Overcoming Writer’s Inertia

inertia picI don’t get writer’s block. I know that might make some of my writer friends green with envy, but it’s true. I have so many ideas and characters rolling around in my head and so many novels already planned that it would take me about ten years before I ran out of old ideas. And that’s not counting any new ideas I might come up with in the future. But I do tend to get writer’s inertia between books.

Wait, writer’s inertia? You mean that draggy, reluctant feeling of taking forever to get yourself to start writing the next thing? Isn’t that the same thing as writer’s block?

Not exactly.

I write because I love to write, because writing is like breathing to me. I can’t not write, whether it’s just a little ditty for myself or whether it’s an epic for publication. But recently when another writer friend asked me if I ever have a hard time sitting down to write, if it ever felt like pulling teeth just to put my butt in the chair and stick my fingers on the keyboard, I answered “Every day!”

Here’s a secret about being a writer. Writing is hard! Even though I love it, finding the will to sit down and grind out the words (because let’s face it, sometimes they flow and sometimes they grind) is a challenge. The only way to be a successful writer is to learn to work through writer inertia. Books don’t write themselves, after all.

writer memeSo how do you do it? How do you break through the inertia to start that creative ball rolling in a direction where it will do some good? I’ve heard aspiring writers ask this question of long-term professional and bestselling authors at just about every conference I’ve ever been do. How do you keep going when the going is hard?

Of course, the flip answer is that you just have to force yourself to put words on a page, no matter how bad or boring or nonsensical they are. It’s the truth, but I often find that that isn’t the most reassuring answer. It seems too easy to work…and at the same time too hard to tackle. It’s the right answer, though, but I’ve always felt that a little more guidance was necessary.

Inertia is the force that makes it hard to get started from a place of stillness. It takes more energy to start an object moving than it does to keep it moving once it’s in motion. This goes for writing as well. It’s easier to write big, chunky word counts when you’re already in the habit of writing smaller chunks on a regular basis. It’s harder to start a novel if you’re beginning from an utter standstill. The trick is to never stop writing.

Most of the top-tier writers that I know or have listened to say that they write every day. They write something, no matter what it is. I do my very best to emulate this (and I come super close) because I think it is the answer. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on your next novel or rewriting bits and pieces of your old one, whether you’re jotting down your thoughts “Dear Diary” style or typing out a blog post or two. Heck, to me it doesn’t even matter if you’re writing several long Facebook posts or leaving a note for a family member to pick up ice cream on the way home. The key to being able to kick through inertia is to never stop writing.

get it writtenYou’d be amazed what you can do one you get those juices flowing. I know I’ve caught some flak for it in the past, but one of my favorite kinds of things to write to jump-start any creative process is fan fiction. Borrowing other people’s characters for a few seconds is a great way to make sure something gets written. It’s my equivalent of jotting something down on the back of a napkin.

Jotting something down on the back of a napkin, by the way, might just turn out to be your means of breaking through. In fact, are you stuck? Give it a try and tell me what you think.

Inertia (or downright blockage) is just one of those job hazards that we all experience. The only way out is through. But a better way out is to never really get in the hole to begin with. If you do find yourself in that hole, though, without having written for days, weeks, months, or years, take it easy on yourself and write a few short paragraphs about something fun to warm up. Once that ball starts rolling, once you’ve gotten over your inertia, I bet you’ll find it much easier to get the job done and you’ll be much more likely to keep it going.

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9 thoughts on “Overcoming Writer’s Inertia

  1. I refer to that period between books where you struggle to get started with the new one as “Post book depression.” That’s often where I run into trouble, too. Switching gears from one story (that I loved) to another (that I like but haven’t fallen for completely yet) is very tough. Building that momentum is key to getting past the rough spots. Also, coffee and chocolate help, too.

    • Yeah! That’s the time when it’s the worst! Especially when you’re between series. And coffee and chocolate definitely help. So do cookies!

  2. Merry, I’m with you – way too many ideas to ever be at a loss for something to work on. My inertia (or state of frozen panic, as it were) comes during the revision process. I can ALWAYS convince myself to sit down and write new words. It’s this whole editing thing that grips me like winter in Antarctica. Do you ever have difficulties there? For me the process of revision is completely separate from the process of creation (hmmm… maybe I need to reframe the process in my head?)

    • I’ve gotten much better with editing. If you had asked me three years ago which I like better, drafting or editing, I would have answered drafting without hesitation. But nowadays I really enjoy editing. It’s like drafting is throwing all of the ingredients into a bowl, but editing is the fine art of stirring and cooking them to make something that resembles delicious. I guess the only way I get through it is by reading what I’ve written many, many times and making notes with every pass. Editing, like drafting, is beautiful because you don’t have to be done when you get through once.

      • Love that analogy! I’ll try to keep that in mind this weekend as I’m sifting through scenes and mixing in some additional conflict in my current WIP!

  3. Never feel bad about writing fan fiction. Do you like Rainbow Rowell, author of Eleanor and Park? She is also a prolific fanfic writer – which led to the novel Fangirl.

    • I don’t think I’ve read Rainbow Rowell, but thanks for the recommend! I happen to think there’s a lot of value in writing fan fiction, although to be honest, I haven’t had time to write it for years! Although I did write a fan fiction piece for one of my own novels once. True story! 😉

  4. Coming late to the party, but what you’ve said makes me think.
    1. Writing every day is essential. Yep. I wrote every day for 3 years, I think. It was really good. It took the pressure out of what-should-I-write because I was always in the middle of something.
    2. Fallow periods can be useful. In September 2013 I had extensive spinal surgery and for the next four months I did not write at all. It was a wonderful time for reading, and I did a lot of re-reading when I wasn’t up to taking on something new. (Much of this period I was fairly heavily drugged, which probably had a lot to do with it!) I write historical romance and I read and re-read Mary Balogh, who happens to be one of my favorites.
    The astonishing thing about that was that when I could finally sit up long enough to accomplish something, I found myself writing like a madwoman. I think I started off at 11K a week, and worked my way up to 17K. I finished a 110K book in just over two months, that had been maybe 20% started when my back collapsed and surgery/recovery started.
    So both ways worked. Now I’m back to the everyday routine, writing another book. So much depends on having a story to tell. I don’t think there’s a magic formula as to how. It’s what works for you. Both the every day, and in case of emergency, fallow period worked for me.

  5. Fab post, thank you so much. As a beginning writer this is something I am working on myself, and one of the best pieces of advice I was given was indeed “write something everyday.” Hope it keeps creative juices flowing!

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