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,


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