Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Forward Momentum

by Nancy

Do you ever feel like you're a car stuck in sand? Like you've been spinning your wheels and revving your engine and getting nowhere forever? If so, you've lost your forward momentum. Such a loss can have many causes--writer's block, life events, market changes, issues with critique partners (or editors or agents or anyone else in our lives)--or even mistaken perception. Sometimes we have more traction than we know. Today, let's look at what forward momentum is and some ways to regain it.

I first noticed the phrase in the book The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold, which is currently available in a combined edition, Young Miles (don't be thrown by cover changes if you follow the link). This was the first of many award-winning novels featuring Miles Vorkosigan. While running a slick con job in outer space, inveterate talker Miles kept silent for once because "Elena had forward momentum." In effect, Elena was rolling, so Miles refrained hitting a brake. "Forward momentum" is Miles's mantra and the slogan of his mercentary company. I sometimes cheer Miled on and sometimes want to smack him, but I always want his forward momentum. Whether in writing or in other endeavors (so far, I haven't had the chance to lead a company of space mercenaries), I like to feel as if I'm rolling.

Once I noticed the phrase "forward momentum," I started noticing similar expressions. My sports idol, Billie Jean King provides TV commentary for a lot of the big tennis tournaments. She played a serve-and-volley game, attacking from the net at every opportunity, so it doesn't surprise me that she approves of players who are "always moving forward" and don't just stand at the baseline and slug away from there.

So forward momentum seems to be not just making progress but making progress with some energy. Moving under propulsion rather than inching laboriously ahead. Climbing out of bog requires slogging forward. Like the old poster says, "Sometimes the only way out is straight through."

Slogging is hard, though, and draining. Once we've been slogging for a while, we may not immediately notice the ground getting firmer--may not even realize we're out, that the bog is now receding toward the distant horizon. Since this is a writing blog, let's discuss these issues in the context of writing.

I find books helpful. One of favorites is Eric Maisel's Write Mind: 299 Things Writers Should Never Say to Themselves and Things They Should Say Instead. Head-on, this book confronts many (299 *g*) negative, discouraging thoughts that can creep into our brains when we've struggled for a while. I also like his Deep Writing. These books are out of print, but used copies are available. Sometimes, talking to a friend is helpful. I once hit an life-generated oil slick and found myself skidding from one idea to another. My buddy Kathleen said, "You do know you can't sell on a first chapter, right? So finish something. Anything. Just pick one and finish it." Getting to "The End" felt like a slog at times, but saving and printing that last page gave me the sensation of standing on firm soil again at last.

Sometimes doing something new will provide that burst of propulsion we recognize as momentum. My friend Barbara recently wrote her first short story. She found it satisfying and energizing, enabling her to go back to her historical refreshed. After focusing on historicals, I wrote a contemporary with a lot of action-adventure elements and a completely different tone, and I had a blast doing it. As a result, the pages, blitzed off the printer. I had to take life-generated breaks, which meant I had more revision to do than I would've if I'd gone straight through, but I didn't lose that sense of momentum. I used to write fan fiction--stories for people who knew the world and the characters, which allowed me to just have fun with the plot.

These changes in routine can pay off in other ways. Some people sell the books they step outside their usual boxes to write. Sometimes those books place in contests, providing outside validation that this path has something worth pursuing. Sometimes writing and finishing the books we've always wanted, but never dared try, to write can be liberating and motivating and propulsive.

What does forward momentum mean to you? If you've ever lost it, how did you regain it?


limecello said...

GR to me?

jo robertson said...

Great topic, Nancy. And congrats again on your Maggie win. Whooopppttt. Talk about forward momentum.

I've been really sick the last few days -- upchucking, bone-crunching, head throbbing sick like a dog. But I didn't want to lose my forward momentum on this new historical suspense I've started.

So guess what? I wrote today -- 82 words but, hey, that's forward momentum!

jo robertson said...

Congrats, Limecello. I did dare claim the rooster even though there were no comments while I was writing.

Quick draw, lady! It's just as well. The flu or some nasty bug's roaming my house and the chook wouldn't like hanging out here today.

I'm just saying.

limecello said...

Great post, Nancy. I feel a bit like I'm a car stuck in sand spinning my wheels, but it might just because I'm a car that's overloaded :P.
I like the little engine that could - maybe not so much I think I can - but just to keep chugging. Or like Dorie in Finding Nemo - just keep swimming. I like milestones - the end of the year, finals, *something* to look forward to and to mark as progress.
I love the idea of doing something new - that succeeds. I need to find a new project :)

Susan Seyfarth said...

