Congrats, you wrote a book and launched it! It’s on to the next book. The problem is, you’ve got the blues. You don’t want to write another word. As for a whole book, you just can’t do it. You need a break. Maybe you're thinking, “I wrote a book. Now what?”
But can you take a break and still practice writing if you're not writing?
Yes, you can! By taking a different, brief, and temporary writing approach.
In this post, I’ll share how focusing on three R’s—Reviews, Reading Panels and Residencies—can help you develop your writing platform in new and unexpected ways.
How to Practice Writing (Even if You're Not Writing)
I’ve published and launched three novels, a collection of short stories, and another of poetry, and have been included in many collections. My first book was launched in 1999. Everything else came fifteen years later. That’s how long it took me to recover from my first novel blues.
It wasn’t that I didn’t practice.
I’d turn on the computer, open up my story and look at it. On a good day, I’d manage three paragraphs. On a bad, three words. And then in 2013, I discovered The Write Practice.
Rejuvenated and ready for some hard work, I wrote a new book. My second novel came out a year later!
We all need to practice. But too much of the same-old-same-old is stultifying. Joining a community like The Write Practice was my first experience of practicing differently.
I was writing with people who were very culturally different from South-East-Asian me. I had to respond to short prompts that had nothing to do with my work-in-progress. It should have been a waste of time. It wasn’t.
Working with US writers challenged my creative writing skills. It honed my ability to write universally appealing scenes. Finding a critique group and responding to prompts in which I had no emotional investment warmed my writing muscles, which allowed me to take on difficult scenes in the novel. It gave me a writing community to help me push through writer's block.
My work-in-progress began to almost write itself.
Since then, I’ve had something come out in print every year. And when my post-book blues hit, I know to stop and take a break with one of my three R's.
You can, too.
3 R's for What to Do When You're Stuck
Here are the three things you can do when you're stuck on a book, no matter where you are in the writing process.
They’ve led me to new writing strategies, boosted my writer’s profile and helped me establish a solid writing career.
Try them for yourself.
When you're stuck, it’s easy to pick up the newest best-seller and immerse yourself in it instead of writing your first draft—or any draft. But reading a completed novel polished to near-perfection can be self-defeating.
I’ll never write like that, you tell yourself. And then you close your files and download another book from a bestselling author. Before you know it, you're reading more than writing.
To keep writing muscles limber, it helps to review every single book you read during “stuck” times. Writing thoughtful critiques—and reading like a writer—allows for best writing strategies to seep into our consciousness.
After a month of reviewing, you’ll be brimming with new ideas for your own work-in-progress. Maybe one of your reviews makes you think of an old book you gave up on, and you decide rewriting that book might be a good next step.
Afterward, use your reviews to extend your writer’s platform.
- Post them on your blog, Facebook and Goodreads.
- Contact online journals and offer the reviews for publication.
- Message authors with a link to your reviews and a personal note about why you loved their book.
After reading A Man from Saigon, I wrote the author, Marti Leimbach. She was famous. Her book Dying Young was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts. Still, she responded immediately and ended up blurbing my second novel, a Vietnam War story. We’ve been Facebook friends since and she’ll be reviewing my third novel, The Ash House.
You never know. Sometimes published authors will reach back!
However, before writing to an author, keep in mind a few things you shouldn't do:
- Don’t feel obliged to post good reviews if a book didn’t appeal to you. You’ve already given the writer your time. That should be enough.
- Look for something good to say about a book if you do review it, and if you don't like it, it might be better not to review the book (think one- or two-star reviews).
- Don’t post a really bad review. Writers work hard to send their books out into the world. We don’t need to undermine them (or tag them to bad reviews). Those critical reviews are for personal learning only.
2. Reading Panels
Most online literary journals are inundated by submissions and need reading panels to say no to the ninety-eight out of a hundred submissions they don’t want.
A reader on a panel learns to spot the pearl in the slush pile pretty quickly and to heartlessly dismiss the rest. It’s one of the best places to learn what other readers think and what’s needed to get a piece up front and out there.
If you’re up for the challenge, here’s how to get on a reading panel:
- Many online journals are free. Subscribe to some that publish stories you relate to.
- Start posting comments on the stories and reposting the ones you like.
