Earlier this year, I took a three-month break from writing — the longest break I’ve had in nearly 10 years.
And coming back wasn’t easy.
It wasn’t lack of desire — I still love the world of paid writing, enjoy my projects, and adore my clients.
I’d just forgotten everything I ever learned about writing good copy and making money from it. (Or at least, it felt that way.)
So today, I want to share how I got back in the saddle, and why the money is flowing faster now than it ever has before.
Why Take a Leave of Absence in the First Place?
My writing break was prompted by having a baby — my fourth. Yet I’d never had a true maternity leave with the first three kids, opting to keep writing here and there (helps when you love what you do, and “working” is the equivalent of “taking time for yourself”).
But this time around, I needed to hit the mental pause button. After nine years of steady writing jobs, my creativity was fading, and my motivation had flat-lined. Simply put, I needed a break.
Similar situations that might call for an extended break include caring for a sick relative, planning a life-change (like marriage or a cross-country move), dealing with a death, taking an extended vacation, or choosing to focus exclusively on other tasks (like writing a novel).
Or, you might want to take a step back from paid writing to recharge your creativity on a regular basis. Copywriter and author Sean D’Souza does this repeatedly, often taking a month-long vacation every three months.
Regardless of your reason, it’s important to go into any extended break with the knowledge that the world of web writing will still be there when you get back, and your services will still be in high demand.
And when you’re ready to return, here’s what to do first…
Day 1: You’re Back! Now Lower Your Expectations
I was sure my extended break would do wonders for my ability to create on the fly and masterfully tie words together…
Instead, I spent a good 10 minutes staring at a blinking cursor, wondering how on earth I used to manage my time.
So be warned — your first day back, you may feel like a fish out of water.
For me, it wasn’t so much writer’s block as it was the fact I’d simply forgotten how to spend the day as a professional writer.
What to do first? Do I contact clients? Update my website? Check in on social media? Attempt to write something?
I felt much like I did nearly 10 years ago when I declared myself a freelance copywriter but didn’t know what came next.
Ultimately, don’t expect your first day back after any kind of leave to be a normal, productive day. You’ve broken your writing rhythm, and getting it back isn’t as simple as just sitting at your desk.
After recognizing part of my problem was that I felt distanced from the writing world, I decided I needed to reconnect. My solution? Watch videos! But not just any videos. I opted for the recordings from AWAI’s 2016 Bootcamp. It was a huge boost to get to see old friends on camera and hear many of my mentors speak.
Another way to reconnect is to catch up on your favorite blogs, listen to podcasts you missed while you were out, or read back issues of any magazines from the writing world (like Barefoot Writer, for instance!).
Day 2: Were You Going in the Right Direction?
Part of the value in an extended break is that it gives you a new perspective on the work you’ve done and the work you’re lined up to do. That makes it a great time to review your writing career and reflect on whether you were doing what you want to do, or whether you should use this career-revival moment to redirect your goals.
I used my first days back to indulge in a little self-reflection, mostly to reassure myself that the projects and clients I was about to reconnect with were the right fit for me. Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself as you begin to reconnect:
- Consider what you’ve accomplished so far. Did you enjoy it?
- Were you excelling?
- Were you working with others whom you respect and admire, and who treat you well?
- Were you making the kind of money you want or need to make?
If the answer to these questions is yes, you should probably continue on that path. If the answer is no, it’s worth re-evaluating what you were doing.
Remember, there’s no question you can make a great living as a web writer. The challenge is just finding the right place for you to be. If you’re not passionate about what you write, it makes it that much harder to follow through on your goals.
Day 3: Reconnect with Other Writers and Restore Your Support System
Here’s a fact: having friends in the writing world is one of THE most important ways to guarantee you’ll succeed.
So, if you’d never made any contacts before, now is the time to do it.
And if you already have contacts, or a peer review group, or a handful of writer friends, now is the time to reconnect and let them know you’ve returned to writing.
Visit your writer friends, either in person or online. Share what you’re thinking, or feeling, or doing.
It’s such a small world, people appreciate and savor the connection. (Remember, most of us are isolated.)
I wrote a long email to my old writing group and put a few posts up on Facebook (which I’d also stayed away from during my break). Each time I heard back from someone, it was like a hug that pulled me deeper into the writing community.
Note that this is important to do whether you’ve taken a break or you’ve been steadily writing for years. Surround yourself with positive influences — people who will support and inspire you to achieve your goals. That support system will pay dividends in the long run.
Day 4: Shine Up and Sharpen Your Skills
Even the most gifted writers can feel out of practice after a long break. But as an AWAI-connected writer, there’s an excellent resource system in place. You can come back up to speed quickly — start with a visit to AWAI’s free article archive or read back issues of e-letters you missed while you were away.
Also, figure out what happened while you were gone. Along with watching old Bootcamp videos that brought me up to speed on the latest trends in the direct-marketing world, I also brushed up on the newest AWAI program, Ben Settle’s 10-Minute Workday.
Along with that, I spent some time reviewing the basics of persuasive writing with a visit to the perennial favorite writing guide, AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting (a program I always come back to in times of concentration and/or confusion).
Day 5: Rediscover the Fun in Writing
It’s unlikely you’ll score a five-figure writing contract your first week back. Give yourself a couple more weeks to build your writing business back up.
And with the burden of that removed, try to revive the fun or passion you once felt for writing.
After a few days back, I gave myself a blissful, uninterrupted afternoon to just write. I used a journal and did some freewriting on my computer. I could practically hear the gears of my mind creaking back to life, and felt the cobwebs being swept aside.
When you get that feeling, where the words once again start flowing, chase it. Catch it. Grab hold. It’s a sign you’ll soon be back at your best — and hopefully with a fair bit of fresh energy and motivation.
You’ll likely find — as I have — that the enthusiasm and creative energy you’ll have following an extended break is one of the best ways to land bigger and better contracts and ultimately grow your writing income.