« [w] Taken by surprise | Main | Of course, City of Heroes lets me design a costume on a 3D model, which pen and paper roleplaying has trouble competing with. But that's minor, right? Right? »

Eric: Momentum and the lack thereof.

Here's the thing about writing. It's a question of momentum.

All those people who say "you should write every day, no matter how crappy a given day's output is?" They're essentially right. At least, if your brain works like mine -- and it's safe to say not everyone's does. You hear a lot about it -- practice, priming the pump, keeping the gears turning, and so forth. And they're probably all true, depending on which person we're discussing and what muse they're working with.

For me, however, it's a question of inertia. Of momentum.

See, if I write every day -- each and every day -- then writing comes frighteningly easy to me. Probably too easily -- there are some pieces that benefit far more from agonizing over word choice. So, when you discover you've written four thousand words when two hundred well chosen words will do, you haven't done the story any favors. (I know some people who think pretty much all my writing suffers from this. Nolo contendere.) However, I'm perfectly happy with it -- I enjoy editing after the fact, and I especially enjoy the headlong rush of the writing process. Fiction, nonfiction, stuff about webcomics, stuff about stuff, whatever. I like it. I like it a lot.

This is why something like the Shadow knockoff name issue can wreck my output so hard, by the way. When I have a good head of steam going, with many days of solid writing output behind me, hitting something that refuses to budge until I resolve it means suddenly all that momentum is slamming into a wall. It completely obliterates everything else in my brain. Curing cancer is nothing compared to resolving this one stupid point about a story no one will ever read -- my life is devoted to it.

(By the by -- the Shadow knockoff seems to be working, though not over the past several days, but then that's not the Shadow knockoff's fault.)

It's all about momentum.

That's where a week like the past week really kills me. I mean, kills me. I was very sick, and work was unbelievably stressful, and my hours were filled with unmitigated crap.

And I didn't write.

I couldn't write. I had no time to write.

I finally forced myself to have an evening off, a couple days back. And I got some writing done, and it made things better. But it came hard.

Just like this is coming hard.

The problem with the 'inertia/momentum' method of creative output is when you stop dead, you're dead. The blank page mocks you. It seems impossibly hard to fill the screen with words. You're smoke. Utter, total smoke.

And that sucks. That sucks donkey.

This is where I am today. There's stuff to talk about. There are good webcomics. And (wonder of wonders) I have ten minutes I don't need to be on the phone with angry people. So I have an input screen. For this. Our blog. Which theoretically I write for.

So what you're reading right now? Is essentially me walking around to the back of the car and shoving, hoping that there's not too much of an incline to push it up before we get going. Here's hoping it works.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 12, 2005 10:30 AM


Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at August 12, 2005 11:06 AM

I hear you. Oh, how I hear you.

Comment from: Tangent posted at August 12, 2005 11:52 AM

Amen to that, brother. Amen to that.

*sigh* I've not written a Tangent in a week, partly because the never-ending problem with Keenspace not working for me, and partly because a comic I tried reviewing just wasn't working... and finally because I wasn't home very often. When I tried to work on the damn things, my roommate would hear me laugh at a comic and then pop over, want to see what's so funny, and insist I scroll through all the comics of this new strip he hasn't seen before. And thus, two more hours gone. *rolls eyes*

Fortunately, I only need to recode around 40 more comics and the move to a new server will be complete. Hmm... I suppose coding counts as writing... sort of... *shiftyeyes*

I think after I finish this I'll start up the 2nd draft of "The Trip" again. THAT one has been lying in stasis for far too long.

Robert A. Howard, procrastinator supreme

Comment from: J.(Channing)Wells posted at August 12, 2005 12:40 PM

And here's me adding a third "amen" to that. I've been out of writing for three days because of practical and scheduling concerns, and throughout the entire time I have been listening incessantly to a music mix CD specifically keyed to a story I'm trying to write (an overwhelmingly thoughtful gift to me from a friend). So I'm sitting here, banking inspiration and stewing.

As a direct result, I am going totally mental.

Time tonight and tomorrow for a marathon. I've got the steam. I just need to break the three-day buildup of crud. I can do this. Breathe in. Must breathe.

Comment from: Nate posted at August 12, 2005 1:34 PM

I know the feeling. Last year, during Nanowrimo, I made myself write every day. I didn't care if it was crap. And it felt good, and I finished it. And then after Nanowrimo was over, I started making excuses for why it didn't matter if I wrote or not, and since then, I've not been writing much of anything. My brain feels like it's turning to mush. I can definitely understand where you are. Aside from not being nearly as cool.

Comment from: bartles69 posted at August 12, 2005 5:25 PM

I have always envied the writers and artists for whom creativity appeared to come as naturally as breathing, for I have never been among them.

