Monday Writing Motivation: Newton’s First Law of Writing

 In How to write a book, Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

We’re tethered to a bollard on a jetty that sticks out into the centre of our lake here in Bedford. Across a stretch of water that we call Swan’s Way are berthed a line of narrowboats. Sandwiched between two much longer boats is Patience, our own vessel, which is currently in the midst of a stem-to-stern refurbishment. We’re introducing it to the twenty-first century, fitting solar panels to its roof, reflooring it with marine plywood, repainting and rejuvenating its interior.

Once it’s more or less ship-shape, we’ll take it out onto the River Great Ouse, just a stone’s throw from our pontoon, and cruise downstream for a few days – or weeks –  it all depends on our inclinations.

We’ll have to learn anew the skills of navigating a fifty-foot long narrowboat through locks only slightly wider than that, and renew our acquaintance with Newton’s First Law.

Patience weighs in the region of ten tons, and although we putter along at no more than two or three miles an hour, we generate considerable momentum. Once we’re in motion, it takes all the power of our giant diesel engine thrown into reverse to bring us, slowly, to a stop…

Diesel was not always the force that drove narrowboats through the three thousand odd miles of the English and Welsh network of canals. When engineers devised the first canals in the eighteenth century, all waterborne transport was pulled by horses. Which explains why, along every canal, there runs a parallel towpath.

The narrowboats that carried the cargoes – coal, pottery, limestone, gravel – of the industrial revolution, weighed up to 50 tons. The question arises: how could a single horse tow a load of fifty tons? Again, you need only turn to Newton for the answer: a body once in motion tends to continue in motion; once a load of that size is moving through the water, it tends to keep moving unless acted upon by an external force.

Writing generates a momentum quite as remarkable. Here’s Stephen King: “Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to.”

Habits are momentum of a different kind. Establish a habit – it takes only a week or so to do so, I’ve found – and it’ll help you settle down every day to write five hundred or a thousand good words.

If you break the habit, it can take time to get you moving again, just as, every morning when the day’s work began, it took carthorses a great deal of straining to get their cargoes moving.

Happy writing,


Recommended Posts
Showing 2 comments
  • Linda Wilson

    Hello fellow boater!

    ‘Simply Linda Telling Tales from the Towpath’ ( developed out of my narrow boating days and has given birth to a whole new career in my ‘slightly more mature’ years. SimplyLinda.Writing is now moving into the tv and film arena – so exciting!

    I have yet to have a book published, but hope to rectify that later this year with a series of children’s stories – ‘Sally’s Seaside Secrets : seven days in Scarborough’ – just need to find the right illustrator…

    ‘Sally Finds a Forever Family’ is currently being prepared to be the pilot for a children’s tv series in America – her Seaside Secrets from super spots around our beautiful British coastline, will be the content of the shows. Just need to persuade Disney, Pixar or some such set up that it’s worth the investment.

    I’ve only just stumbled across your site and am looking forward to learning more about how all this writing stuff fits together. Next year I’m spending a bit of time with Simon Egon, Producer of The King’s Speech (you probably already know that!) discussing my true life adult story – The Silver Swan. It would be great to go to that meet and actually sound as though I know something.

    Any pointers at which posts to read, would be most welcomed.

    Happy cruising,

  • Richard Beynon

    Hi Linda, good to make contact! We’re currently revamping our narrowboat, but will be back in action on the River Great Ouse within a month or so. Where are you currently?

    There’s a wealth of information for writers on our website, which you’re welcome to use – and, of course, the 400-odd blogs on writing I’ve posted over the years. I don’t deal with the skills of creative writing in any systemic way – but, again, feel free to pick your way through them… And do keep in touch. I’d love to hear how your various writing and television projects unfold.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt