Tips for Maintaining Momentum on Creative Projects
“For long-haul creativity, nothing is more important than momentum.”
– Steven Kotler, “The Art of Impossible”
For pretty much anything worth achieving, nothing is more important than momentum.
Question is…How do we gain momentum and how do we sustain it? Click To Tweet
Regardless of the type of project we may be working on, or the goal we are working towards, momentum is imperative, if we want to get to where we’re going. And if where we want to go seems (at the moment) rather impossible to get to, the key is to just keep going. Momentum.
“The best way out is always through.”
– Robert Frost
However, as perhaps you’ve noticed, this is easier said than done – if the basics have not (yet) been established.
“Every morning the writer faces a blank page, the painter an empty canvas, the innovator a dozen directions to go at once,” writes author Steven Kotler, in his brilliant book, “The Art of Impossible; A Peak Performance Primer.”
“The advice that helped me solve this slog,” Kotler continues, “came from Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez. In an interview he gave years ago in Playboy (of all places), Márquez said that the key to sustaining momentum was to quit working at the point you’re most excited.”
Yes, you read correctly: stop working when your creativity is snap, crackle, and popping.
“This seems counterintuitive,” writes Kotler. “Quitting when most excited – when ideas are really emerging – seems like the exact opposite of what you should do. Yet Marquez has it exactly right.”
“By quitting when you’re excited,” Kotler continues, “you’re carrying momentum into the next day’s work session. Momentum is the real key.”
Why is this?
“When you realize that you left off someplace both exciting and familiar – someplace where you know the idea that comes next – you dive right back in,” the author explains, “no time wasted, no time to let fear creep back into the equation, and far less time to get up speed.”
In other words, by stopping when you are on a roll, you are saving time the next day. And in the long run, you will get to where you are going faster.
“And it’s not just Márquez who feels this way,” says Kotler. “Ernest Hemmingway advocated for the exact same idea. Hemmingway, in fact, would take it to an even greater extreme, often finishing the day’s writing session midsentence, leaving a string of words just dangling off the…”
Not me (although I am reading a book about Hemmingway at the moment!). When I finish a writing session (53 minutes is the optimal amount of time for me to work on a writing project, as the ideas are still popping and I am not yet tired or losing focus), I always leave a short list of the next few ideas I need to convey/points I need to make.
Then I type the words, “Start here reading” a little higher up in the screenplay or playscript or manuscript or blog or whatever document it is I am working in. This way, I know exactly where to start reading the next day…just so I can get back into the flow of that particular project.
Then I type the words, “Start here working,” right above my short list of ideas that need to be tackled next. So then, when I show up at my laptop the next morning, I know exactly what I need to do. Then I do it…day after day, one 53-minute writing session at a time. No precious time wasted trying to figure out where I’ve been and where I need to go next.
Due to the nature of my style of working, I often have multiple large writing projects on the go at any given time. I obviously can’t work on them AT the same time. But whatever project I am working on, if I have to put it on the back burner for a few weeks, months or years – because I have to focus on another project/s for awhile – then I always try and leave clear notes to myself as to what needs to be done next. Then when I am able to resume working on that project, I can get the creative momentum going again fairly quickly.
The trick, of course, is to figure out what system works for you – then make it a habit. That’s where the momentum comes from.
In his outstanding book, “Atomic Habits; An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones,” author James Clear explains that “habits are automatic choices that influence the conscious decisions that follow.”
“Habits are like the entrance ramp to a highway,” Clear writes. “They lead you down a path, and before you know it, you’re speeding toward the next behaviour.”
Speeding towards the right next behaviour is the kind of momentum you are after.
“Every day, there are a handful of moments that deliver an outsized impact,” explains Clear. He refers to these little choices as “decisive moments.”
I wrote about decisive moments in an earlier blog – but they are very linked to maintaining momentum, so I am mentioning them again here 🙂
What are “decisive moments?”
“The moment you decide between ordering takeout or cooking dinner. The moment you choose between driving your car or riding your bike. The moment you decide between starting your homework or grabbing the video game controller. These choices are a fork in the road.”
So if you have made one of those choices (say, to sit at your laptop and work on a creative project for an hour) more enticing because you are excited to pick up where you left off, then chances are that is the choice you are going to make.Choose wisely, moment after moment, day after day, and you WILL reach your destination…impossible as it may seem at this moment. Click To Tweet
“Consistency is the key to achieving and maintaining momentum.”
– Darren Hardy
Momentum, of course, isn’t just important for writers, creative types, and innovators.
Momentum is important for anyone working on any sort of project. Because without momentum, goals don’t get reached, projects don’t get finished, and the world misses out on valuable new contributions…all because the basics weren’t in place.
What about you?Is there a project you have lost momentum on? Click To Tweet
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Maryanne Pope is the author of “A Widow’s Awakening.” She also writes screenplays, playscripts and blogs. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and a co-founder of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive Maryanne’s blog, “Weekly Words of Wisdom,” please subscribe here.