I’ll be the first to admit I’m addicted to the thrill of writerly gush; there is nothing so heady as that initial spark, a rush of pure inspiration that that feels like something holy and profane at the same time. But like all things, eventually that gush becomes a trickle and possibly even stops. If you’re like me, that happens about 2/3 of the way through a project. I make it over the great overpass of the middle and then find myself stranded on the path wondering if I can go on, fearing I can’t.
I call this place “inertia”—it’s a state I never experienced in my twenties, and only a few times in my thirties. Then I had a baby at age thirty-three. During the exhausting months of caring for a young baby, I became intimately acquainted with inertia. Not only in my physical body, but mentally: returning to the keyboard or the page seemed unbearably hard, a thing I might never do again. Once you hit inertia it’s incredibly hard to pick up steam again, easy to consider it all an exercise in futility. You lay your weary muse in the road and the vultures circle in, taking her for dead.
But she’s not dead. You’re not dead. There’s life in you, your project yet. But now you will have to provide yourself with the momentum formerly granted you by the tailwinds of inspiration, deadline or competition before. This effort against inertia may come as a big adrenalized burst—forcing yourself into a day of writing—or it might be slow and steady progress, bits here and there.
Here are reminders and tips for overcoming inertia in your writing:
- Finishing feels great. It comes with an endorphin rush all its own. It’s something you can check off that list and give yourself credit for.
- Finishing frees up head-space, and creative and emotional energy. Once you get the weight off your head, productivity has a way of returning. When you leave a project undone, it stays inside you, a squatter taking up unwanted residence.
- Your project needs you to be born. It won’t birth itself.
TIPS FOR OVERCOMING INERTIA
- Write first. I know it seems hard, impossible, your schedule won’t allow it. But if you write first, before you do anything else, you’ll carry that buoyant feeling around with you all day rather than the sludge of “I still haven’t written.”
- Micro-movements. I’m borrowing that term from a friend, Barbara Doyle. She reminds me and others that when you take things in small bites, and give yourself credit for these little movements, not only are you nicer to yourself (and who feels motivated by meanness?), these small things still add up to more done than nothing. So if all you can get done is a page, a sentence, a scene, that’s more than you had before.
- Word count. Elegant, simple, time-tested. Set a word count and be amazed at how you’re not only more likely to make it, but go over.
- Accountabilibuddy. I teach a class called “Finish What You Start” that requires you make an “acountabilibuddy.” When you’re feeling your energy lag, you might need a writing friend to hold you accountable. Just like in your word count effort, you hold each other to some sort of standard, and check in, cheer, reward each other for getting it done. There’s nothing like a little public pressure.
- Get to the source. Sometimes, inertia strikes because there’s something we don’t want to look at, feel, or do. When it comes to writing, sometimes inertia hits when we must go more deeply into ourselves, think in a wider direction, cut something that isn’t working. And sometimes it’s because I’m in a cycle of not making enough time for my writing and so it is simply evidence of Newton’s law that “an object at rest, tends to stay at rest.” The only way to overcome inertia sometimes is to fake it ‘till you make it.
- Cliffhangers. One of the most effective techniques I’ve found for helping me find my way back into material I’ve started is to leave off a writing session mid-sentence, paragraph or scene. It has a way of jogging the brain into finishing when you see that line of dialogue left unresolved or answered, that scene right about to culminate in a high point. It also takes away the burden of having to “finish” everything you start in every writing session.
Okay everyone, let’s fight inertia together! I’ll be doing nanowrimo this year, and if you are too–let’s check in.