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:
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 easier — 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.