Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Refreshing the Writing Momentum


We've all been here, in this spot: just starting a new book or other long story. You're finished the 'beginning' part of writing and have a sense of who your main characters are, where they might be going and what's going to befall them. You start with a great idea. You blast off with ten thousand words. Maybe twenty. You don't hit a wall. You're not blocked. But there's fatigue. Maybe life gets in the way. Or maybe the 'doubt monster' starts creeping in about whether this is the story you want to spend the next life of your limited nine on. Whatever the case, you're not in-tune right now. A friend of mine used to call it "out-of-sync". You're still able to squeeze the juice, but it's not as sweet right now.

It's no secret. Keeping writing momentum is difficult. Especially on long projects.

You're anything but losing interest in your characters or the story. But, damn. It's tough. You're working at it every day. This might be a one-hundred-thousand-word story. It might be longer. You might be at it and at it and at it, living inside this world for six months or more. It's a long stretch of time, especially when the landscape of the world outside your window, seems to change on a minute-by-minute basis these days. You need a short break. Plain and simple.

What do I do? I give in. I stop for a while.  I do something else, like hammer out a blog post (yep, that's what I'm doing right now) or I turn my attention to a short story -- something I can draft in a day or two. Then I come back to the longer work -- hopefully refreshed.

Other diversions can offer sanity and hope, too.

I spend some time trying to write an entirely different genre or type of work for a day or two. If I'm in the midst of a big, scary, dramatic thing, maybe I'll use tomorrow's writing time (if I'm lucky enough to have any) on a lighter, travel piece. Or maybe a silly comedy retelling of a dorky road trip I took ten years ago.

Sounds simple enough, right? Just switch gears, do something different. Yes, but easier said than done, in my experience. I get so invested that it's hard to step out of something: writing or otherwise. I want it to be perfect. It takes real courage to step away for a while and not stress that you might lose the mojo. I've lost it before. Most of the time it comes back. Sometimes it doesn't. In those cases, I know that I probably need to adjust the whole project or scrap it completely. Again, this is easier said than done.

For me, though, I need a reprieve from time to time. I need to go for a mental walk...or a literal one. It's usually just the right distance to realize I was on the right track and that I should head back to see what's what it that big ol' world I created.

And, more often than not, I come back and discover that I missed my characters something fierce. Then I have to ask their forgiveness, because, in all likelihood, I might have left them in a dark room or slung over the side of a literary cliff.

22 comments:

  1. I so agree here with you Jason. This has happened to me on more than one occasion. I love the advice you give both in this post and your previous one about editing. Thanks for the great tips and keep them coming. :)

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Kaylah!

    This happens to me more and more -- I find that now that I have more demands on my time (family, work, marketing, social media PLUS the writing) the fragmentation actually reduces my writing stamina. It's different than a writing block, but more like a writing fatigue.

    So, these are some of the small ways I can step out of the day-to-day writing but still do something quasi-productive with any time I'm lucky enough to have for clacking on the ol' keyboard.

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  3. Some days writing is a chore, other days it feels good and comforting. Writing is not my livelihood so on days when writing isn't fun I focus on a different hobby.

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  4. Right on, Gwen, thanks for the comment!

    Writing is not my financial livelihood, either. But, strangely, it is still my livelihood. Without it, there would be no 'liveliness'. I don't do it every day, but wish I could.

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  5. I wish I had MORE time to write... I'm the opposite. Too many words, too many pulls on my time. I have to make the time to follow my passion.

    It does sorta suck, but on the other hand, it sure makes me appreciate the novel writing time I DO make. (note the "novel writing time" -- there's always plenty of time for other writing.)

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  6. No doubt, Susan. There are a million different things I could write. Maybe that's where some of the hesitation stems from: should I keep at this current thing, or would my time be better spent writing something grander? Or less grand? Or, hell, completely different?

    Thanks for your comment!

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  7. As always, your timing is impeccable! I've been having momentum issues recently and this post was naturally quite therapeutic.

    To echo Gwen's comment above, writing is so hard when I HAVE to and so easy when I WANT to.

    Your tips on redirects and refreshes were just what I needed. Thank you!

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  8. "So hard when I have to and so easy when I want to." And there never seems to be time or energy when I want to. At least, in my experience.

