Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Finishing and Starting

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 25, 2009

There’s a story in The War of Art about the afternoon when I finally, finally finished my first novel manuscript–after failing ignominiously in numerous attempts over the previous ten years. I was living in a little town in Northern California then; I trotted down the street to my friend and mentor Paul Rink and told him the triumphant news. “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one tomorrow.”

There’s big-time wisdom in what Paul said and here’s why:

Keeping up the mo

Paul was talking about momentum. Second only to habit, momentum is a writer’s (or artist’s or entrepreneur’s) mightiest ally in the struggle against Resistance.

What is momentum? Momentum is forward motion. It’s the groove you get into when you work every day. Momentum is cumulative. It builds and increases. I was watching Dancing With the Stars last night. (Yes, I admit it.) The contestants have been rehearsing and competing now for nine weeks. That’s serious mo. Imagine how much tougher, mentally and physically, the finalists are now than they were when they started.

That’s the kind of momentum we want. Deeply-founded, hard-won, hard-core velocity. That’s power. That’s strength.

The most daunting, Resistance-evoking project gets easy once we’ve developed momentum. In those peril-fraught moments just before we plunge in each day, the insidious siren song of Resistance doesn’t have time to grab us. We’re moving too fast. Our acceleration, our forward thrust outstrips it.

Momentum equals power

Momentum produces another critical payoff. As we work day after day with focus and intensity, energy starts to concentrate around us. That energy acts like a powerful electromagnetic field, drawing to us all kinds of providential aid and assistance. Ideas come. Insights accumulate. We even get help from outside sources–friends with money, colleagues with contacts. Serendipitous meetings produce happy outcomes, seemingly random occurrences bring unexpected allies and lucky connections.

When Paul said, “Start the next one tomorrow,” what he meant was, “Don’t mess with your momentum.”

Paul knew that the interval between the completion of Project L and the commencement of Project M is a power moment for Resistance. Resistance loves that moment because it can jump all over us with its arsenal of procrastination, self-doubt, indecisiveness and self-befuddlement. It can paralyze us.

The time to decide on Project M is while we’re in the middle of Project L. We should know what we’re going to do next. Otherwise we’re sitting ducks for Resistance.

Give us a break, Sarge!

How about a break, you say. A little vacation! Pressfield, won’t you even cut us the slack to kick back for a couple of days and savor our moment of success?

No, I won’t. But here’s a trick that works for me:

When I finish one project, I immediately start the next. The same day if I finish early. I work full-tilt until I know I’ve secured a solid beachhead on the new work, till I know that Resistance cannot push my troops back into the sea no matter how violently it counterattacks. Then I catch that 767 to Maui.

In other words I bank enough momentum on the new project that I know I can coast for a while and still have a reserve of good mojo when I come back to it.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

7 Responses to “Finishing and Starting”

  1. J. Scott Shipman
    November 25, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Great post and great site. Found you through Zen/Mark and ordered your War of Art today. Hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving and I’ll be back!

  2. November 25, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    I spent four and a half years working for a medium sized lawfirm at the city of in Madrid (Spain). It was an extremely tough time for me, in terms of the required personal life sacrifice, but it was a extremely nurturing time in terms of achieving very solid skills as a lawyer. However, one of the most important things I learned from the man in charge of the whole business was this:

    “Right now” is not only the best moment to do something that should be done: it is the only moment to do that. The rest is procrastination.

    Thanks to this man (Eduardo Albors) for his advice to a young lawyer and thanks to you, Mr. Pressfield for yours.The best and personal sacrifice

  3. November 25, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    All I can say to this post is: So true! Whenever I miss a day of writing, that first day back is SO much harder.

  4. November 26, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    Thank you for this reminder, Steven. My Resistance often manifests itself by convincing me to “reward” myself for finishing a project or writing-related task with mindless entertainment or a day off. Thank you for revealing it for what it is.

  5. Ulla Lauridsen
    November 28, 2009 at 5:20 am

    Wonderful advice. Should have known, but still.

  6. November 29, 2009 at 7:27 am

    Dear Mr Pressfield, In the War of Art you write somewhere that had Hitler been a better painter WW2 could have been avoided. Have you seen his paintings? I believe they are quite good. Had he been accepted at the Academy, WW2 might have been avoided. Yours, Istvan

  7. December 14, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Bank the Mo.

    I like it. I can write about it.

    Operating on momentum is when I am most productive. Until I get derailed by the mundane, what Gary Halbert called Lesser Mortal Sh!t.

    What I find is the loathing that builds as I finish one project spills over into creative energy starting the next project, which has been pestering me while wrapping up the first. I usually lose interest in a project before I finish anyway. But I finish anyway. If it’s worth finishing.

    My personal philosophy is that “balance” is highly overrated.

    Then again, I’m about to be derailed by a head cold…