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Writing Tip #10: YOU Are Your Best Source of Motivation

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

There are going to be days (weeks . . . months . . .) when we don’t feel like writing. We may sit in front of the computer for an hour and write six words—and then delete three of them. Or during our designated writing time, we find that’s the best time to scrub the toilet and clean out that dark corner cabinet that’s been emanating a funky smell for at least three months.

We’ve turned into Rick Castle staring at his laptop for hours on end and then jumping to grab the phone when it rings and, instead of hello, saying, “Please tell me there’s a dead body,” so he can get away from the writing he’s supposed to be doing.

What we need is motivation. So where do we get it?

Writing Tip #10. YOU are your best source of motivation.

No matter how many writing groups you join, no matter how active you are in them, no matter how many blogs you write and read and comment on, no matter how many writers’ forums you participate in, when it comes down to it, writing is a solitary venture. Unless you put YOUR butt in YOUR chair and start committing words to paper (whether electronic or wood pulp), your story will not get written.

And, yes, I need this lesson as much as or more than anyone who may be reading this post.

There are external stimuli that can put the pressure on you to write: school, critique partners, readers expecting the next chapter (contracts, deadlines, agents, editors). But the truth of the matter is, they aren’t in control of your writing, you are.

If the artist works only when he feels like it, he’s not apt to build up much of a body of work. Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work, and to go where it tells him to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.

(L’Engle, p. 149)

Remember the most famous line to come out of the movie A League of Their Own about baseball and crying? Well . . .

There’s no whining—there’s no whining in writing!

But I don’t feel like writing.

Tough. Do it anyway. Sure, you may find that you’re writing drivel that you’re eventually going to edit out in a future revision—but as our guru Ms. L’Engle said, more often than not, you’ll find that once you make yourself sit down and do the work, the inspiration will come.

I’ll double up my word count tomorrow.

“You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays” (The Music Man).

That’s a really slippery slope—I don’t feel like writing today, so I’ll double up tomorrow. And then tomorrow—I don’t feel like writing today, but I can get three days worth of words written tomorrow. And soon, you’re pressed up against your deadline (whether it’s self-imposed or external) and you’re having to write 28,000 words over Thanksgiving week to make your deadline. (Hello, Ransome’s Crossing.) Or you’re sitting on about 22,000 words on June 17 with forty-four days in which to write the remaining 83,000 words. (Hello, Ransome’s Quest.)

So what are some ways in which you can keep yourself motivated?

1. Pick a project you want to work on.

    For those of you who are not yet under contract, you’re at a beautiful, glorious time in your writing journey—because you can choose to work on anything you want to. So, hearkening back to yesterday’s post about writing your passion, make sure you choose a story that’s going to keep you motivated to write it. Yes, there are still going to be times when you don’t feel like writing it; there may be times when you hate it. But if you choose something that interests and intrigues you, you’re more likely to stay the course and get it finished.

2. Take a moment to remember why you started writing in the first place.

    Why did we start writing in the first place? Was it so that we could get our wrists slapped and be told “no” and “don’t” and “you can’t do it that way”? So we could sit at the computer and stare at the screen and feel so inadequate and full of self-doubt that we’d never be able to do it “right” that we’re unable to write at all?

    Of course not. We all started writing because WE LOVE TELLING STORIES!

3. If your story has lost steam, stop writing and sit down and read it.

    Not to edit it, but to see if it’s your story or you that’s lost steam. If it’s your story, see if you can find the place where it went off track—or see if there’s a place where you can introduce a new character or a new plot twist. I couldn’t get rolling on Stand-In Groom after three full drafts (written, not revised) of the first ten chapters until I came up with the hidden-identity plot.

    Do the “what if” exercise. Get out a notebook/legal pad and your favorite pen or pencil (or do it on a white board or easel pad on the wall)—and just start brainstorming. What if instead of George being resentful at having been sent to Louisiana to plan his boss’s wedding, he’s having to pretend to be the groom? What if instead of butting heads with George because it’s obvious he doesn’t want to be there, Anne’s conflict is that she’s afraid she’s falling in love with a client? What if the last time William and Julia saw each other wasn’t when she was ten, but when she was seventeen? And what if when she was seventeen and he was twenty-two, they fell in love and he almost asked her to marry him?

4. If you can’t come up with any ideas on your own, brainstorm with a few trusted people.

    These can be other writers, family members, friends, anyone who is creative and with whom you’ve talked about your writing before. No, you probably won’t be able to use 90 percent of what you come up with, but it may stimulate you to come up with some new ideas on your own (but be sure to write everything down just in case).