The creative process, for me at least, is a great struggle. In my life I have been a writer, musician, and artist, though never of any note. Despite the alleged quality of the finished works, I found them wanting. Each brushstroke emerged only grudgingly. Notes screamed in my head, but refused to flow from my hands. Every word seemed a compromise. I often found myself staring at the infamous blank page, waiting for beads of blood form on my forehead, to no avail.

I salute those of you who have the strength to perservere and the talent to make it worthwhile. Thank you for sharing it with the rest of us, who seek refuge from being freakishly average.

- jb69

BTW, Eric, great use of my favorite plea:

Not Guilty: I didn't do it, judge. Honest, I didn't.

Guilty: Yeah, judge, I did it. But I feel real bad about it.

Nolo Contendere: I didn't do it, judge, and I'll never do it again.

Comment from: kirabug posted at August 12, 2005 5:38 PM

Feeling your pain, in more ways than one. Writer's block is (I'm finding) a lot like exercizer's block. If I work out every day, I'm fine. If I stop, even for a day, the excuses start...

So today, even though I'm exhausted, I exercised for 15 minutes before work. That way I'll still do it tomorrow. And tonight, I'll be working on the comic because I managed to post two very vanilla yesterday and I have my momentum, albeit temporarily.

Comment from: Cass posted at August 12, 2005 6:54 PM

Ah, the writer's block! Such a monster has been experienced by everyone who has ever set pen to paper, and almost exists on the level of 'diagnosis' to regular writers. If one were to have "momentum-in-a-can," however, I can only imagine that the works produced would not be written as well. After all, sometimes the best flows of water come from a bursting, recently-plugged dam. If that made sense. I like your description better.

You have my deepest, deepest empathy, and I wish you much momentum.

Comment from: Phil Kahn posted at August 12, 2005 6:59 PM

That's exactly how I feel.

Comment from: miyaa posted at August 12, 2005 7:23 PM

If only writer's block means you could only write for 1,000 words and then struggle.

If there is a comic that I wish someone would be writing about, it's a comic that takes place in a post-end of the world as we know it era where the only people left are indies and emos. Or some other interesting stereotypical group.

Comment from: bartles69 posted at August 12, 2005 7:27 PM

What can I say? I've had writer's block so big I could build furniture out of it.
(Sorry, couldn't help myself)

- jb69

Comment from: Chris Anthony posted at August 12, 2005 7:39 PM

If there is a comic that I wish someone would be writing about, it's a comic that takes place in a post-end of the world as we know it era where the only people left are indies and emos.

miyaa, I think that's Questionable Content.

Comment from: sqbr posted at August 12, 2005 8:49 PM

When I was a kid my Greatest Dream was to be a writer, but I eventually gave it up due to:

1)Writers block

2)Inability to redraft

3)Lack of basic talent

On the other hand, my mum was doing a certificate in fine art and so it was natural for me to practice sketching/shading etc. As a result I have produced a fair number of cartoons and a total of 1 story in the past 10 years.

Still being hampered by that pesky lack of talent, I went into what I AM good at, namely maths, and am currently finishing a Phd on algorithms. And lo and behold, 4 1/2 years of being FORCED to write and redraft, and redraft again has given me the skills to write and research a fairly long (given I've never done a long-form comic before) fantasy comic.

Of course I'm still lacking talent, so it's not very good. But thats ok with me :)

Not that I neccesarily recomend a maths Phd to all budding writers. Also I hope my carriage returns end up looking the way I think they will...

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at August 12, 2005 9:08 PM

It's the same way with art, believe me.

Except sometimes you come out the other side, and you can draw, man, you're doodling all damn day, and if you try and get any of those into something resembling a painting, you lose interest instantly. Doodles, sure, but something useful? The page laughs at you.

Comment from: Kate Sith posted at August 12, 2005 9:30 PM

...and you can draw, man, you're doodling all damn day, and if you try and get any of those into something resembling a painting, you lose interest instantly. Doodles, sure, but something useful? The page laughs at you.

Oh, gawd, yes. This is why all my stuff is in the sketchy style. I can rarely, rarely produce any quality stuff when the comic-mood strikes. Lacking any specific direction? Gorgeous, amazing stuff. Trying to actually design a character or draw a scene? Crap, crap, crap.

*Then* we get into the fact that I can't be in "writing mode" and "drawing mode" at the same time, which is part of the reason why Touch of Madness has been 'in progress' for a good year or so now. Hell, I have a whole other series scripted out to completion, but can I get myself to draw it? Nope.

Here's hoping you're back in the swing of things soon.

