by Ann Marie Williams, © 2020
It’s rarely easy to sit down and put thought to paper. But when the world is screaming for your attention, that challenge is amplified even further. So, I thought I would take today to share some of my tips for “getting back into writing.” And, if you’ve got some tried-and-true tips of your own, I’d love to hear about them!
But first a caveat: None of this is an excuse to not tackle the pressing to-dos of life. Similarly, if you’re writing to a deadline, you might not have the luxury of implementing all these tips (for example, taking a few days to let yourself explore new ideas and stories). But, it’s my hope that some of these following tips will help inspire your mind and your creativity and help you get back into your story — and back to writing.
1. Make sure whatever’s nagging at you is something you’ve already taken care of (or can’t address at the moment)
One way to clear that headspace is to take care of whatever is filling it up. Address the issue at hand, or realize that you can’t at the moment. If you can’t address it at the moment, try making a note to yourself so that you can tell your brain, “I’ll get to that later, and I don’t have to think about it now because it’s written down beside me.”
Once you’ve addressed whatever’s taking up residency in your mind, you can then shift gears and focus on something else (like writing).
2. Take a few breaths and settle back into your story
However deep you are into your story — whether you’re still working on the outline, or you’re adding the final polish — take a few moments to get yourself into the right headspace. Let your mind and emotions settle back into the arc and feel of your story. The characters, the world, the plot, the tone… Before you start writing, remind yourself of what the story is and what you want it to be.
3. Remember what called you to the story in the first place
Spring-boarding off the above, try to recall the aspect/s of your story that inspired you to write it in the first place. Was it the concept? The protagonist? The climax? Even if it was just an image, or a specific scene, or a piece of dialogue… what called to you in the first place? What did you fall in love with? Hopefully it will be strong enough to pull you in again.
4. Reread what you’ve already done
Still finding it difficult to get back into your story? That’s okay. Try rereading what you’ve already written. If it’s the last scene, try that. If that’s no good, try rereading the part of your story that you know you’re happy with — whatever part of your story you know is “right” — the one that tackles the plot, characters, and tone, just how you want.
This should help get your mind and heart back in the right place to proceed.
And, if you don’t have the story written yet, then peruse back over your outline, or even just the notes and tidbits you’ve jotted down. Something in there should spark your creative interest. And, whatever that happens to be, go with it.
5. Just write stuff down
If actually writing, editing, or outlining your story just isn’t working for you at the moment, then try simply writing down ideas.
Maybe you can write a list of: “points I need to make in the story” (e.g. aspects of your characters that need to be addressed, plot points that need to converge, or imagery you need to insert).
Perhaps you could jot down a line of dialogue you’ve been needing to get to. Or maybe a description of a scene or event.
And maybe it’s less structured than that. Maybe you just write down a few pages of potential threads your story could include, or the rules of the world you’re building.
These are your notes. They can be whatever you need them to be. Let your creativity run wild and see where it takes you. Maybe tomorrow you toss it all away. But for today, you can get your mind back into the story.
6. Explore new story possibilities
If you can’t seem to get back into your story, then allow yourself some time to swim among new ideas.
What do you want to write next? Do you have a plot in mind? A type of character? A concept? A great plot twist? Whatever it is, give yourself permission to set your current work aside for a bit and delve into what might come next. The pure freedom of a new story might help release your creativity so that you can get back to your current work (and hopefully you’ll have some new ideas to show for your time and effort!).
7. Put your energy toward something useful but less creative
When all else fails, if you simply don’t have the energy or emotional fortitude to be creative, don’t be too hard on yourself. It happens. Take these moments to focus on your craft — but without actually writing your story.
Read a book (be it fiction, a topic that inspires you, or a book on the craft of writing). Make a list of agents you might want to query, or screenwriting competitions you want to enter. Write your logline or summary. Watch trailers of your favorite movies. Read or write reviews of your favorite books…
All this can add to your knowledge bank. And, with luck, it’ll stir some inspiration deep within you — so that the next time you attempt to work on your story… you’ll be ready.
Screenplay Competitions has received endorsements from Dave Trottier (author, The Screenwriter’s Bible, www.keepwriting.com), Professor Richard Walter (former Screenwriting Area Head, Associate and Interim Dean UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television), Professor of Film John Bernstein (Boston University, College of Communication), Matt Dy (former Director of Script Competitions at Austin Film Festival), Professor Harry M. Cheney (Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts), script editor Lucy V. Hay (www.bang2write.com), and Emmy-wining writer Ken Levine (Hollywood and Levine).