I have been away from all of my current projects for a week. This time was spent travelling and hanging with family and friends during Easter. Oh, and I moved house. Again. You know, for something different!
Anyway, breaks in work flow happen, whether voluntarily or not. Life happens. We’ve all abandon projects at some point because other things had to become a priority. However, returning to a project after an extensive break isn’t always comfortable or easy.
Only a week had passed, but that was enough time to lose my connection to each project. Opening my laptop and picking up where I’d left off felt akin to grabbing a coffee with a once-close friend I hadn’t spoken to in five years; though we had a shared history, present time wedged a space between us. We’d lost contact. I didn’t know where my projects were at and I could feel them assessing me: how much had I changed in my absence? Did we still share the same opinions and inside jokes?
Whenever I’ve had time away from my projects in the past, I tackled the return to my desk via the elegant method of white knuckling. I’d flick on my desk lamp, open the laptop, click on the word document and nose dive into their wintery waters. However, the results yielded from this approach are more frost-bitey then refreshing. So, in an attempt to make things easier, and certainly more pleasant for myself, I’m adopting a different approach. And yeah, for the sake of orderly conciseness, I’ve formatted this method as a listicle. Please forgive me. I’m a Millennial.
1. Small windows
If you’ve been away from your project for a couple of days, weeks or months, do not put off returning to the project until you have an entire free day. I know you think having a whole eight hours is the ideal way to work yourself back into the project, but this approach is simply disguised procrastination.
Now, you may think differently to me, but the idea of dedicating eight hours to a project I’ve fallen out of contact with is TOTALLY overwhelming. However, if I decide to sit down at my desk for an hour or two while I reacquaint myself with the project – that’s do-able.
2. Start with something easy
Instead of setting yourself the ridiculous task of rewriting the first three chapters of your novel or writing the first draft of a scholarly article, may I suggest that you opt for some low hanging fruit?
Opening your word document and immediately getting your hands dirty can be pretty unappealing. Instead, read the last section you were working on or quickly skim over the whole file. This gives you the opportunity to see where everything is at, familiarise yourself with the voice and tone and pick up any previously unseen holes in your argument or manuscript. Then, you plan your attack. Do you need to do more research? Do you have enough sources? Are you happy with how this chapter/character/sub-plot is shaping up? What draft dates are approaching? From here you can construct a timetable or to do list to keep you on track.
If even this idea feels a little overwhelming, start with some ‘fun’ reading. This may be a blog, essay or even a journal that is related to either your project or to the craft of writing. Once you’ve read this piece however, you must do something. Write a response to the article or a summary of the key point. This will get your brain working and your hands writing. Then, and this is the most important step, start working on your own project; don’t use this mini-warm up as a way to launch yourself into the online wormholes of inspirational articles. Inspiration is great, but at some point you gotta knuckle down and do the work.
As an aside, I don’t typically listen to music when I’m working. When I do, it’s always classical music. Preferably a single piano. Something non-invasive. When I’m snipping away at low hanging fruit though, I do enjoy listening to music with lyrics. For the sake of keeping things chilled, I go with easy listening artists like Ray LaMontagne, Neil Young or Tracy Chapman.
3. Get out of those daggy clothes
Okay, bit of a girlie point here, but seriously, don’t return to your desk in your fucking pyjamas. You haven’t seen your work for a week! Dress up for the occasion; don’t show up wearing your sloppy hoody. If you plonk yourself down at the desk without brushing your hair (or your teeth), your gonna feel like shit before you even start.
4. Set up your space
This is a must every day: set up your desk before you start working. Even when I’m in daily contact with my projects, it usually takes 10-30 minutes for me to get my head back into the work.
When you’re trying to concentrate on writing, the last thing you want is to have that concentration broken every five minutes because you have to get a pen, a glass of water, flick on the light or find that book with that perfect quote. That 10-30 minutes warm up time is hard enough, don’t give your monkey mind the opportunity to procrastinate with thoughts of “Oh, I just need to get ….” If you don’t set up your work space before you start, these mini interruptions will turn into a drawn out warm up session. Don’t get stuck doing stretches and jumping jacks for an hour, tend to the basics and then get on the fucking track.
If all else fails, know that you can try again tomorrow; your project will still be waiting for you. Promise.