Every writer operates differently. Some people work in bursts, reaching giant word counts one day and writing nothing the next. Some fit in words whenever they can, wherever they can. Others, like me, do best with a routine. Since I work full-time, my routine involves at least two hours of butt-in-chair time at the beginning of the day, every day. Although I don’t have a strict word count goal (as per this post, where I resolved to be nicer to myself), I feel good if I hit at least 1000 words. Usually, I can accomplish this in less than an hour.
But the problem is, sometime that two hours of butt-in-chair time doesn’t always constitute work.
There are mornings I sit at my desk, open my Word document, and stare at it. I make awkward eye contact with the fresh new chapter heading in front of me and consult any notes I might have made. My fingers hover over the keys. Then all of a sudden I’m on Twitter or checking out Publishers Marketplace or looking at purses online (shh, don’t tell my husband). Before I know it, I’ve wasted half an hour. Or a full hour. And then it’s time to get ready for work and I’m staring at a couple half-assed sentences and I feel guilty because I know I could have done more if I had only managed my time better.
I have been thinking about this a lot recently. About why it’s so difficult to get going some mornings, when other times the words flow freely. It’s easy enough to chalk it up to writer’s block or make up some excuse, but I wanted to identify the problem so I could find out a way to solve it.
The problem? Momentum.
I used to think momentum just meant writing every day, even if it’s only for five minutes, because you at least touch base with your story and characters that way. But now I’m looking at momentum on a smaller scale. For me, it’s not about writing every day as much as where you start writing each day.
When you’re going at that crazy, frenetic pace with your writing, when you know exactly what you want to say, it’s a heady feeling. It’s amazing when your fingers can barely keep up with what your brain is thinking. When you finish for the day, you feel invincible. You can’t wait to get going the next day and pick up where you left off. So when you sit down the next morning and find that the word well has dried up, it’s easy to wonder how the momentum stalled just like that.
What I’m coming to realize? That stopping at the end of a chapter—a logical place to finish a writing session—can make it that much harder to get going when you pick up where you left off. I’m finding more and more that when I stop off at a crucial point—even in the middle of a sentence—it’s infinitely easier to get going the next time. You’re dropped right back into the thick of things, and finishing one sentence leads into writing a whole lot more. You can latch onto your thoughts and inject yourself back into the story easier than if you’re just staring at “Chapter 26” and a scarily blank page.
I used to hate stopping partway through a chapter. I used to feel like a failure if I had to abandon a sentence halfway through. But now, I purposely look for places I can stop writing in the heart of the action. Because I know it’ll be that much easier for me to hone in on my story when I pick up the sentence. (And that much easier to keep Twitter and online shopping distractions at bay.)
And the best part? That heady, invincible feeling always comes back, and I’m excited about my story all over again.
I’d love to know—how do you keep momentum going?