For the last month, Marissa Burdett, one of the bombest bloggers/creatives I know, has been posting short audio recordings on her website as part of her Ampersand Project. The whole project has been fantastic, and, if you haven’t, I would eagerly suggest you check them out. Among the many things Marissa discussed, I was caught by something she said last week about Momentum.
That word, of course, takes on a particular life for creative people, writers especially. We’re always wondering where it comes from, this energy to create. But more than that, we’re always worried about what happens when we don’t use it. How we can avoid losing it, where it goes when we do, and how we can get it back.
Momentum has always been a tricky thing for me. Every November for the past five years I have written an entire novel in 30 days as part of NaNoWriMo. It’s an accomplishment I’m proud of, but I’ve never been very proud of what happens after I finish the novel.
The goal of NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words, and I’m glad to say I’ve reached that for five years in a row now. It’s taken dedication and an almost religious conviction to come back and back and back to the page, especially on the days when I don’t feel like I can. But something happens once I’ve reached that 50,000 word mark: I stop writing.
I have so much drive in November, and it all goes away when December 1st rolls around. On the one hand, that’s not a bad thing. I push myself hard, for a whole 30 days. It’s natural that, once I’m done, I would be done. My brain and body need to rest. My creative spirit, too.
But, while I know I really shouldn’t feel guilty for taking some time off, I do. Because it feels so hard to get that energy back.
I completed my fifth Nano novel this last November, or, to put it more accurately, I reached the 50,000 word goal, only to realize that my story wasn’t actually done. In fact, I estimate I’m probably only halfway there. This story is something I’m very proud of: a timely novel that I think has real publishing potential. So, after November, I felt a real desire and conviction to see it through to the end, even if it meant writing another 50,000 words. And though it’s taken some time, I’m glad to say I’ve gotten back into it. But it hasn’t been as consistent as I want.
Back in November, writing was a ritual, now it feels like a task, and a part of me wonders if I waited too long. If I had kept it up in December, maybe it would have been easier to maintain that momentum.
Of course, I have to continue to remind myself I wasn’t wrong for taking a rest from the book. I didn’t have the energy for one. December was busy, as it usually is. And, more to the point, I didn’t stop writing.
This is the easiest thing for me to forget, because, when I have a story that I want to work on, that I know I should work on, that writing becomes the most important writing I do, it becomes the only writing, which means any other writing I’m doing doesn’t count.
But I haven’t spent the past few months not writing at all. I’ve blogged on my site. I’ve made instagram posts, every day. I’ve written for #CreateLounge. And I’ve worked on other stories in my spare time.
I haven’t been inert. All this has not been a waste of my writing time. Yes, there is this big project I want to complete, and it’s not done yet, but working on other projects in the mean time, writing regularly on these other things is not taking away from the energy I might use on the novel. Quite the opposite.
Physics tells us that Momentum is the measure of the total energy of a system.
What this means is that just because we aren’t directing our energies towards that “One Big Thing” doesn’t mean that our energy has been wasted. And this applies for more than just our creative works to things like cleaning our room or talking with friends or reading a book or self-care, in general.
Yes, sometimes these things are distractions. Sometimes you clean your house because you don’t want to work on that novel. But sometimes you clean your house because you need to clean your house. Sometimes you need to take care of your surroundings, and yourself, because the lack of care has become a distraction.
And that’s not wasted energy, especially when it recharges you. When you create a better environment for yourself, just like when you take some time to take care of yourself, that feeds back into you.
Same thing for working on projects that aren’t the Big One. You aren’t wasting that momentum by directing it in a different direction. Writing is writing, creativity, in any form, is creative. You are, if nothing else, maintaining and even sharpening the skills that you will need to complete the big project.
Yes, if you are diligent and disciplined that will mean that you will finish the things you need to get done. But sometimes the most important thing is just to do something. Everything adds up. Everything builds the energy of the system.
One fire will inevitably light the other.
Momentum is precious, and it’s important that we try to maintain it, but it’s also important to remind ourselves that putting it somewhere is better than putting it nowhere. It’s a lot like inspiration that way.
Inspiration, as you will find if you ever go looking for it, is not so much fickle as unexpected. It doesn’t always show up in the same spot. Sometimes you have to chase it. Sometimes you have to wait for it. And sometimes it’s hiding in that project you’ve put aside because it’s not the big, important one.
In that case, you shouldn’t feel guilt about following it, because, if you are diligent and disciplined there, you will find the energy to finish the things you need to get done.
Which brings me to my favorite quote from Marissa's Day 30 recording for the Ampersand Project:
“You can make ideas come to life, every single day, if you just sit down and assume a posture in which you can create whatever comes to mind.”