Saturday, September 29, 2007


There are so many opportunities in our lives, and so many demands. This is not a complaint: it's a blessing. But it also means that focus is difficult.

We are called upon by family and friends.
We are faced with the mundane requirements of life: paying bills, buying food, cleaning house.
We may have multiple jobs.
We may have hobbies.
And, of course, the entertainment options of the present moment are countless: TV, movies, books, the internet, music, art, sports, travel.

If you don't have good momentum on a project, it can easily get lost in the other demands for attention and for focus.

I don't know that I have an answer here. I know that I am easily enough distracted from my own projects. When the only responsibility is to myself, it is more easy to be distracted.

Oddly enough, something I forget about writing is how enjoyable and rewarding it can be. It's easy to think of writing as work, and then to associate with it the negative connotations that the word "work" carries in the culture of the US. In particular that work, while the "right" thing to do, is not supposed to pleasurable.
But that's not true of writing. Writing is hard work; it requires effort; it can be immensely frustrating. But it can also be rewarding--not just because someone else reads and appreciates what you've written--but because of the very pleasure of the act and the learning and growth related to working through a problem and finding a positive resolution to it.

Learning is pleasurable; mastering a skill is pleasurable. It is a real, experiential pleasure. Writing a sentence that has particular beauty, or crafting a paragraph that resolves an argument in an elegant or clever fashion-these are actions that are pleasurable in the same way that playing a musical instrument is pleasurable, or skillfully mastering an athletic endeavor--though I'm not a golfer, I think it is, perhaps, an apt parallel: the sport's allure is not so much in the gross expression of physical power--as for a runner, for example--as it is in the fine skill and thought. Billiards might be another parallel. Or chess. To a lesser extent any game of intellect; I say "to a lesser extent" because writing, given its difficulty, seems to provide the greatest opportunity to overcome difficulty: that which is too easy to overcome is not rewarding to resolve.

When faced with many distractions--ones of lesser pleasure, more easily achieved--if we can only remember the potential for pleasure is so much greater if we can engage in the work and overcome our difficulties, we will more likely be able to put the distractions behind us.

Friday, September 21, 2007


I was thinking about writing in this blog and realizing that the whole format is something unfamiliar. There's an appropriate informality that I have trouble working with because I am so used to the formalism of academic argument.

It's easy enough, of course, to find those who recommend following formulas and those who eschew them. It seems to me that the path of greatest power as a writer lies somewhere in between.

One does not want to be a slave to formulas, certainly. One does not want formulas to restrict imagination, or to otherwise limit the specificity of the situation.

On the other hand, one does not want to lose sight of what formulas do bring. Formulas are developed because of their practical utility.

Have you ever stared at a blank page wondering what to write? Formulas are good at avoiding that: they give you something to write.

I lose momentum on this blog because I expect myself to follow some formulas of writing that delay the rapid updating of a blog in a time and place where one must be new constantly.

I got a fortune in a fortune cookie that said "your strengths are your weaknesses." It's profound wisdom, with respect to many things, including formulas.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Momentum 3

You have to be relentless.
It's so very easy to lose the momentum you have. Once stopped, the momentum fades quickly and a whole project can grind to a halt. And then you have to start over again.

But if you build momentum, then work will flow more smoothly. It's hard getting started, but sometimes the hardest part is to keep moving once the initial push has been made.
Say, hypothetically, that you start a blog about your work, then you let it drop for a few months. If you come back with one or two, or even three posts, that's a great start and it helps build momentum, but you have to keep with it past that. It's a start, but until you've built that start into a habit, the momentum fades easily.

Keeping the momentum up often means being kind to yourself with respect to the quality of your work. Not all days will be as productive as others. Not all weeks will be as productive.

If you have the habit of working, and you can learn to engage with your writing work in a positive mood, then production will naturally follow.
But if you don't have the habit of working, it's so easy to slip back into a pattern of life where you let other commitments or even your own fears stop you from attempting to move forward. Grapple with the project and strive to engage from a place of enthusiasm.

Writing projects aren't jobs (or at least not usually), and they're certainly not meaningless drudgery. They take effort, but they're not usually forced upon one. It can be helpful to remember this in the struggle to build momentum: it is useful to remember that we made a choice, and even more useful to remember the reasons we made the choice and what we hope to get out of the effort.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Momentum 2

You build momentum by working on your project.
But not all effort is equal.

First of all: you don't want to work in a way that creates negative effects: that's akin to giving yourself negative conditioning with respect to work. If the work is painful then you'll develop an aversion to it, or some defense to manage it. On the other hand, if you work in a way that feels rewarding, work won't seem unpleasant even if it is challenging.

Sometimes you have to remember just to reward yourself for having made the effort--for having thrown down the words on the page to try and capture the thought in a coherent form.

Sometimes all you can think about is what is wrong, but if you can get the problems down in writing, sometimes solutions will start to appear.

But don't worry about starting small--or seeing apparently small gains. Momentum is like that: a lot of effort is needed to gain momentum, but, once you've got momentum the progress to effort ration changes dramatically.

Monday, September 10, 2007


There's physical momentum and there's also psychological momentum.
Habits are a form of psychological momentum; there's so much psychological momentum that a habit is hard to stop.

When we need to get something done, it helps to have momentum on our side. It can keep us moving at a much faster pace than if we have no momentum.

What does this mean in terms of a dissertation or other large writing project?
It means that if you stop and don't work on it for a while, it's hard to get going again.
And it means that if you work on the project consistently and regularly, then it will become easier to make progress.

One thing it means is that you might do well to start slowly: put in the effort, but don't berate yourself for not making a lot of progress. The progress will come one you've built momentum.

To that end, it's often useful to set smaller goals, ones that you can finish easily just to get started.

For example, I left this blog untouched for months, and now it's hard to get back to it. And, truly, part of the reason I was able to leave it for months was because I had built only weak momentum anyway.

But now I'm trying to build some momentum anew. This is a start.