Newton’s Laws of Writing

A while ago, there was this guy.

He sat under a tree for a while — a really long while — until eventually the tree sharted an apple on his head, and instead of just finding a different tree to sit under, this enterprising fargoer went and derived the laws for all freaking motion in the universe from that one little incident. I’m pretty sure he also went on to invent some awful cookies, although the real depth of his genius might be measured by the fact that he convinced people that those little bits of sandpaper wrapped around pseudo-fruit-filling were cookies in the first place, and not, in fact, aardvark turds rolled in discarded cicada husks.

But yeah, his more important contributions to the world were probably the three laws. But what Newton didn’t know (or at least, I have on good authority from this absinthe fairy that’s twinkling around the room at the moment) is that the three laws apply not just to the motion of things in the universe, but they apply to everything. And that means they apply to writers, too. I’m one of those, so here’s how it works:

First Law: An object in motion tends to stay in motion. That’s inertia, which is married to momentum, which is a concept I’ve found myself a little … obsessed is too strong a word … we’ll say “fixated” with here on this blarg and in my writing journey. I’ve written about it a few times before. In the universe, it means that if, say, you’re a planet hurtling through space, you will continue to hurtle until an asteroid many times your size smashes into and pulverizes you in a gigantic horrifying cosmic fender bender, or until a burgeoning sun swallows you up like the gnat I swallowed on my run this morning. To writers, it means that it’s easy to keep writing as long as you keep doing it. In other words, if you’re writing, and you want that writing to turn into something other than pointless scribbles in a forgotten word document, you have to forget the excuses and make sure you write a little bit, like, every day. Or at least almost every day. You’re only human, after all. Unless you’re a planet, in which case, I’d love to read your autobiography, except maybe try writing it in English instead of the eldritch tongue of star screams and soul-tearing that you probably write in.

Second Law: Look, the metaphor falls apart here in the middle. This is a stream-of-consciousness post, okay? I only planned it so far. I’m going to be honest. I remember the 1st and 3rd laws of motion from high school physics but I had no idea what the second law was. So I googled it, and found some highly technical descriptions of it, and then I got smarter and wikipedia’d it (is wikipedia’d a valid verb? It should be) and I still couldn’t figure it out. Essentially it’s about force and acceleration (F=ma) and all this other sciencey stuff I can’t be arsed about as a purveyor of fiction and dubious thoughts about writing. How does it apply to writing? Fargoed if I know. Let’s play acronyms. Freaking metal, always. Funky math: avoid. Fight me afterwards. Let’s just forget I talked about the second law. I was just killing time until I got to the 3rd law anyway.

Third Law: For every reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This law explains why people get black eyes from shooting guns, or so I’ve heard. And why, when you’re walking barefooted across the carpet that was harmless before you had kids, a Thomas the Tank Engine figurine can stab upwards with all the force of an icepick wielded by an angry yeti into your tender underfoot. But, see, this one is great with writing, because it works in a couple of different ways. First, there are days when the writing resists you, and the harder you lean your shoulder into it the harder it leans back, unmoving, until you collapse at its feet, sobbing and gibbering about your inadequacies. By the same token, of course, if you don’t try to force the writing — if you write what needs to be written rather than trying to force words that don’t fit — then the whole task becomes ridiculously easier, and in fact, your story can end up working with you rather than against you. Second (and I’m twisting the law harder than a kid I knew in seventh grade, who shall remain nameless, delivering a purple nurple) it means that for every good day, there’s gonna be a bad day. For every day that the words and ideas and plots and characters flow from your fingertips like so much cosmic radiation pouring off of the sun, there will be a day that finds you as productive as my old and worthless cat who just keeps swatting at my ankles and crapping on the carpet. For each brilliant idea that seems to solve all the problems in your story at one fell swoop while choirs of angels sing in the background and golden sunlight suffuses the whole, you will lay an egg from which hatches a deformed, pitiful, limping abomination that squeals pitifully to beg for narrative death. You have to learn to ride the wave when the 3rd law is flowing in your favor and weather the storm when it isn’t.

Writing is a fickle mistress. Luckily, if you are up on Newton’s laws, you can predict some of her irrational moods and get out of the way when she comes at you with a knife. Of course, if you were thinking, you wouldn’t have written a razor-sharp butcher knife into your third act for her to use in the first place, but NO, you just had to have it there for “dramatic tension,” didn’t you?

Oh, THAT’S what the second law stands for.

Female Machete Assassin.

Yeah, that makes perfect sense. We’re going with that. Newton’s 2nd law for writers: Female Machete Assassins. Include them in your stories. Or avoid them. Or something.


This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. This week’s prompt was “opposite.”


About Pavowski

I am a teacher, runner, father, and husband. I am an author-in-progress. I know just enough about a lot of things to get me into a lot of trouble. View all posts by Pavowski

9 responses to “Newton’s Laws of Writing

  • summerstommy2

    I think you dealt with opposite in a most interesting way. I can’t help but think being a student in your class must be an entertaining experience or do you apply the 3rd law to your teaching days.
    Its a great way for me to explain some of the days I had. Thankfully not many were disasters.


  • KG

    Ha Ha 🙂
    Interesting one. Although I was wondering halfway through the second prompt what was really going on until you mentioned your actual intention 😉

    If ‘googled’ is a word then so should be ‘wikipedia’d’ dont you think ?
    Let me try the 2nd law (if not for anyone else, at least for my own sake) The heavier the object, the more force you need to apply to move it. E.g. pushing a car vs pushing a cycle to get the same amount of speed.

    Liked by 1 person

  • arranbhansal

    Reblogged this on Confessions of a published author and commented:
    Really enjoyed this, thank you!


  • Aunt C

    The way I might relate law two sort of comes into role one. Let’s take the scope of the project to be the mass, m. Acceleration is the way a story is going. When you’re first starting out the story is small, so the trajectory of the story is easier to change and requires less force. However when the project has become larger and you’re trying to change the “way it’s going” the force required is much larger.

    That’s why working on the edit is such a bear compared to the initial write-if you’re having to change direction of the mass of the story and the object already had great momentum in one direction.

    Maybe I’m just rambling, 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  • Sandi

    Fun read, Pav — so many entertaining details to enjoy (your old cat, Thomas toy, etc.) Not remembering the 2nd law myself, I didn’t miss it.

    Liked by 1 person

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