Sunday, September 6, 2009

Momentum Revisited

I’ve talked about momentum before and I’ll probably talk about it again but I’m going to talk about it today, too, because it is, in my opinion, the most important ingredient for success in writing – and most anything else you could ever do. After having spent the past couple of months focusing mostly on scholarly writing, moving, and finding a new job, this month I’ve been focusing on trying to get my momentum back up as a creative writer.

I liken my experience this week to the episode of The Simpsons when Homer decides he wants to be an inventor like Thomas Edison. Homer quits his job and clears his schedule and sets up an office for himself in the basement. He writes “Inventions” at the top of a notepad and then sits there tapping his pencil against the pad, waiting for the brilliant ideas to come flooding in. And of course, they don’t.

You can set aside a block of time, you can arrange an office for yourself or set up your computer just so, you can put your cat outside and send your husband or wife to the store, you can tell yourself “today I am going to write that story/poem/essay I’ve been wanting to write about bla bla bla,” and still, still, you find yourself sitting there in front of a blank computer screen, feeling despondent.

I know this seems in contradiction to what I always say about how it isn’t an acceptable excuse to say you don’t have time to write – the time is there you just have to decide to spend it writing. It’s true that I’m a big proponent for knocking out the excuses and just writing; I don’t believe you should call yourself a writer if you don’t write and write often. But I do admit that there’s more to it than just deciding that you’re going to spend the next hour writing. And that more, I believe, comes down to momentum.

I used to spend an average of about two hours a day writing, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less, and it never felt the way it feels right now when I sit down to log in my time – like I’m forcing it. But the thing is, I’ve lost my momentum and until I get that momentum back up I’m probably going to feel like Homer tapping his “Inventions” notepad and waiting for the ideas to come. But if I don’t stick with it, if I don’t keep sitting down to write everyday for at least an hour, I’ll never get the momentum back.

Already I can feel it getting easier. Two mornings ago I woke up with a break through about a story I was working on – third person! I need to change the perspective from first to third! – and I rushed downstairs to get cracking on it. Yesterday I suddenly had a flash about something I should add to my novel and even though my husband was home, The Simpsons was blasting from our living room TV, and it wasn’t time I had specifically set aside to write, I turned on my computer and excitedly worked the new idea into the novel.

I’ll be teaching this fall and the quarter begins in two weeks. I fully expect that as long as I keep sitting down to write everyday by the time school begins and my schedule gets busy again, my momentum will be going strong as a creative writer and I will be able to comfortably juggle both teaching and writing. It would be easy to give up, to tell myself “well, you just can’t force it” or “I’m just not inspired right now” and do something else instead, but I think it’s important to stick to it until you’ve trained your mind into lingering in that writer mode. Then, and only then, will I feel like a real “writer” again.

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