Comment from: larksilver posted at August 12, 2005 11:36 PM

It's that way with music, art, and writing for me.

Oh.. and does anybody else get the little voice in their head that sneaks up and whispers irritating but devastatingly effective crap like "you don't really know what you're doing. Give it up before you do make something really ugly (or crappy or stupid or whatever)"?

Sitting and doodling? The voice never has a chance. But when I decide to Make Some Art, by golly.. some days, it just squashes me FLAT. Talk about being difficult to build momentum back after you've psyched your own self out of work. sheesh.

Comment from: sqbr posted at August 13, 2005 12:20 AM

The way I dealt with that little voice was to come to terms with the fact that everything I make has a crappy, amateurish quality to it, and to not care too much if people think I suck. I know I don't suck, at least not all the time. Thus even large, important stuff like a paid speech or, say, my Phd I view as at least 50% learning experience, and as long as it reaches a certain level of crap-but-still-valid-ness I'm happy.

Of course if you do care if people think you suck, and are capable of proffesional, polished, perfect work then this is not necessarily the philosophy for you :)

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at August 13, 2005 12:25 AM

The history of my daily cartoons previous to Arthur, King of Time and Space suggests that there will be periods of multiple months' duration during the projected twenty-five year history of Arthur, King of Time and Space when I'll be too burned out on writing daily cartoons to do it. So far the evil days come not but, hell, we're only a year and a quarter in.

Comment from: miyaa posted at August 13, 2005 1:46 AM

Well, I don't mean Questionable Content exactly. I mean more like Questionable Content takes place in the setting of "Escape from LA." And after Kurt Russell blows up all of the satellites. Or like from Mad Max beyond Thunderdome, except Tina Turner's character is a baristia. I mean we're talking Apocalypse Emo.

Comment from: Ardellis posted at August 13, 2005 9:10 AM

Writer's block is like that for me, too. I can churn out words no problem once I get the momentum up (I've done NaNoWriMo twice now) but if I let the rest of my life or other creative interests get between me and that daily routine... BAM. Dead in the water.

Comment from: gwalla posted at August 14, 2005 1:40 AM

I've never been able to build up momentum. :(

In fact, most of the time, I can't really get going on a piece of writing until after 2 in the morning, when my internal censor has already passed out. But then I end up with embarassments like Gooberman (a mutant peanut butter sandwich) and a scene my high school friends liked to call "crotch tennis" (a failed attempt at a Rumiko Takahashi-esque moment).

Comment from: Wednesday posted at August 14, 2005 9:11 AM

The way I dealt with that little voice was to come to terms with the fact that everything I make has a crappy, amateurish quality to it, and to not care too much if people think I suck.

See, I don't understand this at all. People have often told me to stop caring what other people think. They have also told me, during bouts of severe clinical depression, to cheer up and snap out of it. Neither can be accomplished by lack of will, and forcing the states has generally met with toxic internal backlash. It strikes me as more useful to figure out how to work with the input; occasionally, this will mean killing projects because they were bad ideas.

Comment from: sqbr posted at August 14, 2005 9:22 PM

I did say it wasn't for everyone :)

Sorry if I came accross as smug, I've just being spending a lot of time around angsty teenagers recently which has made me try to work out how I went from a miserably shy teenager to a fairly self-confident adult. Obviously you can't ignore what people think of you(*), but I really have found my self-confidence increased once I came to terms with people thinking I'm an idiot half the time, as long as I prove I'm not an idiot the other half of the time.

Thus since I have a reasonable backlog of non-crapness, if the little voice says "What if its crap? What if people think you're an idiot??" I can go "Well, maybe this once but it doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things"

The downside is that some people only see the crap stuff and really do think I'm an idiot. All in all, not a cureall just my personal approach for dealing with my particular neuroses.

(*)And I also find it annoying when people say you can. Like the "Just be yourself" approach to shyness. What if "yourself" is really annoying?

Comment from: larksilver posted at August 14, 2005 10:42 PM

Heck. I'm just happy that other creative people who actually manage to turn out stuff I'm impressed by have the same doubts, and sometimes, the doubts WIN.

It's a vicious cycle... I let the doubts win, even once, and they're top dog for a while, until I find myself doodling somewhere, totally unconsciously, and suddenly I think "hey! That's pretty good."... and I win for a bit. Will I ever be a superlative artist? A fantastic writer with a following of thousands? Will I ever be discussed over book clubs or will millions of people ever hear the music that floods me when I'm not in my own way?

I doubt it. But, y'see... that's okay. I am the most likely person in my own personal world to look at something I did and say "that .. is really stupid." So.. if I still like it tomorrow, or the next day, or (wonder of wonders) next week? I win. And all is well.

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?