5. Set daily goals.

    Whether it’s a word count goal, a goal to write one scene, one chapter, one page, one paragraph, whatever, per day, set a standard and make yourself meet it every day. I know, I’m the world’s biggest hypocrite in writing that. After each book deadline, I always say the next one’s going to be different. I’m going to write 1,000 or 1,500 words a day and get the first draft finished early so I actually have time to re-read it and edit it before I have to turn it in. But it never seems to stick.

6. Reward yourself when you meet your goals.

    Did you meet your daily word goal today? Great, now you can watch Castle. Did you exceed the number of pages you wanted to get written this week? Excellent, enjoy dinner out and get the biggest, gooiest, fudgiest dessert on the menu—as your appetizer. Have you reached a total word count higher than anything you’ve ever reached before? Superb. Go get a mani/pedi. Did you finish your first draft? Pop open a bottle of wine, go get a massage, meet the girls (or guys) for a fun night out on the town. Go see that movie you’ve been wanting to see. Take a mini-vacation. (Try to not make all of them food rewards.)

7. Develop a routine/create a schedule.

    AND STICK TO IT! I would imagine that for someone with other people in the house, it’s all about setting rules and boundaries. Rules about what time certain things will be done, and boundaries to let the other people in the house know that during those certain times, they aren’t allowed to cross certain boundaries (like the threshold of the room you’re trying to write in). Make a DO NOT DISTURB sign and hang it on the door of the room in which you’re working—or if your writing space is in a common space in the house, hang the sign from a string and wear it around your neck. Let the people in your house know what your schedule is and what their boundaries are (Unless someone is bleeding and needs to be taken to the hospital, do not talk to me for the next forty-five minutes.) Once you establish your routine, the rest of the people in your life will adjust to it. As long as you stick to it.

8. Unplug.

    A while back, a friend of mine posted a link for some software she’d purchased that will block her access to the internet for a specified period of time. Now, I’m bad about keeping Outlook and Twitter turned on when I’m sitting at the computer—unless I go somewhere (like the library at my undergrad college) where I can’t access the internet—and reading each e-mail as it comes in when I’m supposed to be working. We complain about how addicted kids are to their smartphones—there is actually evidence that it is an addictive disorder. How many of us have the same problem, it’s just hidden because it’s coming in on the computer where we’re “working,” instead of on a more obvious hand-held device? Try working away from the computer (writing longhand) or try unplugging/turning off your modem (most laptops have a key which will sever a WiFi connection—mine is on the F2 key). Turn the TV off—or move out of the room where it is. Turn the sound on your phone off (if there’s another parent/adult who can be the designated emergency-dealer-with’er for that span of time).

    Writing is your job, your profession, so act like a professional who’s on the clock. You’d be amazed how much you can get accomplished when you don’t allow yourself to become distracted. (Though you may need to shoot the neighbor’s dog who barks constantly underneath your office window.)

9. Take regular breaks.

    When I worked at the newspaper, I was the ergonomics specialist for my department. One of the things that I was tasked with training everyone to understand is that you must take regular breaks while you’re working to stay fresh and to stave off physical strain and exhaustion.

        Every fifteen to twenty minutes, look away from your computer screen or notepad for at least a minute and up to two minutes at something in the distance, at least ten to twenty feet away. This cuts down on eye strain and on headaches.

        While you’re taking your eye break, give your hands a break, too. Put your pen down or take your fingers off the keyboard and rest your hands in a relaxed, flat position. Your wrists and fingers should be straight. If you’d like, you can stand and stretch or just move around your desk area for these few moments.

    Don’t go longer than an hour without taking a real break. Get up from your desk. Walk into another room. Get a glass of water. Go to the bathroom. Do something else for about five to ten minutes. But time yourself. Don’t allow this to distract you from your writing.

    If you’re going to work longer than two hours, do some stretching exercises at least once an hour.

    Make sure you’re working in an ergonomically correct position.

10. Believe in yourself.

    You’ll have enough rejection and negativity rolling in from the outside. You don’t need to be another source of it.

You know it takes courage to write. It takes courage to write when you’re not published and you don’t have an agent.

It takes courage to write when you are published and you do have an agent (this is why so many writers drink to excess or anything they can think of to drink to).

You have it inside you to fight this fight. Write, think about what you write, then write some more.

Day by day. Year by year.

Do that, and you’ll jump ahead of 90 percent of the folks out there who want to get published.

(Bell, p. 258)

Works Cited:

Bell, James Scott. The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. Print.

L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980. Print.

Music Man, The. Dir. Morton DaCosta. Warner Bros. 1962. Film.

  1. Darlene Franklin permalink
    Saturday, September 20, 2014 9:59 am

    Oh, Kaye, how well you expressed this here. I rarely “feel” like writing. I keep my daily goals low just in case my healthy jumps in with a stoppage of work and I have to push faster later. And like you, I don’t always make it every day. The more I write, the more I realize I have a short time span to write. So I am looking for stories that really interest me.



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