Sunday, January 4, 2009

On the Importance of Momentum

It’s easy sometimes to forget the role momentum plays in our everyday lives. We talk about addictive behavior, or habits, or even decisions based on a sense of identity, but often what we’re really talking about is just continuing to head in the same direction we’re already headed, for better or worse, because we’ve built up a certain momentum.

I’ve really noticed the value of momentum as a writer lately. The past several months, close to the past year, really, I’ve had a really good momentum going as a writer. First I was working on my thesis, then I set that aside to work on revisions of a children’s book I had written previously, then I went back and forth between my thesis and several short stories, then short stories and the first draft of a new novel . . .

I’ve kept myself busy with a lot of different projects and never went more than a day or two without writing, and if I did for some reason miss a full day or two, I’d make up that lost time as soon as possible. Writing gets to be so automatic, when you’ve got that momentum going, that you no longer feel like you have to find time to write, it gets to a point where you have to find time for your real life. Writing is always the first thing on your mind, everything else feels secondary.

So secondary, in fact, that this past semester I spent so much time writing and daydreaming about my stories and novel that when crunch time hit I was wholly unprepared. I realized that writing had become almost like a bad habit, an addiction that was getting in the way of the things that were actually mandatory in my life (grading papers, writing papers, oh, I don’t know, feeding myself and my husband???) I figured that I had to stop writing for that last couple of weeks so I could finish up my school stuff --- but of course, that wasn’t possible. I was too addicted.

I managed to get everything done, and keep writing on the side, but once the semester officially ended, I turned in all my final stuff, posted my students’ final grades, and completely shut down. I had to do my Christmas shopping (after all, Christmas was only two days away by that point), and I needed to put together the first issue of MFA/MFYou. So I decided that just for, say, a week, I would stop writing and instead I would sleep in during the mornings, play video games, read comic books (and regular books, too). Just relax.

Now that I feel rested up, though, I’ve been having a bit of trouble getting back into my groove. It’s funny how quickly that momentum can dissipate. I didn’t end up taking the whole week off, instead I took two days off, wrote one day, then took two days off again. But the trouble is, I went from writing almost every day for close to two hours (and never, as a result, having my stories very far from my mind), to writing in one small two hour block in the middle of a five day stretch. And now all the stories that used to bounce around in my head all day every day are much vaguer to me; they’re more like distant memories than the crisp, vivid, detailed things they once were.

I’m already starting to get that momentum back up, but I can’t help but take it as a lesson on how much we rely on momentum to get things done. Maybe the truth is what makes us writers is that we’ve allowed ourselves to become addicted to writing, the same way some people are addicted to chocolate or to TV. And while some addictions may be “healthier” than others, we have to find the right balance in life, and, once we find that balance, we’ve got to keep that momentum going.

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