I don’t know much about science, but I’m pretty sure Newton’s First Law goes like this: an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.1
Okay, I looked it up for accuracy. And I believe it applies not just to physics, but to my writing life, as well.
Over the holiday season, I myself did not come to rest, as I was busy baking, cooking, cleaning, wrapping gifts, hosting family. However, this focus on festivities brought my writing to a standstill.
My projects stalled out. I felt stuck. Inertia set in so that even after the tree returned to the attic and the lights came down, my creative efforts went nowhere. Something inside resisted my efforts to start writing again.
Until today, my writing had not budged.
Writing at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
If I want to get my writing in motion and gather momentum, I have to take action.
And I thought I might not be the only one facing inertia and hoping for momentum in the new year, so here are some strategies to rev up the engines and get our words moving again.
1. Start reading, no matter what
Commit to reading, no matter what. I didn’t write much in December, but I did read.
I listened to an audiobook while driving and exercising. I read short pieces while in between other tasks. That input kept me thinking and gathering ideas and images.
I recommend reading anything that catches your eye: poems, short stories, clever tweets, the side of the cereal box.
And as you read, take notes. Sentences that sing? Write them out. Style that inspires? Study and learn. Ideas that lead to deeper thoughts? Capture them in a notebook.
These concepts may connect to other tidbits tumbling inside of you. At some point, creativity begins to flow—words, in motion, pour onto the page, as enough material converges and convinces you that it’s time to express it in your own words.
2. Start writing, no matter what
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” — Louis L’Amour2
It sounds so basic, so obvious, but our writing will remain at rest until we start writing. The act of writing is the force needed to get our writing in motion.
Freewriting can help, setting that timer and writing for ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes without stopping, even if you write, “I don’t know what to write about” ten times in a row.
Eventually, hopefully, our brains will get bored and pluck an image or idea from our mental storage vaults—perhaps something gleaned from reading—and at the end of a session, we’ll end up with a few promising sentences.
Even if we don’t, when we start writing, no matter what, we train our brains and hands to work together so they remember how to put words down on the page.
3. Set a deadline and meet it, no matter what
Is someone waiting for a project you’ve promised? Are you committed to turning in your work on a certain date? Lucky you! External deadlines spur us on, so let that force you to the computer or notebook so that you absolutely must slam out words and turn in your project on time.
Many of us work for ourselves, in essence, publishing on our websites and on social media. No editor awaits our submission. Though we may have readers wondering why we’ve fallen silent, we don’t have external motivation. We may need to trick ourselves into meeting a deadline.
Editorial calendars can help with this. Set a hard deadline. Tell a group of people when something is going to be released.
Then make it happen, no matter what. That can get our writing in motion.
4. Trust in revision
Maybe you’re putting off a project despite the deadline for fear of writing badly. This fear keeps us from writing anything at all.
When you recognize that as the reason your writing is at rest, trust the revision process.
Susan Sontag said, “I don’t write easily or rapidly. My first draft usually has only a few elements worth keeping. I have to find what those are and build from them and throw out what doesn’t work, or what simply is not alive.”3
Write a lot and trust that in the mix you’ll have a few elements worth keeping. Sift through the mess of words you’ve spilled out during a freewriting session or in a flurry to meet a deadline. You’ll find treasures. They may need polishing, but you can build on them.
Then follow Sontag’s advice: “Throw out what doesn’t work, or what simply is not alive.”3
You needed words to work with in revision. Write badly so you can revise well. But write, no matter what. Keep writing. You’ll find what is alive.
For a writer, that’s how we feel when we get words in motion and gather creative momentum—we feel alive.
- Sontag and L’Amour quotes at this Atlantic article
- “The Writer at Work: Give It Some Thought” (Ep 178)
- “Write to Discover What You Really Want to Say” (Ep 188)
- Newton’s First Law defined and explained in The Physics Classroom
- “Newton’s First Law of Motion.” The Physics Classroom, www.physicsclassroom.com/class/newtlaws/Lesson-1/Newton-s-First-Law.
- Temple, Emily. “’My Pencils Outlast Their Erasers’: Great Writers on the Art of Revision.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 14 Jan. 2013, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/01/my-pencils-outlast-their-erasers-great-writers-on-the-art-of-revision/267011/.