If you’ve ever tried push-starting a car, you’ll know from experience - and the pitiful grunting noises you make - that once you’ve got the vehicle moving, it’s a lot easier to keep it going. Meet a bump along the way and let the momentum slacken off even just a bit, and you’ll find getting it going again is a whole lot harder.
This applies equally to writers, both beginners and professionals. The activity of writing can succeed or suffer by the use - or lack of - momentum.
Although not quite as energy-sapping as pushing a car (writing is surprisingly physical - ask any writer about back or shoulder problems) the mental element needs forward motion, too. And the moment that forward motion drops off, whether caused by the demands of family life, work pressures, sickness, friends, tiredness, despondency or the simple blank page, getting the creative juices flowing again once we’ve stopped can be really tough.
I tend to think of this momentum as a form of electricity. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever had that buzz in your stomach about a particular passage you were writing, or a scene you were constructing. The details seem to leap vividly onto the paper in front of you without too much effort or thought, the images or words crowding in and demanding to be put down before the pen runs out, the lights go off or the keyboard begins to smoulder and the neighbours start pounding on the wall because it’s two in the morning.
That’s what happens when momentum is working for you. And it’s best to take full advantage when it comes along. (And don’t worry too much about grammar or punctuation - the main aim is to get that torrent of words down while it’s pouring forth. The tidying up - editing - can come later!)
The exciting thing for any writer is, momentum like this can fizz away quite happily, carrying us forward at such a rate that time itself seems unimportant. Okay, it’s tough on those around us when they can’t get past the thousand-yard stare of creative concentration, but the understanding ones soon learn to adapt!
When I get these moments, I have been known to forget time, sleeping or eating - and once, even getting off a train at the right stop - or the fact that the extremely patient and understanding lady in the next room would really quite like me to pop my head round the door and say ‘hi’ once in a while!
Of course, it’s not possible to harness this momentum all the time. But there are ways of getting it working for you, and most of them are a combination of factors, connected with both the words you’re putting on paper and the physical act of writing itself.
· Is something interesting happening to your story, or does it feel as if it’s wallowing, like a tired old boat on a sluggish river? If honestly the latter, make something happen. As one famous writer once said: ‘Kill someone!’ (On paper, of course).
· Can you honestly say your characters are going on some kind of journey? This can be physical or emotional, but as long as there is movement in such a way that they are not standing still and beginning to fade into the background.
· Are you eager to get on with what you are writing, and can’t wait to get back to the desk/table/spare room/garden shed? If not, it probably means you should reflect on what you’ve done so far, and decide where your idea is going.
· Do aspects of your story make you smile, make you excited or set your heart beating in any way? Do you feel any emotion at all for the characters or their situation? If the whole thing leaves you cold, and you don’t have a ‘connection’ with your subject, then it probably won’t do much for the reader, either.
· At the end of each writing stint, whether the luxury of a whole day or a snatch of precious time in between other activities, do you have a plan for the next session? Do you have a to-do list so you can pick up where you left off? Do you find you have a pile of jottings about characters, scenes, direction, corrections and other editing tasks you want to do? If not, you should get into the habit. Because these help keep up that momentum, keeping you focussed and intent on not letting that precious forward motion drain away.
When you’ve finished the story or article, do you submit it and get on with the next piece or sit back and wait for the reaction? If the latter, you’ll immediately lose momentum and fall into ‘dead ground’, too concerned with mugging the postman every morning to keep up the creative flow. Far better to log it, forget about it and get on with something else.
There are no hard and fast figures for how many different pieces you should have out there at any one time, but more than one is a good start! And if a piece does come back with a rejection, send it out to someone else! That ‘no thanks’ is only one person’s opinion, remember, and there are many more out there.
TOP TIPS· Don’t allow your interest in what you are writing to flag. Keep moving forward.
· Get back to your writing as soon as you can, to ensure momentum.
· Keep thinking of the next scene, chapter - or even the next project.
· When you’ve finished one project, send it off and begin the next.
Originally published in Writing Magazine, this article also appears in 'Write On! - The Writer's Help Book' - available in paperback and ebook: