Writing has to be one of the strangest ways to make a living.
We’ll spend hours, days and weeks alone with our thoughts. Obsessing over people who don’t exist and what they say to each other. Building landscapes and cities that need to feel every bit as true and alive as the real thing.
When those thoughts come easily, and we’re off on a mad one, there’s no better feeling in the world.
But when they don’t… well, it gets tricky to make a living as a writer when we just can’t write. It feels like the ideas have dried up to dust. The whole shaky edifice that held up all our creative confidence suddenly topples down.
The trick is this: momentum.
There’s no easy way to get a truck, train, plane or tanker on the move. It takes a massive amount of energy to make it budge. Those first gears do some incredible heavy lifting to get those tons of metal to a rolling start.
We could think of novel writing in the same way. A book’s a lumbering beast; a conjured machine. Strutted and pannelled, patiently, over time. Tweaked and tested and built from the ground up, and punctuated with a million rivets. It’s like building the Titanic.
(And just hoping that it doesn’t actually turn into the Titanic.)
If you’ve lost all momentum, step back for a day. Take the anxieties out of your head, down onto a blank page. Write your thoughts, your problems, and all the ways you could work around them. Google images, music or concept art that inspires you.
You need to think back to the ideas that fired you up in the first place. Go back over that same ground, because there’s far more there to explore. What was the essence of that idea you loved? What’s the dramatic burning question that your novel asks about your characters, and what’s the most compelling way to answer it? Could the hero’s journey template show you what to write next?
Another tactic to rebuild that creative momentum is trance. It could be a string of thoughts, or the right music, or a glass of something you like. Whatever causes your thinking to turn a different corner, and follow a new path, and start to dig up those things you love from your subconscious.
Maybe it’s as simple as writing a single question on a sheet of paper, and giving it every answer you can think of:
What’s the coolest thing that could happen next in this story?
But the ultimate end, of course, is to shunt those ideas back into first gear. Maybe they’re half-baked, or simplistic; who cares? You’ve got a word count to hit today, and you’re damn well going to hit it. Even if you have to stare at that screen for an hour and type I hate this novel a hundred times over. You could even take that frustration or anxiety and pour it into your character’s head, and put it in their own words for their own situation.
It’s about resourcefulness. Use every thought, feeling, object and situation around you to feed back into your story. Writing a novel takes over our lives because it becomes our permanent state of mind. Our filter on the world.
But it all feeds into that momentum. Just take a walk, and start thinking. Take to heart what your readers love. Write something new; a different character. Or take a day to visit a new place with a notepad. It all counts.
Once your momentum’s going again then you’ll be back to writing your best words yet. Improving yourself, and your story, with every fresh sentence. That momentum will feed itself too, as long as you keep the ideas coming and keep getting back in that chair.
It’s like moving a train from standstill, over and over, every single day. The hardest part will always be getting started.
But if you can figure out exactly what fires you up, and just what it takes to get that heavy first gear moving, then you’ll know how to break that standstill every single time.
All it takes is a spark.