Getting back to work after a lengthy absence is always a bit difficult. On the one hand, you’re eager to get back to the work you (hopefully) love. On the other hand, it’s a trial, because you can’t just pick up where you left off—as much as you’d like to—because you’ve acquired a distance from your previous work that separates you from the work to come like a gulf.
This gulf is an important quality, much to be sought after, when a work is completed and you’re getting back to it for the purpose of editing, revising, and proofing. When, however, you’re getting back to an incomplete work after a vacation, an illness, or any other less purposeful separation, the gulf is a barrier you must traverse to get yourself back on track.
If you work in anticipation of such a separation, then you’ll leave yourself markers and notes to help you navigate your work upon your return. The simplest of these involves using some kind of marking system—for me, it’s usually an asterisk * or a triple asterisk ***, depending on what I’m denoting—to let you know where you left off. This, of course, assumes your progress isn’t entirely linear, with blocks of text before and after where you stopped working. Advanced preparation may include various notation systems that provide detailed accounts of what comes next, what’s come before, and what you intend to come at your current “now.” These notes are usually readily available to the planner, but may need to be created for the pantser.
If you anticipate a separation, due to a planned vacation perhaps, then you can make an effort to prepare yourself ahead of time. Of course, these separations can occur, despite the best of our intentions, at unexpected times. Illness strikes. We take a break and lose our way. Life intervenes and catches us up in something that is, temporarily, far more urgent and perhaps more important. In these cases, you do not foresee the need to prepare yourself.
If your life is as prone to the unexpected as mine is, then you’ll develop the habit of being perpetually prepared. Whether your separation is one of hours or one of days or perhaps even of weeks, you’ll be ready to get back to work as soon as life allows. This is something I’ve adapted myself to, because my life is so full of the unexpected and because I find it helpful even when simply starting up my work again from day to day.
Even so, even with these preparations in place, the first day back can be a trial. Your habits have been stretched. They may have been shattered altogether. Most of us don’t just fall back into place, regardless of whether or not we know where our place is. That’s okay. Ease yourself back in. Apply yourself. The habits will come again. Like weakened muscles, it may hurt to regain your strength in them, but the pain will pass and the progress will come. So, for your first day back, give yourself a break: Apply yourself, of course, but let yourself make the progress you can, with full permission not to make the progress you could have done before.