Turning Your Rut into a Groove
Most writers I know share a common struggle when it comes to finishing a book: at some point in the process they get stuck, and what was once a fluid, productive groove becomes a rut that feels nearly impossible to get out of.
There are a lot of reasons we stall out at the beginning or even middle of a project. The most obvious is that it’s just plain hard to keep doing the work. But more deep-seated issues like fear and resistance also hinder our progress. Our critical self-talk reaches a deafening crescendo the closer we get to the finish line. What if no one likes it? Or no one cares? What if all the expectations I have for it won’t be realized? Those questions can paralyze us, and keep us stuck in place.
Like a stiff muscle from not enough use, our creativity also suffers badly from inertia. Newton’s First Law of Motion confirms that the tendency of a body in motion is to keep moving; the tendency of a body at rest is to sit still. It’s a lot less work to keep moving once you have some momentum than it is to start moving from a dead stop. When facing what feels like an insurmountable creative project, start with the easiest step you can imagine.
When you’re stuck in a rut, any movement is good movement at first.
I heard a fascinating interview about a brilliant pianist and conductor whose memory was erased almost entirely after a severe and rare brain infection. His short-term memory lasted just a few seconds and he couldn’t form any long-term memories. But when he was playing music or conducting a choir, he could access the skills and expertise needed to perform even the most difficult pieces he’d played before his brain injury. When he played piano or conducted, he had no actual memory of his musical background or education. It’s just that his fingers and his mind, once in motion, knew what to do. The momentum of the music carried him from note to note, bar to bar.
The story illustrates in an extreme context how the power of momentum—starting with even a small, easy step when we’re stuck—moves us forward.
When we focus on just the task right in front of us, without pausing at every distraction, from wondering what’s in the refrigerator to other people’s criticism of our work, it’s much easier to stay in motion.
Discouragement and our own inner critic can especially slow us down. Doubting our ability to succeed, questioning our motives, pointing out the unlikelihood of ever finishing the project—there are a million different ways we sabotage our own momentum. But like the musician with his fingers on the piano keys, it’s crucial to our “creativity muscles” that we keep moving, taking the next small step in the process without continually trying to envision the whole.
Obsessing about the big picture is counter-productive and doesn’t help one bit. We end up staring at our lofty goals while firmly entrenched in a rut. Deciding to lose 30 pounds is a lot more daunting than deciding to go for a walk. It’s the same with a creative project. Even a small bit of motion creates momentum. If we can break down the End Result into action steps that can be taken daily, or even weekly, we find a rhythm that gets us up and out of our rut and into a groove.
Once we’re back in a groove, it’s hard to stop. We’re fluid, warmed up, using the muscles of our creativity and seeing results.