Do you feel like you have endless ideas for things to write about but can’t seem to finish the project once you start it? Do you have folders and folders of old, unfinished writing?
We’ve all been there: thinking of a great, original idea for an article or blog post, getting it halfway finished, and then, just sort of … running out of steam.
What’s missing is writing momentum, that wonderful force that makes you excited to sit down at your desk every day because you know what you want to say and you feel like you’re all too ready to put it into words. Momentum makes you feel like you’re in charge of your writing and gives you the boost you need to get projects done.
But even the greats struggle with maintaining momentum. Luckily, they’ve come up with all sorts of ways to keep it, and we can follow their examples. This is what I’ve learned from other writers about keeping momentum in my own writing.
You can lose momentum when you have something to write about but run out of ideas before the project is finished.
Hemingway avoided this problem by quitting while his creative juices were still flowing: He always stopped writing when he knew what was going to happen next so he could carry the momentum from his previous writing session through to the following day.
In a 1935 article he wrote, “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.”
If you plan to write an article in two days but exhaust all the ideas you have in a single day, you’ll have to start the next day with a blank mind and a half-finished article.
Hemingway even went so far as to stop for the day in the middle of the sentence so he could pick right up the next day in the same place. That way, he knew that he would have something to start with, and he could continue from there.
It’s the first thing you’ll find when looking for advice on how to get writing done: Find the discipline to stick to a routine.
If you’re picturing yourself sitting at your desk for the same few hours every day with nothing to write about, banish the thought! It may take a little trial and error, but I am convinced that each writer can find a routine to help get—and keep—the creative juices flowing.
One of my favorite writers with a routine is Maya Angelou, who rented a hotel room to go to every day to write. She asked the staff to remove any distracting decorations and occupied herself with crossword puzzles and playing cards while she brainstormed.
What Angelou and other writers know is that a routine helps you to get into “the zone,” where words and ideas come quickly to you and your work feels easy. While the zone can feel elusive, you can create a routine that maximizes the chances of getting there.
Find what works for you. Perhaps you’re used to writing at home, but going to a coffee shop for a couple of hours each morning would be more conducive to idea generation. Maybe you need to go for a run before you write or have a tall glass of ice water within reach.
It’s possible that like Friedrich Schiller, you need a particular smell around to induce creativity (his was rotten apples), or maybe you need a particular position, like Mark Twain and George Orwell (to name just two), who preferred to write lying down.
Nothing is too crazy if it works for you, but it’s also OK if your writing routine is only as weird as starting at 9 a.m. every day. Crafting your perfect writing routine is completely individual, but you might find that taking inspiration from one of the greats is a good place to start.
According to Hemingway, once you find a writing routine that works for you, it’s important that you keep your writing and your thoughts about your writing within the time that you have set aside for your work. This allows your subconscious to work on it, and you’ll avoid exhausting your mind on the topic, meaning you’ll be fresh and possibly even have new ideas the next time you sit down to work.
When it’s time to write, write. Immerse yourself as fully as you can in your work, and when you’re done for the day, leave it at your desk. Sit down to work again the next day with a fresh mind, not one tired from having worked in its offtime.
If you’re stuck, write down all the ideas that you can think of. Even if you don’t think they are all that great, this can provide seeds of ideas or rough ideas that can be refined gradually. You also may discover that a mediocre idea turns out to be something stellar once you revisit it.
Vladimir Nabokov, best known for Lolita, wrote everything on index cards and kept blank ones under his pillow so he could write down ideas when they occurred to him during the night. No ideas ever escaped the index cards.
Nabokov’s technique may work wonders for those who are struggling with finding ways to move forward on a writing project. That way, you won’t miss anything that could help you continue your writing.
While you shouldn’t be obsessing about your writing all day (and night), if an idea does happen to strike, be prepared to write it down. Making a record of your idea also allows you to forget about it for now and revisit it at your next writing session.
These ideas will help you keep the well of your imagination and creativity full so you can draw from it and keep momentum going.
Momentum can be hard to get hold of—that’s why writers have had to come up with ways that work for them to keep it. But once you’ve got it, that’s when writing is a true joy.
Sitting down to write and knowing exactly what you want to say and how to say it is the writer’s dream, and by following the example of the greats, you may find yourself in that writing sweet spot more often.
As someone whose childhood was spent having books pried away from her at the dinner table, a future working with words was almost inevitable. Giselle has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Calgary, and has worked as a writer/copyeditor for a newspaper, freelance proofreader/editor/writer, and piano teacher. She splits her time between Mexico City and Calgary, Alberta and always has her eye out for adventure, whether that be backpacking in the Rocky Mountains or picking up a new instrument. Giselle is a content editor for Craft Your Content.