This article first appeared in the March 2013 issue of the First Draft, newsletter of the Guppy chapter of Sisters In Crime
Let’s face it. Inertia happens to all of us. We may have a surefire plan to reach our goal, but life has a way of throwing us curveballs, making it a struggle to continue. The best laid plans are worth nothing if we don’t take time to implement them.
With regard to writing, plans can go awry in any phase of drafting, editing, marketing to a publishing professional, or marketing to readers. Once authors lose momentum, it’s hard to get going again.
Maybe, like me, you juggle a job and family in addition to writing-related pursuits. Or maybe you invent reasons not to move forward, paralyzed by fears of success and failure.
Either way, the work isn’t getting done.
Instead of making excuses, let’s beat inertia this year. Here are seven tips to get us started.
1. Vent. While making a fuss about lack of progress feels good, it is a poor substitute for the satisfaction of reaching a goal. Vent if need be, but set a reasonable time limit (a phone call, an hour, a day), and then give yourself permission to move on.
2. Windows and doors. These open and close at will. They are often out of our control. Perseverance is the key. Instead of stalling when an opportunity passes us by, look for another opportunity. They’re out there, but we have to seek them out.
3. Rejection. Writers need a thick skin. Critique partners can be cruel. Editors can rip into our work. Professional reviewers can trash our prose. Or readers who note a single typo can give us a brutal one-star review.
It’s hard not to take rejection of our work personally, but remember this. Writers produce a tangible work product. Criticism is opinion driven; it’s subjective. Avoid inertia by setting new objectives. Put the criticism in perspective, learn from it, and move on.
4. Positivity. Remember the movie Pollyanna? It was about an upbeat child who spread sunshine. If we think about what we can do, instead of what we can’t do, we move toward our goals.
To rephrase, “I can’t…” leads to inertia; “I can…” leads to achievement. Break tasks into smaller steps that you can accomplish. Beat inertia by saying “I can.”
5. Creativity. Creativity rarely happens in a vacuum. Conditions and circumstances lead to inspiration, which is creativity’s fuel. Take note of your unique wellspring of creativity.
Strive to create the right mindset by being in the midst of whatever inspires you, whether it’s great literature, rock music, people watching, solitude, nature, education, or more.
Come to writing refreshed, and creativity will follow. Say bye-bye to inertia because words and ideas will abound.
6. Focus. Inertia can also happen because you have too many ideas. Like a kid in a candy store, you’re stuck because everything looks wonderful. The idea cup literally runneth over.
Hone your focus to beat this kind of inertia. Come to your writing time with one project on your mind. Save or jot down the other ideas for later. Commit to that one story until you’re done with it.
Or, if you prefer to work on multiple stories concurrently, my advice is still the same. One block of writing time for one story. The next block of writing time can be for your other story, if need be, but set a distinction in your mind.
Move from inertia by allowing yourself time to flesh out one story at a time.
7. CPR. Everything is going great guns, and then the flash-bang stops. The characters or plot no longer excites you. In fact, you’d rather iron everything in your closet instead of looking at that story again.
You need story CPR.
To resuscitate your story, apply literary cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. Massage your work-in-progress’s heart and breathe life into your words. Somewhere in the writing process, you lost the joy of discovery, you lost that conduit to the story ether.
Remember what first sparked your interest about this idea, characters or plot and seek to inject that in your prose. Discover at what point you stopped liking the story. Cut (and save elsewhere) everything after that point and rewrite in a new direction. Trust your inner ear to guide you.
Inertia wears us down. It makes us emotional and frustrated with who and what we want to be. But inertia isn’t terminal unless we allow it. Keep the ultimate goal in mind and navigate through all the wrong turns and dead ends in the maze of writing with aplomb.
Let this year be the year everyone breaks free from inertia.