Hey, Nancy--
Congrats on the Maggie award! So proud of you. And congrats to Limecello for nabbing the GR today!

Speaking of forward momentum, after several months of being stuck on my current work in progress, I recently decided that just showing up at the keyboard is half the battle. So no more email, no more internet until I've banged out five pages a day. And guess what I've got now?

Forward Momentum. I've written nearly 150 pages in the six weeks. I won't say that they're good pages, but they're pages. And having written something today means it's just a little easier to write something else tomorrow. Because instead of creating something new I'm building on something already in place.

And WTG, Jo, on 82 words! You're a trooper, writing while so sick! Hope you're better soon.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Limecello, it's a while since he visited you, isn't it? Congratulations!

Nancy, you're definitely not stuck in a rut with that great Maggie win! Huge congratulations to you!

Actually I've just handed in a book so I'm a bit in limbo, although it's an extremely busy limbo as I've got a million and one things to do that I put off while I finished the book.

Hey, just a heads up, but I'm giving away an ARC of TEMPT THE DEVIL on my blog here tomorrow so make sure you all come and play! Giving away books definitely counts as forward momentum!

Donna MacMeans said...

Nancy - Great post!
Limecello - great rooster nabbing!

I think we all lose forward momentum at some point - life has a way of doing that. As long as we get back in the game and make some progress no matter how small, we're heading in the right direction & soon we're flying toward the goal.

p226 said...

Sometimes, when you're stuck in the mud, all you need is a push from a friend.

Sometimes, you've got to stop and examine a new approach.

And sometimes, you need both.

Helen said...

Congrats limecello

Great post Nancy and again huge congrats on the Maggie.

I think I have stoped at work I really need a break to recharge the batteries and get motivated again the company has just started a new service excellence program and it is called spark and it is fun so far and I am hoping it helps needless to say for me reading a good book also helps.

Have Fun

Carol said...

Well done were quick off the mark! the GR was jet propelled to your house!

Congratulation on your marvelous win Nancy!

An anthem in our family is
When the going gets tough! the tough get going (Huey Lewis song from Jewel of the Nile)
For a writer the first step would be sit down and go for it! like you did Jo!

For more mundane physical tasks just have to pick one on the list and go forward and get stuck into it! Hey and listen to some great music while you do the Eagles! or Simply red or Garth Brooks...

I must admit I find it hard to return emails that I owe to friends!
I never seem to have anything interesting that I have done...I mean why would they be interested in my point score in a computer game or a great book if I already know they hardly read anything or they don't watch the more serious TV programs or movies I watch!

Forward momentum ...what to say, yikes ...too hard ... procrastinate...backspace the line... umm
Cheers Carol

Anonymous said...

Nancy, what a great blog! And huge congratulations to you for the Maggie win! YeeHaw!! :-) I am a huge believer in forward momentum of any kind. For myself, no matter how big or scary the challenge, I've got to at least take a step into it. I may not know how to overcome it, but I've got to find a way to at least bite off a tiny piece of it. Nibble away at the edges long enough, and you get the feeling of momentum that allows you to tackle the whole she-bang.

Annie Solomon said...

Thoughtful post, Nancy. I lose my momentum pretty easily. Between scenes, chapters. Books. What usually gets me going again is guilt. Or panic. When either builds up to the point of bursting I realize it's better to get back on the horse and try to ride (I mean write,) again. Whatever discomfort that brings is better than the buildup of guilt/panic that comes with not doing anything. And like Susan Seyforth said, just showing up is a victory in itself.

And congrats on your Maggie, too!!

terrio said...

This blog is such a reflection of my life right now. My writing life anyway. Thanks for channeling me Nancy! LOL!

My problem is definitely the life events. Or maybe too many events and not enough life. The strange part is that when I have less to do and can dedicate more time to the writing, I don't have any motivation to write. But once things pick back up, I want to write. I really need to get a handle on this.

Congratulations on the big win over the weekend, Nancy. And thanks for the book tips. I need to see if I can find them.

Marisa O'Neill said...

Hi Nancy! Congratulations on your win! WDWD - Well Done and Well Deserved.

Oooh, you hit on the exact thing I've been thinking about lately. My get up and go has got up and left me. And when I get like this sometimes I have to walk away for a bit and re-examine it all. Lately I've been asking myself questions right before I go to sleep. And oddly enough, in the middle of the day I'll get an idea or an inspiration and I'm back on track and moving forward again.

