Momentum and the War of Art

Photo by campofchampions on Flickr.

Today, I want to talk about momentum.

If you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed the three-week silence. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say — I just couldn’t seem to get around to saying it, and the longer I waited, the more difficult it became.

In short, there’s a reason nearly everyone who gives writing advice tells you to write every day:

Momentum.

Yes, you will improve the more you write. You’ll refine your craft. You’ll generate words, complete stories, put in the time necessary to attain mastery. But the words you write are also the fuel for more words. Every day you write makes the act of writing a little easierΒ  — and, conversely, every day you don’t write makes it a little harder.

Human beings (and writers especially) seem particularly gifted at avoiding things we want. We’ll do anything to keep from doing things we ostensibly love, if they’re scary and intimidating and carry the possibility for big changes in life — as writing often does, at least for many writers I know. The ones who don’t have this issue are most often referred to (with suspicion and resentment) as “professionals.”

In his book The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield calls this avoidant tendency “Resistance,” and names it the deadliest threat to creativity in existence. It can take any number of forms — procrastination, distractions, self-loathing, and good old-fashioned surrender. Any of this sound familiar?

For me, the primary weapon in battling Resistance is momentum. The more I write, the better I feel — and the more alienated and lost I feel when I neglect my craft. If I’m a machine, then the gears that make my writing work begin to rust the moment they stop grinding. (Speaking of grinding, there’s probably some very dirty double entendre about lubricant to make in here somewhere, but I don’t know what it is because I’m just a bit too out of practice. You see what I mean?)

Tangentially, this is why I’m so fond of the Write or Die application. WoD forces momentum on the writer, punishing procrastination with a red screen and ear-splitting noise. It creates a Pavlovian response to just keep writing, instead of agonizing over word choice. Which is another piece of advice writers love to dole out, but hey, why cultivate self-discipline when you can just get a machine to harangue you, am I right? This is the information age, we’re not barbarians.

Of course, you don’t need Write or Die. The basic functionality can be duplicated with a simple alarm clock or timer, or even something like the Pomodoro Technique. I just happen to like Write or Die because it’s integrated. The point is, the application creates a microcosm of momentum, forcing the writer forward.

But the responsibility is still on the writer to boot up their text editor or word processor every day and just do the work. Despite best efforts to the contrary, it doesn’t get any easier the longer you wait. I’ve tried it hundreds of times.

Unwritten words tend to take on Herculean proportions the longer they’re left unattended. Soon even a meager piece of flash fiction seems too intimidating and grotesque to contemplate, and it’s easier just to put things off until tomorrow — and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

The solution is momentum. You can make it work for you, or you can sit back and let it work against you. The choice is yours.

19 Replies to “Momentum and the War of Art”

  1. Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. I’ve found that the momentum you’re talking about applies to nearly everything–reading, editing, writing, blogging, hell, even exercising and being productive throughout the day. The more we do things we’d like to become habits, the more it slowly starts to become second nature until fighting the impulse not to do whatever it is becomes easier and easier.

  2. I find that the more days I leave the page blank and let the brain lie fallow, the more I begin to second guess myself when I attempt to get back at it. Fresh ink looks suspicious and old ink feels hackneyed. But what keeps me going is the sheer misery of not writing! Alienated and lost is the perfect way to describe it! I am so very glad to have you back, my friend!!

  3. Ah, the truth. I’m actually feeling a little lost now that I’m not blogging every day. It’s like I lost a spleen or something slightly more valuable…like a kidney. *Looks around for Anna*

    I’m still writing every day, but not as much as I was or as much on my WIP as I thought I would be. Must. Write. More.

    1. I know what you mean, Emmie. Sometimes making little or slow progress can seem worse than no progress at all!

      And I know what you mean about the blogging thing. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Write or Die! I’d forgotten about that app. It really does do a terrific job of cracking the whip and chivvying a person into barfing out a great whack of words in a short period of time. I’m going to have to give it a go again and see if I can’t choke out a few more blog posts this month. Because you’re absolutely right–it’s all about the momentum, and right now, the momentum of inertia is dragging me under.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Daniel, I feel like you read my mind and wrote this just for me. Oh, gosh, hope that doesn’t sound creepy?! I definitely need momentum to keep me moving towards my writing goals. Thanks as always for a great blog post.
    P.S. 3 weeks was TOO long an absence, so glad to see you back :))

  6. That write or die app sounds like a great idea. In my full-time job I’m responsible for writing 10 blog posts a day, and I can’t seem to muster up the strength to work on my book. It’s a sad affair. Did you make some changes around here? It looks different. Maybe I just haven’t been by in awhile?

    1. I read about your job. That’s a brutal pace to have to keep up! And yeah, I have been slowly trimming the things that don’t work or clutter up the place.

  7. For me, I’ve been lacking momentum in the reading department. I’d forgotten how much I need to read until I took the time to engage with a book the other evening. Reading blog posts is a completely different sort of reading, and it doesn’t always provide the same sort of satisfaction as some of my books do.

      1. Haha! It happens.

        And, no, we never catch up. My reading list has continued to grow despite my best attempts to keep it under control. The list is like a weed. It’s taking over the yard. Of course, it’s a nice weed to have unlike those thistles…

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