Momentum is one of those things that writers need but which is difficult to generate and keep going. If you remember your science classes from high school, you probably remember that once an object achieves forward momentum, that momentum will only stop if an outside force (such as friction, gravity, or another object) acts upon it. In other words, in an empty universe an object would keep going forever because there would be nothing to interfere with its motion. Wouldn’t it be nice if our writing could just keep going at a solid pace forever, without anything interfering with it? Unfortunately, in our universe, there are endless things that stop momentum, both for objects and writers.
Science also teaches that the larger and heavier an object is, the greater the force required to get it moving in the first place. Well, you can’t weigh the craft of writing but I can guess that if you could, it would weigh in the tons. Why? Because sometimes it seems to take a lot of force to get that effort moving in the first place. And if you have to stop your work, for whatever reason, you know how hard it can be to get re-started.
So what can writers do, both to get the momentum going and keep it going? Here are a few ideas.
- Work consistently. Consistency is the key to momentum. Think of yourself as a ball rolling through the universe. Your goal is to keep moving and to do that you have to… keep moving. Work every day, or at least on a set and predicable schedule. Consistency keeps all of the elements of your project in the front of your mind and keeps you from dropping the threads. It’s hard to get re-started once you’ve lost your place and forgotten what you were doing, so once you get it going, keep it going. If you can’t work on your project, at least re-read what you’ve done so far, or look at your notes so that you keep your ideas fresh.
- Protect your writing time. Again, think of yourself as that ball rolling through the universe. If you want to keep going, you have to avoid the other balls in the universe because they will slow you down or stop you altogether. Those other balls are all of the things that take you away from your writing time. Now, I’m not advocating that you avoid your family and friends altogether (although sometimes that’s helpful), but you do need to protect your writing time by learning to say no to all but the most important obligations, letting people know that you are working and don’t have time to chat, and not scheduling other appointments during your writing time. Fiercely guard your writing time and keep your little ball rolling.
- Apply a little pressure. What gets an object moving? Pressure. Scientists call it force. I don’t advocate living life completely stressed out, but there’s nothing like a deadline or some other pressure to get your writing moving. For some reason, it’s easier to write when you know you have to. Even if you don’t have an official deadline, set one for yourself and stick to it.
- Don’t hold back. Sometimes we intentionally slow down our own momentum because we fear the project getting away from us. Maybe it feels too big, or too far out of our comfort zone. Maybe we fear what happens if we become a bestseller, or make too much money and screw up our tax situation. Maybe we just fear failure. Whatever it is we’re afraid of, that fear can make us pump the brakes on a project and then momentum is lost. Keep plowing forward and deal with whatever happens as it happens.
- End your writing sessions on a cliffhanger. When choosing when to quit work for the day, choose a place where you know what comes next. This makes it much easier to get back into rhythm the next day because you don’t have to stop and think about what to do. Plus, you’ll be excited to come back to the project and finish your thoughts.
- Outline. I don’t necessarily mean sticking to those formal outlines you had to do in school, complete with Roman numerals (I hated those, too), although you can use them if you love them. Any sort of, “How I’m getting from point A to point B” document will do because it keeps you moving forward. You know what comes next, so you don’t slow down trying to think about what to do next. I tend to write out the story in little paragraphs before I actually begin writing. There’s very little detail, but it gives me a way to see how I’m progressing and where I need to go next. Do what works for you. If it’s a formal outline, note cards, sentences on napkins, or a story board, it’s all good as long as it keeps you moving.
- Think about your project often. When you turn off the computer for the day, don’t stop thinking about your project. Think about it while you exercise or make dinner. Think about it as you’re drifting off to sleep. This will keep it in the forefront of your brain and keep your subconscious spitting out ideas for you to use in your next session.
- Break the project into smaller pieces. Your brain loves it when it feels like it has accomplished something. It gets bored, distracted, and frustrated when there’s no finish line in sight. Make this quirk work for you by giving yourself small accomplishments along the way to the finish line of your project. Break your project down into chapters, scenes, bullet points, slides, or whatever else it takes to create smaller, achievable chunks. When you mark one of those chunks off of your list, your brain will celebrate a little and want to keep chasing the next one.
Momentum is an elusive critter. Just when you think you’ve got it working for you and your writing ball is rolling along unimpeded and picking up steam, something happens to stop your ball in its tracks. Use some of these tips to get and keep your writing momentum going.