    Thanks for your comment, as always, Ann!

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  9. This sounds like the opposite of what I got through when starting a new story - WADD (Writer's Attention Deficit Disorder). I don't lose steam mid-story. Instead, my brain (which is incapable of shutting the hell up) decides on its own that "ooo, that idea is new and shiny!!! Let's go!" and there I go.

    And yes, it has happened so many times, I took the time to create a new disorder. SHUT UP BRAIN!

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  10. Totally hear that, Will. It's one of the reasons I can lose momentum on a story, usually a longer one: I just had a better one! Off I go. Then it can be even harder to get back to the excitement and what I loved about the original one. It's like serial killing, but with writing...instead of...uh...killing.

    Am I worrying anyone other than myself right now?

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  11. A great post. For me, writing a journalistic piece or a blog post (which as a journalist I naturally find easier than creative writing) is a good break, as is physical exercise. I have to say, I'm currently surfing the net when I should be writing - sometimes you just have to be disciplined and crack on!

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  12. Only a few more movies to watch and then I'm going to write...hope they at least inspire me in a good way.
    Enjoyed the post Jason, thanks for sharing.

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  13. Very striking that you mention movies, Eden. I often will shut off the computer and watch a movie I love or work on a painting. Since these are more personal things to me, I didn't mention them in the post, but I most definitely use other visual and thoughtful forms of expression to simultaneously rest and stimulate the ol' noggin.

    Thanks for your comment and visit!

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  14. Rin, I agree that changing the gears to a different topic or type of writing but *still* writing can make all the difference.

    Exercise is a great tip too. I've often felt like the two halves of ourselves (mind/heart vs body) need to jumpstart each other from time to time.

    Thanks for your comment, Rin!

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  15. Sheilagh Lee said: this is so true it does help to swiutch gears

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  16. Thanks for your comment, Sheilagh!

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  17. Good advice!
    I liked your line, "spend the next life of your limited nine on."
    -Ellie Ann

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  18. Caught that one, did you, Ellie? I mostly feel like I've already squandered six or seven and have to make this one count or I'm done for. It's a funny feeling, but it gets me out of bed each morning.

    Thanks for your comment!

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  19. It's my habit to defy such good advice, never letting go of the project at hand. But the other night I was coerced by an unknown force to turn away from the sequel I'm writing and start a new project that came to me in a nightmare! (I posted about it here: wp.me/p12vfw-8o) New genre, new voice, definitely a new "gear." Don't know where it came from, but my creative juices are flowing again!

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  20. See, and I truly believe in following the Weird, Wild Winds of Whimsy (yep, tm pending). If the muse tells you to abandon, I say do it. Y'know, unless you're under contract or something.

    I found your situation very exciting, Marty (byathreadthebook). In fact, I can't wait to see what your messed up subconscious has essentially delivered to you on a silver platter. Did you know, Marty, that THALO BLUE was born the same way? (Well, the first chapter was; the rest of the novel was me trying to pick up the shattered pieces).

    Thanks for your comment!

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  21. I wrote my first major project (a trilogy) when I was jobless. Writing, editing, revising, cutting. It was all good. Now I'm full time employed and the writing takes a backseat, and I'm always afraid I'll lose momentum.

    While I'm waiting for something, anything, to happen with the first novel I content myself with short stories. Funny how much easier it is to keep my momentum with those. I do worry I'll never work on the other, large project again now that I have the small stuff.

    Momentum is a huge barrier for me. But I see your point about working on another writing when stymied. At least it is something to write on, andnot lose the edge.

    ....dhole

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  22. It's tough to keep at it sometimes, especially when you feel you're not where you want to be in terms of exposure. Donna, I'm not sure if you share some of your work online, but it is one way to keep momentum: by sharing with people and getting some positive feedback on what you're creating.

    Another tip, I use is something learned from Jeffrey Eugenides, the author of "Middlesex" and "The Virgin Suicides". The published a portion of "The Virgin Suicides" as a short story in a popular magazine at the time. I sometimes approach the writing of a longer novel as just a series of short stories with the same characters and over-arching plot structure. Makes it like a new turn up to bat every few days or weeks.

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