Today, I want to talk to you about the stop-and-start problem.
What’s the stop-and-start problem? That’s when you dive into your big writing project once or twice a year and start to make some significant progress, but then one or more of these things happens:
- Your inspiration fades or gets zapped by your inner critic.
- The class you took that so motivated your productivity comes to an end.
- You get overwhelmed by life’s commitments and your writing takes the back seat for weeks or months.
The stop-and-start cycle keeps you stuck—not in exactly the same place you started in—but in a loop that keeps your writing dreams feeling out of reach.
As a former sufferer of the stop-and-start problem, I can tell you that it’s a frustrating – and sometime depressing – cycle.
But after many years wrangling with this problem, I finally discovered the magic ingredient for overcoming it.
There are five key components to momentum.
- Moral support
- Emotional connection to your project
In my six-month coaching program, The Writer’s Transformation Project, I focus on each of these areas to ensure my clients feel that exhilarating sense of momentum that keeps them rolling toward their writing goals.
STRUCTURE + MORAL SUPPORT
Most writers can keep up a regular writing routine for a certain stretch of time, but I’ve noticed that, after a while, their routine tends to falter.
That’s because writing involves a lot more than just getting words on the page.
At least 50 percent of a writer’s work involves dealing with the emotional baggage that comes along with writing.
You know what I’m talking about: perfectionism, imposter syndrome, fear of exposure … the list goes on.
So any sustainable writing routine needs to involve not just getting words on the page, but getting support around the emotional storms that crop up whenever we do.
In between producing pages, writers need moral support so they can go back to writing with renewed confidence, inspiration, and insight.
So if you’re wanting to gain more momentum in your writing routine:
- Make sure you aren’t just focused on word-count goals in your writing practice.
- Connect regularly with a writing buddy, mentor, or teacher who you can talk to about the psychological challenges of writing.
When you can share anxieties, trade war stories, and exchange insight and encouragement with another writer, you get a huge boost of energy that keeps you moving toward your writing goals.
DEADLINES + FEEDBACK
Writers are master procrastinators—if you need proof, just log on to social media, where writer procrastination memes are almost as common as cute cat photos.
That’s why it’s important for writers to have deadlines: regular times when they know they’ll have to send their work to another person.
But deadlines can be intimidating—so intimidating that they sometimes freeze writers up.
The key to overcoming this fear is making sure that writing deadlines are connected to supportive feedback, not confidence-killing critique.
In early drafts, writers don’t need copious critical notes on their piece. In fact, that kind of feedback can be detrimental to them discovering their true voice and purpose in a story.
Instead, writers need a supportive dialogue in which they can ask questions, receive thoughtful answers, and talk through possible pathways for moving forward.
When writers can discuss their work in this way, they don’t become overwhelmed or discouraged by deadlines. In fact, they begin to look forward to them, because the deadlines mark times when they can share with another writer, generate new ideas, fuel inspiration, and navigate tricky decisions.
Looking for examples of what these supportive conversations look like? Check out Matthew Salesses’ amazing book Craft in the Real World, which provides a host of thoughtful and inspiring discussion models for writers.
EMOTIONAL CONNECTION TO YOUR PROJECT
One of the biggest ways we lose momentum is by losing touch with why we started writing in the first place.
So often, writers get jammed up when they start thinking about externals, such as: Who will want to read this anyway? What if it never sells?
When we become focused on the externals, we lose our center. And we forget the real, intrinsic reasons why we want to write.
We write because we love to write, because we find value in the process, and because it creates connections—to ourselves and to other people.
When I want to remind myself why writing is important to me, I return to author Brenda Ueland’s response to that same question:
“Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold, and compassionate. Because the best way to know Truth or Beauty is to try to express it. And what is the purpose of existence, Here or Yonder, but to discover truth and beauty and express it—i.e., share it with others?”
When you re-orient to your intrinsic motivation for writing, you’ll feel the power of your momentum return.
– Jaime deBlanc-Knowles, writing coach