In all of 2019 I read two books, finished 0 stories, wrote about 40 pages of my novel that I ended up scrapping later, and I did not start making videos—even though I told myself every weekend that I would.

Returning to writing and making things in early 2020 was terrifying, but it ultimately taught me how important my personal creative projects are to me, and how much energy I get back when I take the time to work on them.

As I get back into a creative routine, here are five things I’m doing to make this process go as smoothly as possible.

  1. Trying Some Mindset Shifts

All throughout this past year when I wasn’t actively working on my creative projects, I was taking down ideas that came to me on the subway, in the middle of my work day, or right before I fell asleep—so my writing wasn’t done with me even when I didn’t make time for it—and shifting the way that I thought about these little ideas I was getting all year, was really comforting.

The hardest part of returning to writing so far has been how often I beat myself up for getting out of the habit of writing and creating. My mind gets stuck on the fact that it’s been so long, and I worry about the period of time when what I create is just going to suck because I’m out of practice. Whenever this thought hits me, I try to remind myself that this is temporary; I will get back into the swing of things, and my writing will be just as strong, if not stronger, than it was before.

2. Starting Small

My goal by the end of the summer is to have my current draft of my novel done, but after writing so intermittently for the last few months, I’m starting small by working on flash fiction stories first. Flash fiction stories are stories under 1000 words, so by writing them you get a lot of practice choosing the right words since each word needs to be intentional to get your whole story across in such a short amount of time.

Getting a few of these shorter stories finished, and getting back in the habit of writing something every day will be tiny wins that will fuel my motivation and my belief in myself so that I can return to my novel prepared to tackle all of its complexities.

3. Consuming Less, Creating More

One of the reasons I got so disconnected from my creativity this last year is the fact that I spent most of my free time on my phone or my laptop—watching Netflix, scrolling through Pinterest, and avoiding any emotions I was feeling.

In order to create something, you need time spent in stillness; time for your brain to focus and dig deep into whatever you’re working on. That means you have to sit with your emotions—you can’t reach for your phone when you run up against resistance and want to “just check something real quick.” This resistance can come about when you’re struggling to give your project structure and you’re unclear about what you want to accomplish in that creative session. It can come about when you have to do the part of the project that you don’t find very enjoyable—for me, that’s outlining my book. I enjoy writing the scenes, but figuring out how all the pieces fit together is stressful. Or it could come about because you just have something else on your mind. If that’s the case, journaling before you start working on your project can significantly improve your ability to focus on it.

Whatever the case may be, designating creative time in your day, turning off your phone, leaving it in another room, and resisting the urge to distract yourself is the key to getting creative again. What you need most is deep focus; that’s the only way to get your projects finished.

4. Get Moving

Similar to my previous point, I’ve started getting back into exercise. Taking the time to get out of my head and into my body is not only great for my health—especially because I want to lose weight this year—but it also helps you clear out your mind. If you’re anything like me, your mind tends to stick on one thought and examine it from all different angles for days unless I’m mindful of it. Getting some exercise—even a long walk—helps me to get past those sticky thoughts, and it seems to clear up mental space for me to imagine all the possibilities that lay dormant in my creative projects.

5. Being Self-Compassionate

The fact is that creative work is hard. It requires dedication, stillness, focus, and time for your mind to wander—and those are not luxuries that we always have. You will not return to your creative work every day right away. You can’t be a perfectionist about it—you can only do the best you can each day.

It helps to focus on one day at a time. Don’t think about creating a habit streak, just think about sitting down for however many minutes and getting your mind thinking about your project. Even if you don’t get any visible work done on it, your mind will still have spent that time practicing what it means to show up for your creative ideas.

The most important thing you can do when returning to your creativity after a break is to be as compassionate with yourself as possible. Don’t hold any resentment towards your past self for what they did or didn’t do—and if you do hold any of that, try to let it go each day as you return to your desk or your studio and get back into your work.

When you start rebuilding your habits, and you keep showing up for your creativity even when you’re not in the mood to, you’ll start to feel like yourself again. You’ll wake up parts of your brain that fell asleep, and you’ll become more observant and energetic in your everyday life. It’s not a quick fix, but the commitment is worth every moment.