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Newton’s Laws & Writing

A current TV commercial claims, “A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.”

It conveys the need for an external force to get a body moving and overcome its inertia, a tongue-in-cheek description of one of Newton’s laws of physics. The commercial makes the point that people, as they age, do not exercise enough, which creates even less willingness to exercise. But if they do or take whatever was advertised (and for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was), they will be more agile and healthy.

With this germ of an idea, I wondered whether all three of Newton’s laws of motion might apply to the writing process. As described in the commercial, Newton’s first law says that a force is needed to overcome some initial inertia to get things moving. In more common language this means, Get off your butt and do something!

I can’t think of a better way to describe the writing process. If you don’t overcome your inertia and put something, anything, down on paper you’ll likely remain stuck there.

You need to follow the axiom that Writers write. And overcome the inertia by writing that first draft, accepting the fact that it may not be perfect but is something to build on, good enough to create something better.

Newton’s second law says that if force is applied to something, acceleration results. Think of a not-so-great first draft getting better by editing and rewriting, cutting out what is not needed and adding things here and there, and then rearranging what you now have. You are accelerating your work by applying the forces of editing and rewriting.

Newton’s third law says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The action of your pen to paper—or your fingers to a keyboard— creates the reaction of words and sentences to appear on the paper or screen. The action of combining those words and sentences causes the reaction of creating paragraphs that make a story.

So, when you think you can’t think of anything to write, remember Newton’s laws:

1. Write something to overcome the initial inertia.

2. Apply the force of editing and rewriting to accelerate what you’ve written.

3. Create the reaction of a finished story by continuing the action of writing.