Are you leaking momentum?
If you’re starting to write a lot or thinking about it, chances are lots of new ideas for new writing directions are running through your mind each and every day.
Some of them stick, and we can’t stop thinking about them, even when we “should” be working on something else.
Most of them are probably very good ideas!
I think you know what I mean.
And then we might start brainstorming, rapid note taking, drawing figures and diagrams, or even writing drafts.
If you’re anything like me, many times it plays out that after a few days or even a few weeks, the motivation behind these great new ideas just seems to poop out and never progresses to the next step.
They go to the graveyard hard-drive of good intentions and become ghosts of whispery inspiration, haunting on the borders of our awareness.
It’s sad! Because they were good ideas!
I think if we can understand why this happens, then we can stop the momentum from pooping out and things can evolve to the next step.
These are the 4 main reasons why ideas in our head fizzle out:
Cause #1: We are not accustomed to the long, intimate attention of follow through.
I wonder if this is even worse these days when we have instant access to all kinds of reading and viewing materials. Our speed of consumption and the rapid replacement of one object of attention by another sets up an expectation in our mind that things happen fast. There is also a mistaken belief out there in many genres that we must be conversant with 20-30 bibliographic items simultaneously, so we are also rapidly switching between objects there too.
Get in the habit of choosing one long form reading object and stick with it, while excluding others. It takes a long time to read a whole book. Read whole books! Even if we are writing an article, the therapeutic value of whole books compensates and is healthy.
One of the most important things that almost every single writer faces is the fact that we can’t write at the speed of inspiration. Ideas take time to materialize into writing. Quitting is the certain death of the idea, and by contrast to write really means to follow through.
Because this is perhaps the most crucial thing about what it means to be a writer, it is really helpful to include this fact into the equation right from the moment of exploring our new idea.
So, one trick that works great here is to not only brainstorm your idea, but to chart out the path or roadmap that will lead to the final result. Write out the steps it will take for this idea to become a finished material written object. This will give you a boost, and it is extremely helpful to have walked the path in your imagination first—it will feel welcoming and familiar when you walk it physically.
Cause #2: You Don’t Care Anymore
You’re working away at it, and all the attention goes into all the tasks at hand, to the point where you hardly remember why you are working so hard.
The trick here is to remember. Go back to the moment when the idea arose or started to get stuck in the mind. Why was it so interesting at the time? Write it out. We writers are lucky that we can reflect on our art in the same medium as our art! So write down your reasons, and even write down your vision for what your text will be like and what your life will be like if you finish it.
Solution # 2:
Find an inspiring quote and place it prominently in view somewhere.
Mine may not seem so inspiring but it’s precisely because it’s not flashy but humble and minimal, it reminds me that just the minimum is enough if we just keep on going:
“When I can’t create, I can work.” Henry Miller.
I’m sure you can find something much more uplifting! But for me it reminds me that I can just do a little bit of something that helps, every day, even when “I’m not feeling it.”
And remember that it is often difficult to maintain motivation in isolation. The stale air of isolation is the breeding ground of perfectionism, where the imagination dreams up all kinds of standards and possible critiques that suck all the rest of the oxygen out of the enclosed space.
Get in contact with other writers! Discuss your idea with others so that you can reconnect with its life pulse. Don’t let it starve in isolation.
Talk it out. Low energy can turn on a dime sometimes—as with diets and gym memberships so also with writing: it’s a lot easier with company. Motivation can return and thrive in the fresh air.
Cause # 3. Our idea doesn’t seem so great anymore.
Having second-thoughts about your thoughts? Maybe it’s not as great as it seemed at the time. This little guest that pops into the mind is a frequent visitor to the academic writer. But there’s something you can do.
Don’t think about what your idea seems like at the moment, but about what it might become– something which we do not and cannot know yet. You are not going to have any success as a writer unless you complete the experiment. You have to give the idea a fair shot. We are in no position to be able to judge the result before there is a result. This is the killer species of visitor thought—judging results before there are results.
Recognize this thought when it appears, and switch over to an attitude of discovery: give your ideas a shot, and then see.
Cause #4: Someone else had a similar idea, and they did it better.
We’re not writing in isolation, even if it feels like it sometimes. So, okay, someone is really great and jumped on the idea sooner. But it doesn’t matter and this is why:
Already Solved #1
That fact that someone else is thinks this is a great idea is a sign that your thoughts are sound and interesting! Now it’s proven, and there is a community of people out there who are into it. Now you know that there are people already primed up and ready for more.
You do know that human animal is voracious, and never satisfied, right?
So all the work is done, and all you have to do now is make yours different and better in some way. Now that may seem to steer us right back into the mind-trap, but once we shift into a mindset of the more the merrier, our reactive negative mind quiets down and it’s not too hard to see one way we can be different and one way we can be better. Not all ways. We only need one.
Just come up with one way yours is different. And one way (or reason) it is better. This gives us focus and direction and we know what to do next. It tells us what is the strength to play. Play to your strengths! Focus on that and your idea will thrive and become a material object in the world.