Part perspective, part momentum: reclaiming my writing energy is an ongoing process.
I don’t know about you, but keeping my writing and creative endeavors running at a satisfactory pace is an unending battle.
One of the best visuals I could present to you about this struggle is the Newton’s Cradle. You know what I mean: the set of five steel balls suspended by a thin filament and hung in a row so, when at rest, each ball lightly touches the one on either side. When one of the end balls is lifted and allowed to clack back down into the waiting row, the energy is transferred along the row of static spheres and the ball on the opposite end springs up and then back down to reverse the process.
It’s a neat gadget, as far as desk gadgets with no real purpose go, but there is a catch: inevitably, the force of each new collision is less and less, and the chain reaction slows. Eventually, all five balls are again at rest.
This is how creative cycles seem to work for me, especially if I allow it to happen. If I set things in motion and don’t intervene by adding to the equation, momentum is lost and the collisions stop.
Part of this loss of forward progress comes from the natural human tendency to be intrigued and enamored by something new. When I get a new story idea, or start a new project, it is like I’ve taken that end sphere and lifted it to the extreme reach of the chain. The clack-clack-clack of the reaction is like the sound of childhood firecrackers igniting in rapid succession.
As the newness of the project wears thin, and the hard work of editing or refining begins, it can be easy to watch as everything grinds to a halt.
This is, though, a matter of perspective.
Writing a first draft is often fun, in the way a new car is fun when you first buy it. It is different, and probably has better features than your last car. It’s more comfortable, or it doesn’t rattle when you hit a pothole, or it doesn’t have that lingering smell of the burrito someone left under the front seat wile the car was parked in the airport lot for a week in the middle of the summer.
But it doesn’t take long for the new car to become a tool for getting from place to place. And it doesn’t take long for a new and exciting story to get bogged down in the tough work of making it better.
When I can see revision and editing for what it is—a challenge, yes, but also a way to continue to make those words on the page do justice to the initial idea and inspiration—I can keep the kinetic balls moving for a much longer time, without being forced to find some external jolt of new energy.
My writing energy is sustained in other ways, as well. I know the ingredients: hours on task, slow and steady progress, quality stimulus, maintaining my physical and mental energy, sharing and relating to others, deep focus that is free from distraction.
Tending to those ingredients of creative rhythm is an ongoing task. The more creative resources I expend in my writing or teaching or other tasks, the more time I have to allow to have my energy restored.
Sometimes, when things are really going at a steady pace, it is easy to think they will ALWAYS go on and on. It’s like the first few smacks of a well-made Newton’s Cradle: the first dozen exchanges seem to be almost occur without loss of energy. It’s almost as if it can go on that way forever.
But, of course, it can’t. Whenever there is energy expended, there is energy lost. Momentum must be fed to be sustained.
Waiting on Writing Energy
Even though I know the importance of feeding the Newton’s Cradle of my own creative mind, I sometimes neglect it. I become convinced that the high energy flow will become self-sustaining.
Don’t you believe it!
Inevitably, the reaction calms and the pendulums are barely moving.
The truth I know is this: It takes more effort to get the whole system running again than it does to apply the minute pressure to keep things moving. Think of pushing someone on a swing: once you get them moving, it only takes a slight touch, the smallest additional energy added to the swing in motion, to keep them flying high.
If you let the swing, or your creative flow, dwindle to a standstill, it will take much more effort to get it going again.
Learning From Leading
One of the reasons I started my recent 12-week course on Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, was very selfish. Yes, I wanted to be able to lead a new group of creative folks through this book, because I am sure it will be beneficial to their writing process. On the selfish side, I knew
I would get a lot of value from doing the exercises and readings again, myself.
It’s already paying off.
Because I was preparing to lead the class, I jumped back in to the two major elements of The Artist’s Way (morning pages and the weekly artist’s date) a little early. The results have been astounding. I’ve re-arranged my daily schedule, put a renewed emphasis on writing new fiction every morning, and the output has been so encouraging that I’m walking around, a smile on my face and a spring in my step.
I know that all of it is temporary. Schedules and routines can get stale, just like the new car becomes old hat. (There’s an odd visual!) This new momentum can be lost or moderated. But that’s okay. I know that, for me, maintaining my writing energy requires constant effort, shifts in process, and tweaking of routine.
Even when the creative momentum fades, it is never gone for good. It is waiting there to be rediscovered, reignited. If your creative well has run dry, I hope you’ll find a little step forward today, and soon your Newton’s Cradle will be clacking away so loud, the neighbors may stop by to complain.