Nancy said...

Limecello, congrats on the bird! Keep him hopping. *g* I'm sorry you've been feeling bogged down. I think you're onto something with the Little Engine That Could. It didn't have much forward momentum going up the mountain, but it persevered to the top and rolled on down the other side. I think you make a good point about milestones, too. Sometimes they're the only encouragement we have when we're slogging.

Best of luck with your new project!

Jo, thank you on both counts. I'll be wearing the pendant to class today. I'm so sorry you've been sick. There's something really nasty going around here, and I hope you don't have that. And I agree, 82 words is forward momentum. Keep rolling!

Nancy said...

Susan, thank you. And yay on the 150 pages! That is certainly forward momentum, and it sounds like you're increasing your speed. As for good or bad pages, I actually did hear Nora Roberts deliver (at the PRO retreat a couple of years ago) the line so often attributed to her, "I can fix a bad page, but I can't fix a blank one."

Anna, thank you again! It's a very reassuring milestone and validation I've dreamed of having. Even though you just handed in a book, you're busy promoting Tempt the Devil, aren't you? Every book you give away and every guest blog you do builds forward momentum, right? And then there's that next book to be written, too. "Always moving forward," as Billie Jean says.

Nancy said...

Donna, thank you. You wrote: As long as we get back in the game and make some progress no matter how small, we're heading in the right direction & soon we're flying toward the goal.

A wonderfully succinct summary (say that fast three times! *g*).

P226, I also think we sometimes need more than one form of propulsion to get out of the rut, the bog, the whatever-it-is that's causing the problems. With writing, as with so many things, it's possible to fall into a particular way of doing things and forget that there are other approaches we could try.

Helen, thank you. The new program at work sounds great! I hope you continue to enjoy it.

Nancy said...

Carol, thank you! I also like Huey Lewis but had forgotten about that song. I've been excavating my study (the room where we dump stuff we scoop up to conceal when company comes over), and it's much easier with music. My taste is eclectic, but this particular job seems to want something with a strong beat to it.

I'm bad about returning emails, too. I want to write a good response, something chatty and detailed. Putting it off, though, means other emails come in, and then I'm way behind, and I don't have time for chatty and detailed. Urk!

You wrote: Forward momentum ...what to say, yikes ...too hard ... procrastinate...backspace the line... umm


Kirsten, thanks on both counts. I've never won jewelry before, you know? And I wanted this particular piece for a long time. I like the nibbling metaphor. I'm a firm believer that progress builds momentum. Unfortunately, I also have a tendency toward procrastination, which creates very weird inner conflict at times. *g*

Nancy said...

Annie, thank you for the pats on the back, both for the Maggie and the blog. I know what you mean about panic building up. I frequently did my best work on college papers under the deadline gun. It did produce remarkable propulsion, though!

Terrio--glad you liked the blog, and thanks for the congratulations. Those books are fairly easy to find if you go onto any of the big used-book sites. Writing under pressure, as you seem to, does get the adrenaline going and the brain clicking, at least for me, but it can create a disconnected feeling, as you pointed out. I hope things settle for you soon.

Nancy said...

Marisa, thanks! Winning the Maggie really is a dream come true, and PJ, Gannon, Buffie and Andrea made me feel even farther over the moon.

I saw a souvenir plaque once that said, "My get up and go got up and went." Sometimes things feel that way. I've heard, though, that the subconscious works on things while we sleep. I find ideas popping up on occasion when I'm in that fuzzy haze between sleeping and waking up.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hi Nancy! Yeah on forward momentum! And congrats to Limecello on the GR. Take care of that wily bird...or watch out for him, I'm not sure which. :>

Jo, so sorry you're not feeling well. Wow on writing 82 pages anyway. Go you!

I love forward motion. I get stuck in that proverbial bog sometimes too, and as P226 said, sometimes its just slogging, sometimes its a change of direction and sometimes it's a swift kick in the seat of the pants or a pat on the shoulder by a friend that gets me moving again. (Thank goodness!)

I "get" to watch a lot of DVDs with my children (over and over and over again!) and the one that strikes me, in relation to this topic is Meet the RObinsons. The boy, Wilbur, grows up to create all sorts of wonderful inventiosn. As an adult, his mantra is Keep Moving Forward. It's actually taken from a quote by Walt Disney himself.

"Around here, we don't sit still for very long. We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things because we're curious and curiousity keeps leading us down new paths."

I've decided to try and live that way. :> Go Walt!

