Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I had a post titled momentum about a year ago, but it's been long enough that I thought I would recycle some ideas. In a way, this blog is a place where I am recycling ideas--thinking through the same concept again and again, and trying to write it out, to see it more clearly and to understand how to bring it to life. Writing and rewriting have something of the same character as trying to teach other people: we learn ideas in a completely new way when we try to share them with others--but that's beside the point.

I titled the post "momentum" because I was thinking of the importance of getting moving, and using the momentum of the project to help you in the writing. I was talking with two writers this afternoon--one who is closing in on completion, and for whom the project has a lot of momentum: she finds it easy to write; easier and less painful. The other is just starting to get going after being completely stuck; he is making progress, but feeling a good deal of frustration with a project that is still not well-defined. The first has a lot more momentum than the second, and each has more momentum than they did three months ago. I enjoy seeing the momentum build and the relationship with the work change, and these two cases very strongly reminded me of the importance of gaining momentum. I have also been thinking about momentum because I have lost momentum on one project I was working on earlier this spring, while I've kept it on another.

Yesterday I wrote about being over-committed and choosing what to work on--I chose to work on my blog, and I've beenmaking that choice pretty regularly. Not every day, but most days. Because I'm in the habit of doing it, I have momentum that keeps me working on it. The other project, on the other hand, I've lost touch with, making it harder to get moving into it again.

The momentum of the writer is something psychological--it's a familiarity with a project and a sense of purpose and direction. When we're working on a project regularly, it's fresh in our brains--indeed, our brains are working hard to integrate new ideas, so new things will come to us as we continue to work. The familiarity derived from regular, consistent concentration on the project also helps us work more efficiently: we don't have to spend time "getting up to speed", in the same way we do if we have lost familiarity with something.

When we have momentum working we seem to get a lot more from the same amount of effort. When we don't have momentum, every little bit of progress comes with much greater effort. This is just the same as trying to push a car: it's hard to start it rolling, but once it is rolling it takes much less effort to move at a given speed.

If we are writers who have lost our momentum, getting that momentum back is difficult, and perhaps more frustrating because we can sense that we're not being as productive as we once were.

But if a writer who has lost momentum remembers the metaphor or momentum he or she will not be surprised that getting started seems to take a lot of effort for seemingly little return; it is only what one would expect for a project that doesn't have much momentum.

No comments: