I have a hard time starting work. This doesn’t mean getting up in the morning and going to a job. Hah, I don’t have one! Be jealous of my lack of sustaining income ye wage slaves! (what I wouldn’t give to have a steady occupation). What I mean is I’ll have a daily goal set for myself, let’s say writing so many words. I know I can do it. I’ve proven that I can. I have a mountain of content I’ve created that speaks to the fact that I am capable of such a feat.
I’m not even talking about starting a project. I’ve got numerous ideas, notes for many of them, even files set up and ready for me to begin the process of actually sitting down and writing. Sometimes there’s nothing quite like the feeling of embarking on an entirely new project, its potential laid out before you, the twists and turns of the process as of yet unknown. You’re just getting started and you’ve got so much that could happen between that moment and the final act that concludes the whole thing.
I mean I have trouble just sitting down in front of my computer and actually putting fingers to keyboard in service to creation. I have been struggling with this for quite some time, ever since the start of the year. Of course, the Great Computer Format of 2019 didn’t help matters. The desktop had begun acting strangely. The operating system refused to permit me access to certain files which were decidedly there (even though it was pretending they weren’t), and there had been several moments of just general malaise with the processor. It was having its own version of an existential crisis where it didn’t matter how much information it processed, it was still going to end up in a dumpster some day, or melted down and made into something else, so it just didn’t care as much about doing the work it was assigned. But I digress.
I have on my hard drive better than a dozen story ideas. Some of them I’ve already started on. Some of them are fresh and pristine, just begging for me to decide what the first letter of the first word of the first sentence will be. I have no shortage of things I could dive into. But I seem to have this sense of apathy about it. I have to push myself to get started, to actually close out everything else, put on some soothing music, and dig into the meat of the work.
Once I get started, oh boy I can go for a while, provided I’m working on something I enjoy. There have been commissions in the past where I just stared at the page, got a couple hundred words, did some more staring, because the content wasn’t something I was that engaged with. But if it’s a passion project, or something I’ve formulated for myself rather than in exchange for money (yes, I’m a greedy capitalist in spite of touting my love of the sweet commie nectar of socialism! MARX BE PRAISED!! What a hypocrite I am!), I can get into this glorious hyper-focused mode where all other things fall away and all that exists is my story. I love getting into that mode. With that, I can top out somewhere between 2500 to 3000 words an hour. I absolutely adore that.
I’ve been working so hard to figure out how I get into that mode, to trigger it on command. It’s my Super Sayian transformation, my Hulk Out moment, my ‘Super Mode’ from G Gundam (yeah, I’m familiar with the show, Toonami was my only outlet for a long while). I can trigger it, but I don’t know how to will it to take flight and aim it in the direction I want it to go. For the purposes of this metaphor, I’m referring to that initial transformation, the first time Goku, Gohan, or Vegeta turns super sayian. After that first moment, they learn how to trigger it on command. So don’t freaking @ me about it.
So, in order to try and determine a course of action that will help me enter my ‘ultra instinct’ (yeah I’m using another DBZ reference, so what?), I’ve been thinking a lot about a concept that I first heard described in a particular way by Adam Savage, and that is ‘overcoming inertia’. For him, it’s more in reference to figuring out what you want to do when you have the urge to do something. I know what I want to do. I just need to give myself a swift kick in the ass to get going. I like the phrase ‘overcoming inertia’ because it’s kind of pithy. I’m a writer. I like pithy things. So I tried to figure out if there was some scientific term that was connected to inertia, like a formula that is used to determine how much effort is required to take a mass from a dead stop into some form of action.
Twitter was of little help, probably because I didn’t word what I was looking for well enough. But then I had reason for the way I worded it the way I did. I wanted to view the idea from a purely scientific perspective rather than a metaphorical one, then draw metaphor from the scientific perspective. Like I said, twitter didn’t help. So I went for a walk and listened to one of the episodes from Bill Nye’s new podcast. It’s called “Science Rules” in case you’re interested. It’s brand spanking new and has less than ten episodes at the time of writing this. I’m not being paid to say any of this, I’m just sharing something I enjoy.
