Every author has a different writing journey. Some begin theirs at a very young age; others discover writing later in life. For some it is a continuous, uninterrupted endeavor, while others might stop writing for many years. And if that happens, making a writing comeback can be a daunting task.
Each one of us struggles with different things—in the writing process, productivity, and the publishing process. Some authors become disappointed or even disillusioned with the lack of recognition.
For others, life may get in the way. Employment, starting a family, unexpected illness, or another personal problem are all fully legitimate reasons for an author to put writing on hold.
When the lure of writing finally gets too strong, is there a right way and a wrong way to make a writing comeback after a long break? I wouldn’t call one way “right” and the other “wrong,” but there might be an easier way and a harder way.
A return to writing can be strange and baffling. A few years can change a lot, both in terms of a writer’s personal outlook and writing style, and in the publishing or marketing landscape too. But it can be easier if you know what to expect.
I have experienced a writing comeback myself, and here are my personal experiences and reflections, in the hope that they can be useful to my fellow writers who want to start writing again.
I began writing short stories as a child and writing my first novels as a teenager. What followed was a pretty steady evolution that led me to securing a publishing contract with a respectable publisher by the age of 25.
The details don’t matter much—as I mentioned earlier, every writer has to deal with a unique set of struggles—but what followed was rapid disillusionment with the publishing industry, life changes, moving to another country, and all sorts of things. What does matter for our purposes is that I stopped writing fiction for almost a decade.
The decision to return to writing is almost invariably motivated by significant life changes.
Once whatever caused the author to stop writing is undone or displaced, there is a natural tendency to re-examine one’s life and priorities.
Just like entering a writing hiatus depends on unique conditions for each author, exiting it is an equally individual affair. For some people it might be unpleasant life changes that force them back to writing as a refuge. For others, it might be the exact opposite.
Whatever the initial cause, a writing comeback has several stages.
At first comes excitement and exhilaration, the sense of getting back on track, returning to where one belongs. It’s both important and necessary to cherish the feeling, because the author making a writing comeback will need to store this excitement for the difficult road ahead.
For me, this first stage involved nothing more than a short story that I shared with some people close to me. My suggestion to other authors would be to do precisely that: Start slowly, with something you can complete easily.
Depending on your writing background, it could be a short story, a guest article on a blog, or anything of the sort. The important thing to remember is that you must not become stressed with aspects not directly relevant to writing or the present moment. Don’t fret over what’s next, future works, or marketing considerations.
Authors worrying over the future or technicalities endanger the still-fragile foundations of writing. At this early stage, it’s easy to become disappointed and give up on the comeback when, instead, you should simply focus on reawakening your creative spirit.
After this initial “honeymoon” period, during which I wrote a few more short stories and some blog posts, I decided I needed to begin planning the future steps.
For most authors this involves planning and writing texts with a purpose. Most typically this translates to writing a longer text or a series of texts that will be published and shared with a wider audience.
Again, depending on your writing background, this could mean writing the first novel after your hiatus or starting a new blog. It might mean pitching material to editors or starting a new career as a freelance writer.
Whatever the specifics, this is the point where you need to be ready to face the inevitable difficulties ahead. Once your text propagates beyond the safe confines of family and friends, it also becomes subject to criticism.
It is crucial for the writer making the comeback not to allow any negative feedback to influence the process. Of course objective criticism and fair reviews can be very helpful. However, you shouldn’t feel disappointed to the extent it will stop you from writing.
It is fully understandable that some time of readjusting will be required after a long break. It’s a bit like opening your eyes after being in the dark: The light is blinding at first, but it gets better quickly.
You are not the same person you were before you took a break from writing. It’s important to realize that what worked then doesn’t necessarily work now, and the same goes for what didn’t work.
Writers in a comeback should recognize a changed environment and follow the process in a manner that serves them in the best way possible in the present moment.
An author returning to writing after a hiatus should learn to adapt their writing to the new reality, yet at the same time, it’s important for the process to be a two-way one: Certain aspects of the new reality must also bend for something more fundamental to be preserved.
To clarify this abstract concept a bit more, I will offer another example from my own writing comeback process.
Before my long hiatus, when I still had a publisher, I valued marketing and recognition (fortune and glory, as they say) much more than I do now. I spent then what I now see as an inordinate amount of time and energy on promoting my work, mostly through promotional occasions my former publisher organized.
One of the major changes that occurred during my break from writing was that my publisher and I parted ways. I found myself in a situation where I was no longer obliged to participate in promotional activities. This helped me better understand my own priorities.
After waking up from my literary hibernation, I chose to focus more on writing. Of course I still promote my work in various ways, as it is important for any writer not to shy away from self-promotion. But I have realized that my writing has to come first.
In that sense, although I have adapted to the new reality of not having a publisher taking care of promotion, I have also moderated the time I spend promoting my work online because to me the writing itself is far more important.
Whereas before I spent most of my time promoting my work, with writing new texts being a time-filler, the situation is now the exact opposite. I now write most of the time, and promote existing works in the in-between.
There is no universal right and wrong here—other writers might have other contexts to operate in, or other priorities. But what can be universally drawn as a conclusion is the ability to adapt to new requirements, while at the same time you remain true to who you currently are. As with everything that is meaningful and complex, it’s a matter of balance.
Any activity becomes easier when there is help available, and a writing comeback is no exception. Find other authors with whom you can exchange ideas or support.
When I came back to writing, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads were new. It was like landing on an alien planet. Suddenly, promoting was a matter of being a part of an online community, rather than turning on a spotlight over my individual work. It required changes in the way I interacted with others, to name one example.
It is important for any author coming back to writing to discover a writing community to belong to. Other writers can bring some fresh perspective into your own writing as well as into your general knowledge and understanding of the publishing ecosystem relevant to your writing.
A writing community can be found on social media, in an online forum, or even as a reading group meeting at the local library. Perhaps you could try to create one yourself, focusing specifically on writers making a comeback. Just being active in organizing such a community can be a huge boost in terms of morale.
Making a writing comeback is like rediscovering something you thought you’d lost. It’s important to embrace this realization, as it becomes part of your personal journey, both as a person and as a writer.
Think of it like this: Life changed, and yet writing is back with you, even after a long break. This means something. It’s indicative of writing being an important part of your life, which also reveals that you should disassociate it from results.
Despite setbacks or difficulties, remember that writing comebacks happen for a reason: an intense need to express yourself in words, which is a great motivator for a writer. The best texts are written by authors who don’t just simply want to say something, but who need to.
Personally, I see my own comeback as a never-ending process, and I would suggest the same perspective to my fellow authors in a similar situation. I don’t see how I can reach a moment when I will be able to say “my comeback is now complete.”
The secret is, it’s never complete. Authors are always a work-in-progress, in a continuous evolution toward something better. Every experience, including your writing hiatus and the subsequent comeback, is a crucial element of your journey, as a writer and as a person. Embrace them!
Chris Angelis has a PhD in English literature from the University of Tampere. Besides his academic research in Gothic/horror & science fiction literature, he is also a writer of literary fiction, and the owner of a literature blog, Home For Fiction. Furthermore, he develops programs focusing on literature, writing, and texts in general. Chris is a senior content editor for Craft Your Content.