When you haven’t worked on a project for a while, just writing 200 words can feel like filling a glass from a dripping tap.

But sometimes life gets in the way and your writing has to take a backseat.

Sometimes you decide to focus on a different side of your writing business—for instance, your marketing strategy—and you have to abandon your characters for a little while.

This is something I’ve had to do since last summer.

I hadn’t planned to take such a long break from writing fiction. My original plan was to write and publish Productivity for Writers, then go back to working on Return to New York.

But I decided to work on my marketing skills instead.

Since then, I’ve blogged more, tripled visitors to The Writer’s Cookbook, guest posted for the likes of Thrive Global, The Huffington Post, and The Writing Cooperative, and learnt so much.

But now, almost a year later, I’m left wondering: how do I get back into my fictional world?

I’ve done bits of fiction writing here and there over the last few months, but it’s never been more than a few hundred words. The days of my 1000-word free writing sessions are well behind me.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t get back into them.

With the help of Janet Murray‘s Media Diary, by the end of February, I’d scheduled in six weeks’ worth of blog posts.

That meant that I had the whole of March to focus on my fiction. After a rough few months, this was my birthday present to myself.

Here’s how I got back into writing fiction after a long break, and how you can, too.

Be prepared for awkwardness

You know when you meet up with an old school friend you haven’t seen in years, and you don’t always pick up where you left off?

Yeah, it can be like that when you first get back into your fiction.

It can feel awkward and forced and make you really uncomfortable.

This isn’t a sign you need to give up, it’s just a sign of teething problems. It’s perfectly natural.

Push through the awkwardness—it may take a bit—and write, even if you end up writing for the sake of writing.

You can always fix the crappy writing later.

Right now it’s about getting into the right mindset to work on your fiction again.

The only way you can do that is by writing, even if it means writing so badly you’re embarrassed to show it to your dog.

Don’t be afraid to write badly

You will probably hate 90% of what you’ve written. But you’ve had a long break. You’re rusty.

The internet has taken away the gatekeepers and means that more people than ever can share their words with the world. This has created the misconception that anyone can write.

Sure, we can all tell a story, but telling a story isn’t the same as writing a book.

The writers who forge long-term writing careers are the ones who know that the more they show up, the more they’ll get out of it.

Stay focused

While I encourage you to write for the sake of writing within a project, don’t write for the sake of writing on any old thing.

Have a clear goal in mind.

Know what you want to achieve with each of your writing sessions, and plan your novel.

The more focused you are in your writing, the easier it is to get back into the right mindset.

Do some free writing

Free writing is exercise for your writing muscles.

If you’re struggling to get back into your work in progress, as I did with What Happens in Barcelona, do some free writing from the perspective of one of your characters. This helps you to get back into their heads.

You don’t have to share what you write with anyone—although it could be a fun blog post for your readers—but it will help you to warm up your muscles again before you start on the heavier stuff.

Create playlists to get you in the right mindset

I have a playlist called ‘Inspiration’. It’s full of songs that have inspired huge amounts of my writing, whether it’s a plot or subplot, some poetry (usually several poems), or a character’s personality.

Many of the songs within this playlist are my favourites, but not all of them are. It’s not about how much I love the song, it’s about the emotions that song evokes.

The best songs—just like the best fiction—create strong emotional reactions in their audience.

Remember: you snooze, you loose

When you stop exercising for a while, your body can’t go straight back into the same level of exercise that it could do when you were at your fittest. If you haven’t exercised in a year, you won’t be able to run a mile in a minute, and you won’t be able to lift heavy weights. You may not even be able to touch your toes when you bend down.

The longer you stop writing fiction for, the harder it is to get back into.

However, no matter how long your break was, it’s not impossible.

To do it successfully, though, you need to stop being so hard on yourself.

Your mind is a muscle. If you don’t regularly feed it with fiction writing (and reading fiction, too), it will strengthen other muscles instead.

Take it slowly when you first start out—build those writing muscles back up.

Even if it’s just a couple of sentences a day, that’s still more than you would’ve written otherwise.

Ease yourself back into writing and you’ll be writing at your peak again in no time.

Over to You

How do you get back into your writing after a long break? What inspires you?

Are you struggling to get back into writing after taking a break from it? Here's what you need to do.