While listening to Bill, his co-host Corey S. Powell, and that particular episode’s guest, Dr. Peg Riley talk about your micro-biome and how bacteria have defense mechanisms specifically against other bacteria that we might could harness to replace antibiotics, a notion noodled around in the back of my mind. I had wanted to come at describing overcoming inertia from a scientific perspective. There was no reason why I had to limit myself to pure physics. I could approach it from a stand point of other scientific disciplines that rely on physics but are not themselves entirely and purely physics centered.
One example is turning the ignition on your car, or ‘getting the engine to turn over’.
When you turn the key in your ignition (or as is becoming more common today, pressing the start button, which I wish I had), there is a sequence of events that take place that result in the engine starting up and becoming a sustaining reaction that you exploit for fun and profit. I’ve done a little research into what happens in an internal combustion engine when you turn it on, and found a video of a young man who explains it pretty well. There’s a starter solenoid that starts up a starter motor, which turns a flywheel, which in turn spins the crankshaft. The crankshaft moves the pistons which then initiate the internal combustion cycle–intake, compression, combustion, exhaust–the four phases in a four stroke engine. Once you’ve got a clean cycle running, the whole system is self-sustaining so long as there is fuel, air, and electricity. Air can be pulled in easily enough. Electricity is generated in the alternator which keeps the battery charged, and continues to supply the needed power to fire the spark plugs that create the combustion in the combustion stroke. The only thing that needs to be address in a more immediate timeframe is fuel.
Another good example that conjured immediately is how rockets actually ignite. It’s not as simple as you might think, because let’s face it, it’s rocket science. This of course depends on the type of rocket you’re trying to ignite. Scott Manley has a terrific video about these different processes.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll keep it to just one specific engine, the RS-25, or the Space Shuttle’s Main Engine, or shuttle main engine, abbreviated to SME. This is an engine that ran on liquid oxygen (LOX for short) and liquid hydrogen, as such it was called a ‘hydrolox’ engine. We still use hydrolox engines of a few different kinds to this day. In fact, the Space Launch System, NASA’s next super-heavy rocket that is supposed to carry people to the moon is using modified RS-25’s on the first stage. Why am I using this one? Because like an internal combustion engine in a car, it uses a sparkplug style ignition system, just in a different way. As Scott Manley explains in his video (which you should totally watch), there is a smaller ignition combustion chamber where a small amount of fuel and oxidizer is pumped in and the spark plug ignites it. This burns like a sort of blow torch into the main combustion chamber where more hydrogen and oxygen are pumped and ignited.
But let’s get even more basic than this. There’s something that you might remember from your high school chemistry class, chemical reactions. Every reaction requires something called activation energy; that is the energy required to start the reaction. This could be augmented by a catalyst, like a specific compound, or the addition of heat, or even just agitating the reactants.
You need to input some kind of energy in order to start the reaction, but once it’s started, it will proceed until the reactants are consumed to the point where the reaction can no longer occur (there are exceptions to this rule, this is just a simplification for the purposes of making a metaphor). There are occasions where reactants will spontaneously and energetically start reacting (like hypergols in rocketry as one example) but you still have to mix them and in a controlled rate.
I need to figure out what my solenoid starter is, my pre-reaction chamber, my activation energy, and I need to figure out how it works. I absolutely must understand how my brain functions, what gets me going so I can start up and roll for the rest of however long I’ve got available to write. There are times where I’m already primed and ready to write. But then the majority of the time, I just sit and stare at the screen while my brain does back-flips trying to argue myself into writing. Or as is also often the case, out of writing.
“Why would you want to do all that boring, smelly writing when you could be over here watching a Youtube video where you don’t have to think! Or maybe you’d like to pick up Breath of the Wild again! You still haven’t found all the shrines in this one playthrough you’ve got going!”My brain
“Bitch, stop staring at Youtube! It ain’t helpin’! You need to write! You’ve got so much that needs doing! You’ve got an Amazon story you need to write, proof, and publish! You’ve got posts for Patreon you are behind on! All those people have been super nice and patient with your dumb ass while you’ve been sitting here distracting yourself! They ain’t gonna keep paying you if you don’t get the fuck on the ball and give them something worth what they pay you for! GET THE FUCK TO WORK!!“Also my brain
I’ve wondered about how I can get going on this. Part of why I was so keen to find something pithy I could label this concept with is because, well, as I said before, I like pithy things, but I also find that labeling something like this helps me identify and recognize it. I used to suffer from terrible migraines. Well, technically I still do but they’re far less common these days. I would get this strange thing in my field of vision known (and this is the actual medical term) as an aura. What’s happening is there’s this patch in my vision that looks kind of like that spot you get burned into your retina when you stare into a bright light, only it’s got this look of tunnel vision to it. It has a sort of undulating, rippling, repetitive pattern to it. It’s like those polarized false-motion signs that were so big back in the 90’s, usually for beer.