Cassondra said...

Nancy what a great blog.

And Oh, MY I'm there right now. Completely buried.

For you who don't know, Nancy was kind enough to take my blog day today. She's the "blog mom" for this month, and if any of us has trouble, it's up to her to fix it.

I thought I would be at work today at a 12-14 hour day. Fortunately that got pulled at the last minute, but life has a way, sometimes, of just kicking us in the teeth repeatedly--or that's what it feels like--and I used to bounce back really easily but lately I've been letting it get to me. So Nancy, THANKS for giving me a break to get some work done on two present WIPs and finish my contest judging.

Also, I guess it's not surprising, but when I'm stuck in the writing, the thing that gets my forward momentum going is face to face with other writers. And that's the trouble. It has to be face to face. In the fast pace I've been keeping, that's hard to find sometimes. I don't quite understand why that face-to-face time is such a magic charm for me. But it is.

Wish some of y'all lived closer! :0)

Buffie said...

Great post Nancy! Unfortunately I only seem to pick up momentum when I am going in reverse!!! I guess it just means I missed the lesson I was suppose to learn.

And congrats again on the win!! When I was telling the hubby all about that evening, I pulled out my program and said "look, she even signed this for me". Of course he made the appropriate response of "that's good" while never losing track of the football on the tv!

Pat Cochran said...

Greetings to all,

Great post, Nancy!

Congratulations on winning the
Maggie award!!

Jo, so sorry you are ill! Feel better soon!!

Congratulations to limecello on
snagging the Golden One! Keep an
eye on your chocolate stash!!

Pat Cochran

Nancy said...

Jeanne wrote: "Around here, we don't sit still for very long. We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things because we're curious and curiousity keeps leading us down new paths."

How cool! Yeah, Walt Disney had lots and lots of forward momentum. I discuss early Disney animation in my 1920s class. From Oswald the Rabbit to an international collection of Disney realms is an amazing leap.

Buffie, I know that backward momentum. It comes from massive headwinds, and it can be hard to reverse. Good luck with it! And thanks again for the congrats. Signing your program, I felt like royalty.

I have to confess that I sometimes do the spousal "uh-huh," while trying to project the appropriate level of enthusiasm. Not for football games though--more like the SciFi channel. *g*

Pat, thank you on both counts. Saturday was a huge night.

J Perry Stone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J Perry Stone said...

Nancy, I'm really disappointed the title of your blog didn't read:


Is there a way we can change that?--because I don't have a modest bone in my body and would love to shout out to everyone that my darling chapter-mate won the prestigious Maggie Award … even to those who don’t click on the comments.

Oh and thank you for my Romance Bandits button. I wore it proudly.

BTW, how has your win hurled you forward creatively? What did you write today? 100 pages?

Nancy said...

J. Perry--thank you for stopping by! I'm glad you like your button.

I really appreciate your enthusiasm on my behalf. I actually did not write very much today. I graded papers and taught a 3-hr. class, so that's been about it so far. I also have more grading to do. However, revisions are on my horizon, so I hope to finish them and write new pages soon.

I enjoyed seeing you this weekend. Thanks again for stopping by!

Nancy said...

Everyone has been so lovely to me about the Maggies, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. I just want everyone to know that part of my pleasure in the weekend was seeing Donna's cover come up as a pubbed finalist and seeing Joanie claim her prize.

These pats on the back do, at least for me, help create a sense of forward momentum, which I like seeing in my friends as well.

PJ said...

Great post, Nancy! Hopefully your Maggie win will kick your forward momentum into high gear.

Jo, hope you feel better soon!

Limecello, congrats on nabbing the GR!

My forward writing and photography momentum has gained a huge boost from all the wonderful comments at my RNTV Blog plus Teresa Medeiros just replaced her website "personal appearance" photo with one I took and gave me photo credit. That makes me a very happily motivated camper! :)

Nancy said...

Thanks, PJ. Your pictures were great. I was very impressed with your camera and with the reults. I'm not surprised Teresa wanted to use one of the photos!

Beth said...

Great post, Nancy! Forward momentum to me means making progress. For writing that could be one page. For exercise, staying a few minutes on the treadmill longer each week. After all, those small steps add up *g*

Nancy said...

Beth, small steps certainly do add up. On a treadmill, they can even speed up if you're so inclined. *g*

Natalie Hatch said...

Forward Momentum, that's me to a T.. just keep rolling on, even though I try to apply the brakes every now and again. Ah well, life's good.