Thursday, November 18, 2010


As any athlete knows, momentum is the most unstoppable force in sports. The only way to stop it is if you get in your own way, start making stupid mistakes, or stop believing in yourself. —Rocco Mediate

I’ve learned how to keep momentum in my exercise program. Trite as it sounds, Nike had it right when they said, “Just do it.” I’ve adopted tactics to make just doing it easier—working out with the same people every day, being accountable to friends, and building gym time into my daily schedule. How do you keep momentum in writing?

1. Schedule. After more than eighteen years of writing, I’ve learned that if I don’t build writing time into my schedule, it won’t happen. Every week I set aside specific days and times to write. I also schedule specific projects for each time slot—just like I’d schedule a client. When I wake up in the morning, I write because it’s on my daily agenda.

2. No blank pages. I’ve learned to end each writing session in the middle of something—so that I never have to start with a blank page. National Novel Writing Month participant Elizabeth McKinney, a PR professional from Winston-Salem, had this advice: In the pre-NaNo kickoff with Winston-Salem Writers, we learned to stop at an exciting point in the plot, to leave yourself something to automatically begin writing when you sat down the next day.

3. Curiosity. Writing has to be a grand adventure of some sort or it gets boring. But what if you’re writing the literary equivalent of milquetoast? Imagine you’re a newbie who doesn’t know the answer. Get curious about what happens next. If that doesn’t work, skip to tip #4.

4. Conflict. Without conflict, writing gets boring—for both writers and readers. Even DVD manuals have built-in conflict. They are designed to present problems and then teach the reader how to overcome them. NaNoWriMo participant Nicole Gustasa, Monterey, California, solved her novel’s need for conflict this way: Whenever I was stumped for what was going to happen next, I'd throw ninjas at my characters. I was writing a wacky screwball-comedy spy-and-nerd-on-the-run farce, so it worked well. Your mileage may vary, although personally I think serious literary fiction could benefit from a few ninjas (and vice-versa). I don’t know if I’ll add ninjas to my NaNoWriMo novel, but I like the spirit of this idea. Create momentum for your work by adding conflict, surprise, or just something different. If you get stuck, ask yourself how you might move forward if you added a new villain, a poem, or the opposing point of view.

5. Deadline. Sometimes we maintain momentum because we fear the wrath of our editors. For NaNoWriMo participants, the looming November 30th deadline helps to keep their butts in their chairs. Deadlines work. If you don’t have a real deadline—and a boss ready to fire you if you don’t finish the project—create one. If you need someone to hold you accountable, hire a coach or enlist the help of a friend.

We write because we have something to say—something we believe will change the world or a small part of it. When we don’t finish our work, our words cannot help anyone. Momentum is the key to finishing the writing you start. Once you have momentum, you become an unstoppable force for good in the world. Now that’s a reason to just do it!

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