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?