The thing is, this pattern will blend in with the surrounding colors and lighting. I distinctly remember the day I was able to properly articulate this to my mom. I had gotten up one Saturday morning to watch cartoons and the Addams Family came on. That should help date me. While I was watching, something strange happened. It was like they had forgotten to animate Gomez’s mouth. It was just… gone. In its place was a faint, oddly moving patch. I was able to tell my mom about this because I could suddenly articulate what was happening to me. She recognized my description as something that happened to her on occasion, and so she took me to the doctor some time later.
Now, the migraine starts with the aura, which moves and changes shape and grows and shrinks and does whatever it’s gonna do for about half an hour. Then comes the actual headache, and good lord are these things painful, combined with sensitivity to light and sound. That lasts for about half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes. Then comes intense, obnoxious nausea. I’ll spare you the details that follow but suffice to say I spent most of my childhood unaware that there was a pattern to all of this, and I was unable to explain any of it.
The minute I told my mom “hey, it’s like they just didn’t draw Gomez’s mouth. My vision was screwy. What’s up with that?”, that started me down a path towards understanding what was happening to me. The doctor was able to explain what was going on, the progression of symptoms, how to combat them, and what some potential causes were. Knowing what was happening gave me power over it. I could fight it. The nameless terror that I knew struck me from time to time was suddenly given a name. And because I knew that name, it no longer controlled me near to the extent that it used to. Later, I learned how to control my symptoms even better, and how to keep these migraines from striking nearly as often.
Words have power. It’s like a magic spell. Knowing a thing truly can help you overcome it, or at the very least weather it and stop being afraid of it.
I want to know the words for so many things in my life: overcoming my own inertia, letting go of something truly infuriating but ultimately ineffectual in my immediate life, ignoring my brain when I’m in a foul mood that threatens to send me spiraling into a pit of self-hate. Yes, I’ve described all of these things, so I have some concept of what they are, but they’re still somewhat vague and abstract. I want something more concrete. I want the expecto patronum or whatever spell works against them. To know that, I have to better know what these things are.
To that effect, I’ve decided to try an experiment. Whenever I need to sit down and write for at least an hour, though probably longer, rather than go out to a restaurant and eat while I write, I’ll try something new. Sure, going to Waffle House is great because I can get tasty food that’s terrible for me, it’s relatively inexpensive, and it comes out pretty quick. And if I go late at night, chances are good the place will be mostly empty and I’ll be able to work without distraction. But that gets expensive if I do that even just once or twice every week. Plus, I’ll end up having a heart attack by the age of forty. And what of the nights I don’t go? I still need to find my ignition or input my activation energy.
So, I’m going to try sitting down and just writing something for my blog. It doesn’t have to be super long, or be super meaningful. It can just be a stream of consciousness collection of words. Maybe I’ve got some silly connection I’ve made in my head that I want to share. Maybe I just need to get something off my chest. It’ll be sort of like a journal. The idea is to prime the pump. Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just… I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do. (Side note, that was a sort of little ‘fuck you’ to Prez* Poo-Brain who thinks he came up with “prime the pump”)
This particular way, you can see what’s in my head (if you so dare) and I accomplish a little something towards my daily writing goal. Hell, if I’m lucky and this actually works, I might could start putting together a proper routine. And I really need a routine. I need a structure to adhere to. I can’t just be winging this all the time. I have to find a routine that works, then take a break from it every few days. Maybe actually save the weekends for what they’re used for when you’ve got a regular Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job, to rest and recoup.
If I could arrange it so that I can establish a routine and get back to writing regularly, I would be so happy.
So yeah, maybe I just need to call blog posts like this ‘Activation Energy’, the push to get me going. Let me know if you’re of the sciency sort and you can think of something pithy that works better. I’d love to be able to market it, not necessarily to make money, but to give people a magic spell that helps them fight their own demons a little more easily.
Now… if only I could find a spellbook that has an incantation to help me stop caring quite so much what my dad thinks.