Writing inertia

It’s a well-known maxim that an object at rest tends to stay at rest, while an object in motion tends to stay in motion. This is such an important concept that it has its own name: inertia. But we usually think of it as a scientific idea. Objects have inertia, and they require outside forces to act on them if they are to start or stop moving.

Inertia, though, in a metaphorical sense, isn’t restricted to physical science. People have a kind of inertia, too. It takes an effort to get out of bed in the morning; for some people, this is a lot more effort than others. Athletic types have a hard time relaxing, especially after they’ve passed the apex of their athleticism, while those of us that are more…sedentary have a hard time improving ourselves, simply because it’s so much work.

Writers also have inertia. I know this from personal experience. It takes a big impetus to get me to start writing, whether a post like this, a short story, a novel, or some bit of software. But once I get going, I don’t want to stop. In a sense, it’s like writer’s block, but there’s a bit more to it.

Especially when writing a new piece of fiction (as opposed to a continuation of something I’ve already written), I’ve found it really hard to begin. Once I have the first few paragraphs, the first lines of dialogue, and the barest of setting and plot written down (or typed up), it feels like a dam bursting. The floodgates open, and I can just keep going until I get tired. It’s the same for posts like this. (“Let’s make a language” and the programming-related posts are a lot harder.)

At the start of a new story, I don’t think too much. The hardest part is the opening line, because that requires the most motivation. After that, it’s names. But the text itself, once I get over the first hurdles, seems to flow naturally. Sometimes it’s a trickle, others it’s a torrent, but it’s always there.

In a couple of months, I’ll once again take on the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge. Admittedly, I don’t keep to the letter of the rules, but I do keep the original spirit: write a novel of 50,000 words in the month of November. For me, that’s the important aspect. It doesn’t matter that it might be an idea I already had but never started because, as I said, writing inertia means it’s difficult for me to get over that hump and start the story. The timed challenge of NaNoWriMo is the impetus, the force that motivates me.

And I like that outside motivation. It’s why I’ve been “successful”, by my own definition, three out of the four times I’ve tried. In 2010, my first try, I gave up after 10 days and about 8,000 words. Real life interfered in 2011; my grandfather had a stroke on the 3rd of November, and nobody in my extended family got much done that month. Since then, though, I’m essentially 3-for-3: 50,000 words in 2012 (although that was only about a fifth of the whole novel); a complete story at 49,000 words in 2013 (I didn’t feel the need to pad it out); and 50,000 last year (that one’s actually getting released soon, if I have my way). Hopefully, I can make it four in a row.

So that’s really the idea of this post. Inertia is real, writing inertia doubly so. If you’re feeling it, and November seems too far away, find another way. There are a few sites out there with writing prompts, and you can always find a challenge to help focus you on your task. Whatever you do, it’s worth it to start writing. And once you start, you’ll keep going until you have to stop.