Tips to Get (and Keep) the Momentum Going

Writing–of any kind–takes great commitment and self-discipline, and there may be times when you find it difficult to carve out the hours you need or to find the energy to devote to your writing. Here are some suggestions to keep you moving forward:

  • Write every day, even if you only do one of the brief Creative Exercises in the Brain Spa, or make an entry in your journal. Think in terms of output rather than time–set your goal at one page a day instead of one hour a day. That way, you have concrete evidence of your progress.
  • Read as much as you possibly can–not just for pleasure, but as part of your continuing writing education. Mark passages you especially like or dislike and try to figure out why they make you feel the way you do. Pay attention to how your favorite authors combine dialogue and narration, to the words they choose and the way they put them together, to the pace and rhythm of the sentences and paragraphs and chapters.
  • Set aside a particular time of day (or night) to write; make it a habit. Like any other learned skill, writing requires practice; you learn by doing. If you schedule your writing time–the way you would a piano lesson or a work-out at the gym–you’re giving your writing the priority it deserves.
  • If you’re stuck for ideas, looking for writerly discourse, or just need some motivation, log on to the workshop website, participate in a group critique or lecture discussion, do some Creative Exercises, chat with your classmates in the Student Union, or browse the library shelves.

How to Stretch a 24-hour Day

It’s hard to find time to write, you tell yourself. There are always a thousand other things that need to be done. The fact is, you probably won’t find the time to write; you’ll have to make it:

  • Get up an hour early, set the coffee maker and get right to work
  • Resist the urge to take a nap when you put the baby down for his
  • Shut your office door and write through your lunch hour
  • Decide that an hour of writing time is more important than an hour of television.

Remember, too, that thinking is an important part of the writing process. If you’ve established your regular daily writing time, as we suggested above, make the most of that time by preparing yourself mentally beforehand. Start thinking about the assignment you want to work on, or the Creative Exercise you want to complete, so that, when you sit down at your computer, you’re ready to write. Even if you can’t set aside time to write every day, you should at least make thinking about writing a daily activity. By thinking about writing even when you aren’t doing it, you’ll make writing a natural and necessary part of your life.

In addition to your scheduled writing sessions, use odd bits of “down” time to write:

  • your daily bus commute
  • the half hour the cake needs to cool before you can ice it
  • waiting for anything–a flight departure, the cable guy, your date to show up.

Always make sure you have something to write on (and with!), even if it means keeping a pen and small notebook in your fanny pack while jogging, or with your towel at the beach. You’ll be surprised how much you can actually accomplish in these short, otherwise unproductive periods.

A Place of Your Own

As important, perhaps, as a time to write is a place that you can lay claim to as your writing space–a place where you won’t be interrupted, where ideally you can leave your work out when you’re finished for the day. In addition to the space needed for your computer and printer, you should have plenty of desktop space to spread out your notes or any other materials you’re working with. A bulletin board where you can pin up inspirational quotes, pictures of settings or characters, deadlines, etc. is a great addition to your writing space. Make sure you have adequate lighting, a sturdy, comfortable chair and a handy shelf for your writing reference books. Whatever it takes, create a place that means writing to you–and to those around you–the minute you occupy it: your special place, your writing place.

The point is to make the most of whatever time and space you have. Writers work on subways, buses and commuter trains. Any place is a good place to write if you just recognize its possibilities. A quiet place is ideal, but–as anyone who has ever worked for a newspaper knows–it is possible to turn out good writing in the middle of utter chaos.

Starter-Sparkers

No matter what you accomplish in a writing session, you’ll frequently find yourself having to pick up in the middle of something left unfinished from a previous session, and you may be worried about maintaining your momentum, or picking up the thread of your thoughts. Here are some ideas that have worked for other writers:

Ernest Hemingway used to find it helpful to intentionally stop in the middle of a well-thought-out scene; he liked to stop writing before the juice was up. When he was eager to go on to the next word–when he knew exactly what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it–that’s when he’d quit, often right in the middle of a sentence. With this system, Hemingway seldom had trouble getting started the following day. He knew the rest of the sentence he’d left hanging; he knew where he wanted the story to go next. He would simply begin the new writing session by finishing what he’d deliberately left unfinished the session before.

Hemingway’s system may work for you, too, but it requires discipline. It can be difficult to stop writing when the words are flowing. If you find this is a problem for you, you may want to try something else. Some writers, for example, warm up by simply retyping the last page from their previous session. Other writers will read their last page, delete it, and then rewrite the page as closely as they can from memory. Either practice can help you regain the momentum from your earlier work and give you a running start.

Whether you use any of these methods or concoct one of your own, the important thing is getting back to your writing project–whatever stage it is in–and continuing with it, making one step forward after another, and getting more and more words on the page.


These tips came from the course Getting Started in Writing

In this workshop, you will explore your writing interests and discover your personal aptitudes for writing. You will be introduced to a wide variety of categories of writing, and learn basic techniques to improve your narrative skills. This workshop provides an introduction and overview to a number of types of writing, from fillers, to short stories, to books. You’re encouraged to experiment with a variety of forms with the goal of discovering your own writing path.

You will learn:

  • The fundamentals of grammar and mechanics
  • Using description and sensory detail to enhance your writing
  • How the principles of creative writing apply to both fiction and nonfiction
  • The types of short nonfiction, including fillers, research articles, personal experience articles, how-to articles, books, and memoirs
  • The different categories (genres) of fiction, and the various fiction forms, including short stories, short-short stories, novellas, and novels
  • The importance of revising and rewriting

Learn More About Getting Started in Writing Today!

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