Observations about momentum

Last night I crossed a finish line. Not THE Finish Line ... it's only one for the tournament, and I have to complete all the events if I want a medal.

Last night, at 9:30, I finished the draft of that paper. It wan't due until midnight, but even I have learned that it isn't creative procrastination to push any writing into the late night. I'm too freaking old for that. Might as well try to write with a broken finger - and a really bad head cold - in the rain - without an umbrella. I've tried it lately so I know.

But I did it. I got that draft written, and I'm glad I had all 13 of those books here during the process because then I could pick the most useful half a dozen. Now "Jane Austen's Miniatures" has been duly dropped into the course "drop box" and sent on time for full points for the rough draft - all 3400 words of it. (And I don't think it's all that rough even if it is just a smidge too long.)

Left in this quarter: final draft of this Lit essay, first draft and then final draft with documentation of the third and final PLA essay for the quarter, and a smidge more online course work, and then I'm done.

So now I'm thinking about it. Glad I had too many books for research. Not all that glad that I waited so long to get busy. Glad about the quality of work I was doing yesterday, though. So ... were did that quality come from?

The week showed me:

--it's not about the course work for me. The course work is rich fodder, and satisfying bonus, and intrinsic reward, but really, it's about the writing.

--it is insanely hard to write when I have no forward momentum and it is very hard to build this momentum (hence the advice of See, Mosley, Herring, and every other successful writer or writing teacher: WRITE EVERY DAY.)

--once built, the momentum is energizing in every way. During a momentum phase (like yesterday's 12-hour shift made necessary by some truly stellar procrastination), it is not hard to take short burst activity breaks and recover the flow upon returning to the work. It was also oddly possible to be creative in the kitchen at dinner last night. (Broiled fresh tuna and fresh blanched asparagus with Dijon/Herbs de Provence/lemon butter, fresh sliced tomatoes, and sourdough toasted with that same butter.) And I didn't even want to over eat.

Now, I do know that being an enthusiast is not very workable in the long run. It is too feast-or-famine. We cannot rely on moody enthusiasm if we really want to get somewhere over time. I do know that.

But momentum is necessary to the process. No use trying to work without it - that's the part I hadn't realized until I found this kind of energy yesterday. I now see that I was assuming that I should get along without this sense of empowering outer force - like walking in the same direction as the wind. I thought that to get it, I had to start in the emotional jumping-off place where things are too unreliable for real life. I didn't know I could get momentum by sheer effort of forward movement. Yesterday felt like making a stiff wind and then walking with it rather than against it.

On Wednesday of this week, while still in the throes of frustration and pressure, I flounced into the library to pick up a book from the holds shelf. While I was there, I took the chance to moan to the ever-encouraging Mario. "I can't make it work. I have no idea what's wrong with me." He did what he always does when I talk about writing with him. He said exactly the right thing. "That's when you get to the good stuff," he said - looking knowingly certain of himself. He only looks like that when he's right. I swear, the man's a veritable momentum magneto. Mario the Momentum Magneto.

I was being pushed through the bottleneck, from inertia into momentum by deadlines. The pressure built and built because my PLA writing was getting very unwieldy and dull. I could not make myself move. It was wretched. And then one small pin prick from behind and I was through.

I asked my instructor online, "Will the sky fall in if we're late?" There was something very bracing in his English Teacher reply. (Shades of Mrs. Finster! Leave a comment if you knew her.) He said ... and I quote ... "The sky will not fall, but I subtract points for late work. For the draft, for each day late, I'll subtract 1 point, up to 3 points total. For the final essay, for each day late I'll subtract 3 points, up to a total of 9 points."

All at once, I knew I could do it. I woke up yesterday writing the crazy thing in my head, I started at about 9 in the morning, I took frequent enough breaks, I did my in town errands in the middle of the day, I cooked a rather creative and very yummy dinner, and I finished that draft at 9:30 last night.

Today I think I'll clean my office and get all the laundry caught up -- and then I might just set up all the formatting and necessary paperwork for my last PLA essay. Marvelous stuff, momentum.

(Footnote: The Great Husband has now read my draft and says it only needs a little polishing here and there. Now I know it's good!)

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