An image of Peppa Pig and a TARDIS

A disclaimer

First thing's first: I can't tell you how to get back into writing. The best I can do is tell you how I got back into it, and hope that that gives you some ideas that might help you.


How I Stopped Writing

In 2010, the first of my children was born, followed pretty quickly by my second. Neither of them were particularly good at sleeping, and for two years it was rare for me to get more than thirty minutes in a stretch where I wasn't trying to settle a baby. I tried to keep up with writing, but it quickly got frustrating. I decided not to pitch for any more work, and I turned down the majority of it that was offered to me: I managed to finish two short stories in the two years, and that was pretty much it.

This is the longest period of time I've ever spent without something being worked on. But I kept myself sane by deciding that if I couldn't spend the time writing, I could spend it learning about writing. I subscribed to the UK Scriptwriters' Podcast, which was filled will lots of nerdy discussion about the mechanics of writing and also the importance of creating your own projects. I bought a load of different books on writing and screenwriting, and started to learn a lot of the structural stuff that I'd been doing by instinct. I spent the time I couldn't spend writing getting excited again about the idea of writing.

How I Decided to Make This Website

As my kids grew up a little, they started to sleep a little more. I started to get the odd night where they wouldn't wake up. At that point, I didn't think I'd be able to do anything substantial with the time they were giving me, but I knew I needed to get back to writing again. I decided I needed a project I could do it stops and starts, with no deadline, but that would getting me putting words on a page again. I decided that I should update my website, and make it into something that might be useful to people who were just getting started as writers. That meant getting in touch with the people who had commissioned me before and asking if they would tell me why they'd chosen me.

This turned out to be a very good idea.

Not only did it get me writing something, but it also made me get in touch with pretty much everyone I knew in the writing community. Nearly everyone was happy to answer my questions, but – entirely by accident – what I'd also done was remind them that I existed. A couple of weeks later, one of the people I contacted was asked if he knew anyone who might be willing to do a Short Trips story for Big Finish at short notice: he remembered me and put my name forward, which led to two more commissions over the next six months. Another person had just been asked to edit two collections for Obverse Books, and so when he replied he asked if I wanted to pitch something. Another person I contacted was Stuart Douglas at Obverse Books, and that led directly to the Iris anthology that I edited for them.

I can't emphasise enough how useful for getting me back into writing contacting other writers was.

How I Started Writing Something Longer

A few months into my project, and my children started sleeping more soundly: it was more likely that I wouldn't get interrupted when I sat down to write than it was that I would. At the same time, one of the people I'd contacted got in touch and asked if I'd be willing to pitch for a novel line they were editing. It would be more words than I'd written in the last two years, but it was much more flexible than anything I was ever likely to be offered again: because of the schedules, once I'd had a synopsis accepted I wouldn't need to provide a 50,000 word first draft for another year. I used to be able to complete a first draft of an 80,000 word novel in 3 months, so even if I struggled badly I should still be able to hit the deadline.

I took the plunge, and agreed.

What I Discovered

The first thing I found was that my concentration was completely shot. I really struggled to focus for more than five minutes on putting words onto paper, and kept getting distracted by the littlest things. At the same time, a few of the writers I follow on Twitter started mentioning the Pomodoro technique, and I thought it couldn't hurt to give it a try. I found it really useful in regaining my focus, but also for getting me back into writing regularly: before I tried Pomodoro, if my writing got interrupted or I couldn't get a stretch of at least an hour to work in, I'd give the whole night up as a bad lot; afterwards, so long as I had twenty-five minutes, I knew I had enough time to get a good stint of work done. I set myself a low daily word count to ease myself back in (500 words a night, gradually working back up to 1000: before my children, I could usually average 2000). I generally managed to get 500 words in a single Pomodoro.

How I Started Getting Other Work

Whilst I was working on the novel, a few other opportunities came up: in particular, the opportunity to write some Short Trips for Big Finish. This was a group of people I'd never worked with before and was obviously quite a big deal: the deadline was tight and the story was obviously going to be my calling card for more work with them. If I hadn't already have got myself back into writing, I would have found it much harder to say yes, and the story I came up with would have been much different.

Anyway, whenever something new came up, I was able to put the novel aside and concentrate on it, because there was no pressure to finish it by a set deadline. Not every bit of work can be so forgiving, but if I hadn't been offered the chance, I'm fairly certain I would have started working on something unsolicited: I think the first bit of work you do when you come back to writing after a gap has to be something that needs to be finished, but doesn't have a proper deadline. Something that you have a reason to finish because you plan to do something specific with it, but that can survive the slow process of getting yourself back up to speed and a bit of intensive editorial scrutiny while you decide if you really are happy with it.

Where I Am Now

In the end, I finished the novel (although it hasn't been announced yet) and quite a few other things beside. I think my stint away from writing has helped me, in a strange sort of way. It was odd and unsettling, but now I feel I've learned a lot more about who I am as a writer and a lot more tricks that can help me when I'm staring at a blank page. When I started writing again, it was because I knew I wanted to and also because I knew where I wanted to get. I'm a lot more confident about my work now, and I've reassessed my ambitions because of it: up to know, I've mostly taken work because it was offered to me and set my sights on places I think I can get into. Now I'm back, I'm going to try and get to the places I think might just be beyond me.

Hopefully your journey back into writing will give you the same kind of confidence, the same kind of drive. I don't know if any of this has been useful – I hope so, but I suspect possibly not. It's a long winded way of saying "ask people you know if there's anything going", and "if you want to get back into writing, start writing". But as I said at the start: this is my story. If you'd like to share yours, please get in touch here or on Twitter.