in your everyday responsibilities. Your progress is stalling. The next thing you know, you haven't written anything for a few days.
You worked so hard, but things are falling apart once again. Watching your writing routine unravel can be a distressing experience. It can make you question whether you have what it takes to be a writer.
In this post, you'll learn how to deal with the ups and downs of the writing life.
Writing Habits Are All But Permanent
Even the most successful authors struggle. They get stuck and miss deadlines. Remember when George R. R. Martin said the last Game of Thrones book would take "three years to finish the next one at a good pace?" That was in 2011. The Winds of Winter is still forthcoming as of November 2023 — more than a decade later.
You may do everything right, and things still break down. I wish you could set up your writing routine in your early 20s and keep writing every day for the next 60 years.
Unfortunately, the journey of a writer isn't straight up. There will be ups and downs. The low points aren't always bad. They help you appreciate the moments when things are going well.
Our lives change all the time. We switch jobs or even careers. We move. We fall in and out of love. We pick up new hobbies and make friends along the way. Our priorities shift over time, and our writing habits must evolve, too.
Sometimes, that means your writing routine has to break down so that you can build it back up stronger.
Handling a Slip-Up
Building a habit doesn't turn you into a machine. No matter how hard you try not to, you will miss a day at some point. It's inevitable.
It doesn't mean you failed. Slipping up doesn't erase all the progress you've made up to that point. It simply proves that you're human. We all make mistakes.
What differentiates those who succeed is their ability to bounce back as soon as possible.
When you miss a day, do whatever is in your power to write the next day. Get up earlier than usual and squeeze in a writing session first thing in the morning. If it doesn't work out, cancel your evening plans to ensure you have plenty of time to write.
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says that missing a day is a mistake, but missing two days in a row is the start of a new habit.
Haruki Murakami, dubbed one of the world's greatest living novelists, uses a similar approach. He allows himself to skip a writing day but never misses two days in a row.
What to Do When Things Really Do Fall Apart
Sometimes, you won't be able to make it work on the second day either. A week will go by without you writing a single word.
First, don't panic. Don't beat yourself up. Remember that nobody is taking the progress that you've already made away from you. You wrote before, and you will write again.
Instead of blaming yourself for failing, try to look at the situation with as much objectivity as you can. Until a few days ago, you were able to write on your regular schedule. Now, you no longer can. What changed?
Are you not interested in the project anymore? Are you running out of ideas? Are you worried that the story won't be good enough? Are you afraid of being judged?
Perhaps your life has been busier than usual? We all have 24 hours in a day. When more responsibilities creep in, other things fall by the wayside.
Taking a Break from Writing
As a writer determined to reach your goals, your first instinct may be to double down. Nobody said writing would be easy. You won't give up without a fight.
The problem is that you're putting pedal to the metal when you're already running on fumes. This final push only makes it worse. You're driving yourself towards serious burnout.
It's like running every day without giving your body enough time to recover. Your muscles can handle it, but they don't perform as well as they could with proper rest. All it takes is one misstep on uneven ground. You sprain your ankle. What could've been one or two days of recovery between runs turns into months of treatment and therapy to stabilise your foot so that you can get back to training.
Creative burnout can last for months or even years. Err on the side of caution. Take a break when you need one.
Schedule your next writing session a week or two into the future. Spend the time you'd normally dedicate to writing on other things. Read more books. Meet up with friends, head outside or do nothing at all.
Taking action is a good thing, but trying to start a car with no fuel in the tank is an exercise in futility.
When the time comes to start writing again, you will know exactly what to do. You've done this before, and you can do it again.
Writing is a long-term commitment. Your ability to keep going is paramount to your success — whether you're working on a book, writing short stories or building a blog.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is to take a step back so that you can take two steps forward later.