Newton’s First Law of Writing

Once I’ve started writing, I’m flying.

I don’t have a problem finding my groove. My fingers my stop for a few moments as I consider a word choice, examine how a scene should play out, or re-read a passage for rhythm and flow, but otherwise it’s all tap-tap-tappity-tap until I have to be somewhere or until I realize I’d best get some sleep so I’m not a zombie at the day job. (Or worse, I realize I need some sleep or I’ll be too tired to work again the next night.)

It’s Newton’s First Law of Motion at the keyboard: an object in motion tends to remain in motion. Go go go until there’s some element of friction (i.e., children) or some obstacle (i.e., day gig) to slow or stop me. The momentum is greater on the creation side than on the editing side, too. I can build momentum while editing, but editing is the work sie. The creation side is the fun side, the greased, downward slope toward fame and fortune. (Okay, maybe not, but it can feel that way.) Even brainstorming has its own unstoppable and insatiable rhythm as one connection leads to the next two.

Brainstorming

Still my go-to brainstorming tool

But as we all remember from science class, there’s a dark side to Newton’s Law of Motion: an object at rest tends to remain at rest. I apply the same to any keyboard time that doesn’t include the productivity. Monkeying with email, surfing the web, browsing all the crap I’ve saved to Instapaper, hitting a forum, social networking bullshit, et cetera, ad nauseum, all feel like movement, but they don’t get me anywhere. Sure, I might justify some of it as pimping a book or some other effort at marketing, but unless it leads to a signed contract or a negotiated sale, it doesn’t count.

I also find getting an object into motion requires more force than what’s required to cease its motion. This is the real problem. Closing browser tabs, shutting down Twitter, or taking a word processor to full screen all help, but I have yet to find a trigger.

My workout trigger, for example, is simple: I use the warmup routine from my karate dojo. Whether I’m going to practice some karate, hit the punching bag, go for a run, or lift weights, the warmup tells the body it’s time to move. Then I keep moving. The warmup isn’t difficult, it’s just some easy movements to bump the pulse rate up a couple beats and shake the rust out of the joints. Nothing intimidating enough to make it a dreaded part of the workout, or a workout in itself.

Back in the Dark Age of Dial-up, sitting at the keyboard was still trigger enough. Sure, I could start my email downloading, but depending upon mail volume, I could crank out a decent word count before I remember to return to the email window. These days, lighting up a cigar at the keyboard sometimes helps, but I don’t get to do that often in the Winter, and the pull of being always connected can still trump it.

That’s why I’m going to try the Pomodoro Technique. I’ve seen some comic artists recommend it, but it applies easily to any project. The concept is simple: set a timer for 25 minutes and work only on the project until the clock expires. Then take a break before starting over for as many cycles as wanted/needed.

There are timers for it all over the web. I’ve found a couple Chrome extensions that connect with them, too. My plan is to hit those 25 minutes, then use the break time to surf, email, and so on. Break time is reward time. Idle time. Then I get right back to work.

Knock out the nonsense work, but maintain that precious momentum.

I have that same discipline in the dojo, though it’s more habit than using a timer. My theory is it should apply the same to writing after a short while of using the timer. If anyone has tried it, or has any other suggestions, please hit the comments.

I’ll report back in a few weeks and let you know how it goes.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

2 comments

  1. Writing warm-ups? Ten minutes of random scenes scribbled without greater intent or meaning, just to get the fingers into motion, the brain into gear, the blood fired up, and the creative juices bubbling?

    • Mike says:

      Strangely enough, writing warm-ups never really did it for me. They either take just as long to get going, or I end up working on it for far longer than I should. Usually the former.