The Power of Inertia

inertia – the tendency of a body to preserve its state of rest or uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force.

Man, does this apply to writers!  The more you write, the easier it is to keep writing.  The more you don’t write, the harder it is to get started.

Before I go any further, let me say that all writers are different.  What works for one writer might not for another.  I recognize that there are literary marathoners and sprinters.  The marathoners write day in and day out, or close to it.  The sprinters take a lot more days off, but when push comes to shove show extraordinary productivity to complete projects.

(I will say that in my opinion a lot of writers who call themselves sprinters are deluding themselves.  They simply don’t have their act together and until they get their act together they’re going to have minimal, if any, success.  If you’re writing five or six stories a year, you’re not a sprinter.  You’re a couch potato.  

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with being a writing couch potato.  As long as you’ve only got couch potato goals and when it’s all said and done you won’t be disappointed have achieved nothing more than your couch potato goals.

A true sprinter might write a 4000-word short story in bursts over a weekend after doing nothing all week, compared to the marathoner who worked steadily on the story for seven days.

Same result. Different approaches.  To each his own.  Those are sprinters and marathoners.

But if you’ve been working on the same story for months… I mean, don’t you know deep down that you’ve lost your way?  Can’t you feel it in your bones that you’re not going to get to your version of the Promised Land of Writing that way?)


All that said, I’m a marathoner.  I’ve had years that I’ve written all 365 days.  It works for me.  If I’ve written the previous day, it’s so much easier to keep that momentum going.  To use inertia, staying in motion.  I pick up where I left off and keep the new words flowing.

If I miss a day, it’s a bit harder.  If I miss two days, harder still.

Recently, however, I went through a stretch in which I wrote no new fiction for two weeks.  (Feel free to brandish your torches and pitchforks and call me a fraud.)  It was my longest stretch without writing since making a lifelong commitment to my writing in 2006 after attending Jeanne Cavelos’s Odyssey writing workshop.  A number of things converged to knock me off track, but to be honest those really were excuses, not reasons.

What I found was that the inertia that had served me so well when I was writing 365 days a year was a powerful force working against me.  I felt like the first few seconds of a NASA rocket launch.  A deafening roar.  Immense exertion.  And almost no movement at all.  Those first few inches of liftoff seem to take forever.

That’s about how I felt as I tried to get myself off the launching pad.

So for me, I don’t intend to ever again go two weeks without writing fiction.  Not unless I’m in the hospital and even in that case, I’ll be asking for my laptop.

If you’ve been struggling with your writing, try using inertia to your advantage.  Commit to writing at least five days out of the next week.  Or if you’re a sprinter — a true sprinter, not a couch potato calling yourself a sprinter — then see if a bit shorter intervals between your bursts of productivity work for you.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how you get the work done.  It just matters that you get it done.  At the end of the year, you’ve written the number of new words that are keeping you on track for your goals.

But you may find that using inertia to your advantage makes that path a bit less bumpy.