- When you’re ready (usually after three or four months), send the editor a letter and a short resume volunteering to be a reader. Usually, the smaller journals will respond positively and you’ll be whizzing through ten to fifteen stories once a week in no time at all.
- There’s also the old six degrees of separation tactic. Simply tell a couple of people you’re interested in being on a reading panel and ask them to spread the word.
I’m a reader for the online journal Atticus Review and also for a committee that awards publishing grants in my city. The experience has been invaluable in keeping my nose to the grindstone and my feet firmly grounded in reality.
Getting something written is only half the battle. Getting work read by appreciative readers is the rest of it. Sifting through grist and discovering treasures is a wonderful way to motivate ourselves and take our writing to the next level.
Here are two tasks to help get started:
- Look for at least ten online literary journals in your genre. Shortlist five journals to subscribe to. Then, start following and commenting. See where this takes you.
- Check in with your local library for a list of local committees that give out publishing grants. Target one or two and start spreading the news that you’re interested.
Taking a break at a writing residency is like going for a spa vacation. No commuting, no housework, no kids. What’s not to like?
On most days, you need to write. But it's also great to take a break, and being somewhere with new writer companions and like-minded strangers is the ultimate way to practice differently.
I didn’t understand this until I went for my first weekend residency in a fringe area of my city.
There were ten of us. We spent both days listening to craft talks, writing, and workshopping our pieces. At night, we explored the neighborhood and shared our life stories. We forged friendships that have held till today.
We are still each other’s most reliable beta readers and sounding boards.
Writing breaks at a residency, even a very short one, are absolute necessities in a writer’s life. We go on vacations. We go to church camps. At work, we have off-sites. Our writing life deserves that same kind of retreat and re-gathering.
Since my first residency, I’ve progressed to longer residencies further away. My three-month stint at the University of Iowa International Writing Program in 2017 was life-changing. It was only then that I finally accepted I was a professional writer, and an internationally recognized one at that!
We may not be able to go away on residency during this pandemic, but there are always Zoom ones that we can attend.
So don’t let COVID—or any other obstacle—defeat you.
One residency always leads to another. For professional writers, the stipends earned at a residency may be essential support for their writing habits. But, even if you’re not planning to give up your day job, the networks built at residencies are invaluable.
And, a list of the residencies you’ve attended will definitely boost your chances of getting a publishing grant or a teaching gig.
To help you find the bests residency for you, consider these tips:
- If you’re planning on applying for a residency, reach out to previous attendees to check if it’ll be right for you.
- Research how to write your application.
Doing this prep work will ensure you end up with a residency that’s the best fit for you, and not just the first one you found on Google.
Bonus: What to Do if You Finished a Book (and Want to Publish)
While the core of this post focuses on what to do after you've finished a book—and published it—you might be wondering what you should do if you wrote a book and haven't published it.
To do this, you can learn a lot about revising your book and how to publish your book on the Write Practice blog.
Some articles you might be interested in include:
Edit Your Book
If you've already edited your book and fixed big ideas, typos, formatting, and gotten it to the perfect word count for your genre, you're probably thinking about how to publish your book.
Publish Your Book
There are two major types of publishing routes: self-publishing and traditional publishing.
You can learn more about the differences between the two routes to publishing and how to pursue them in these posts:
There’s No One Way to Practice Writing
Sometimes we get to our goal faster by going more slowly. Sometimes the best to get anywhere is by taking a detour. There’s no one way to practice.
I’ve shared how my three R's—Rest, Relaxation and Rejuvenation—helped my writing career to loads of writers.
They have never failed to help me write my next book. Sometimes the best way to write your next book is to reset.
No matter where you are in your writing practice, there are tons of other writers out there in the same place. This might be the first time you've finished a book or your tenth.
Know that you're not alone on this writing journey. And that yes, there is always a way to practice writing even if you need a short break before taking on your next book.
What about you? What is the strategy you follow to practice differently? Let us know in the comments.
For today, write a review and connect with an author. Start doing this by:
- Take the book you last read and loved.
- For fifteen minutes, write a review about what you enjoyed about it.
- Post a review on Goodreads if you can give the book three stars or more, and also share it in the practice box below (link to it!).
- Drop a few lines to the author. Let them know what you liked, and see if they write back!
When you're done, don't hesitate to respond to other comments. Maybe you'll connect with a new author here!
Enter your practice here: