Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. – Henry V III, i, 1
In his thrilling speech to his troops (see excerpt below), who stood exhausted before the walls of Harfleur, Henry V challenges them to try yet again to take the city, that now is not the time to back off. Keep moving forward.
As it was expressed dramatically about war, so it is with Art and with life itself. It is vital that once you gain some momentum, you should do everything in your power to maintain that momentum.
Several years ago, I took up running. I hated it. I hated every living moment of it. But I was trying to improve my health and I knew that it was important. And so every couple days, when I would head out for my run, I had but one thought in my mind: keep moving forward. I knew that if I stopped, I might never run again.
As it was with running, so it is with writing. I write because I desire to, but also because I fear that if I stop, there is every chance that other aspects of life will creep in and keep me from it. My fear of losing writing is bigger than my fear of writing crap.
If I’m working on a screenplay and hit a creative sticking point, I try to move around it rather than dwell on it and lose the forward momentum. Sometimes, moving around it means writing another scene elsewhere in the same screenplay, but more often, it means jumping to another screenwriting project, developing another blog post or riffing wildly on Twitter or Facebook. My poor keyboard owes me nothing.
Even when I am simply writing some notes for a scene yet to be written, I do not allow the “correct” word choice to block me from writing…I simply add a placeholder where the right word should be and keep the thoughts flowing onto the page. The placeholder can be a blank underline (fill it in later) or a close enough word so I will know what I meant later, or it can be the word “shit”. It doesn’t matter.
It’s the artistic version of Newton’s First Law of Motion: An object at rest remains at rest unless acted upon by a force. An object in motion remains in motion, and at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force.
In this case, the object in question is me and/or my creative spirit.
In fact, forward movement doesn’t even have to be the same art form. I often use photography to keep me going. But you can also read a book, see a movie, sit in a park. Do whatever it takes to keep the creative parts of your brain and soul moving forward.
But how will I ever get anything done if I keep flitting back and forth from distraction to distraction?
Unless you’re specifically working to a deadline for your creative project—and there will be times when this is true—creativity is about the process, not the product.
Most artists (and we are all artists) live and act to create, not to have created.
And even if you are working to deadline, forcing your way through a challenge will likely result in a work that requires significantly more reworking than if you had simply let the creative spirit take you where it would. Thus, I don’t know that you’ve really gained much by pushing on something that isn’t coming naturally.
The natural direction of the universe is forward. You have it in you to continually move forward. Why would you give that up?
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. – Henry V III, i, 3-17
(Image used without permission.)