In an effort to get at least one of these things down to a more manageable size, I’ve replaced my standard gym playlist (featuring Green Day, Grand Funk, Meghan Trainor, and more. Don’t judge.), with the Storywonk Sunday podcasts by Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens. The podcasts are informal discussions about all things story, popular culture, television and more, with a delightful Scottish accent thrown in for good measure. They’ve been a great distraction and have provided some interesting perspectives on the whole writing business.
One comment mentioned in the podcast I listened to last week got me thinking about motivation. In the episode, Lani mentioned that, with the exception of her first novel, which she wrote during NaNo, she has never finished a book that she wasn’t being paid to write.
That got me thinking about how we motivate ourselves to do things. While the love of writing might motivate you in the long term, what’s the motivation that keeps you applying pen to paper (fingers to the keyboard) day in and day out, especially those days when the process feels like chiselling the words out of stone, one letter at a time?
Naturally, I turned to the internet for answers. A short time days later, I had a list of potential motivators, culled from a endless series of blogs on the subject. Everyone, it seems, has their own idea about how to stay motivated, which makes sense since we are all motivated by different things. Here then , is a summary of what I found:
Find Your Internal motivation
Maybe you’ve always dreamed of seeing your name in print, maybe you’ve got “write a book” as an item on your bucket list, or maybe you just enjoy learning how to do new things. Whatever the reason, having an internal goal that you’re aiming for can help keep you motivated on days when you’d really rather just do nothing at all.
“It is hardly a secret that the key to successfully accomplishing one goal after another is staying motivated.” ~ Lifehack
Consider External motivation
Sometimes an internal goal just isn’t enough. That’s when the motivation from other writer friends or groups can provide an extra nudge. You and a writing buddy can hold each other accountable for reaching specific goals. A writing group can make things more fun with writing challenges, and other writers can provide support and encouragement on those days when you really need it.
Deadlines can be a good way to make sure you are making consistent progress. Establishing deadlines that are realistic and achievable is key to ensuring they serve as motivation, not a hindrance. The first act of my current manuscript, for example, was finished in just this way. The completed act had to be turned in at the end of the eight-week McDaniel workshop that I was attending at the time. The deadline provided the extra motivation I needed to get the work done. Without it, I no doubt would have found any number of reasons to delay.
Having an established writing routine can help kick-start your motivation. If you always write at a certain time or in a certain place or wearing your special writing shirt (whatever works for you), then you are more likely to keep doing it. That leads to writing success, which is motivating, which leads to more success which . . . . you get the idea. Routine was the technique I used to establish a successful exercise regimen. By going to the gym at the same time each day, I eliminated the need to motivate myself each time and just went. At that point, all I had to motivate myself to do was to have a good workout which, since I was already at the gym by that point, was a no brainer.
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” ~ Jim Rohn
Establishing a routine doesn’t mean that you need to do exactly the same thing every time you sit down to write though. Just like I don’t spend every day on the elliptical machine – some days it’s yoga, other days it’s weight-training – you want to flex your writing muscles and add a little fun so that you stay motivated and remain you engaged in the process.
Reward progress and good behaviour
Sitting down and getting words on the page is hard work and it’s important to take a minute and appreciate progress when we make it. I’m a big fan of the “writing = reward” philosophy. As a matter of fact, I get a cupcake for finishing this blog post. 🙂 Recognizing the progress you’ve made or the good writing behaviours you’ve established helps you step back and see how you are moving towards your goals. When you see that you are making progress, it can motivate you to keep going.
One important thing to remember when looking at your progress is not to compare it with anyone else’s. As we’ve mentioned on this blog before, everyone has their own writing style and their own path and I doubt any two writers get to a completed manuscript in quite the same way.
Jump-Start Your Motivation
One strategy that I found in a post here, has proven very effective in keeping me motivated and productive in recent weeks. The post talked breaking tasks into two types – hard tasks and easy tasks – and then using that information to take advantage of those times when you are feeling extra-motivated to prepare for those other days when you really need motivation. The idea is to focus on the hard tasks on high-motivation days and save the easier tasks for other days.
Using blog posts as an example, if thinking up ideas for a blog post is a hard task, but doing the actual writing is easier, then on days when your motivation is high, instead of sitting down and writing a single complete blog post, it could be more effective to plan and rough-out four draft blog posts. Then, next time you sit down to write and your motivation is flagging, the draft posts give you a head start.
For my writing, that means that when I’m having a really good writing day (it happens occasionally), instead of just focusing on finishing a single scene, I try and map out a series of scenes. I’ll rough out some lines of dialogue here and there, make a list of what needs to happen and in what order, note down what the end result of each scene should be, and indicate whether anything in the scene links to or relies on something from another scene. That way, the next time I sit down to write, even if I’m not particularly motivated, I have a skeleton structure to start with. Filling out the details of a scene that has been roughed-out is much easier for me than the initial task of figuring out what the scene is supposed to be about.
So far, this has been working very well, which is good because my current internal motivation for finishing this iteration of my draft manuscript is getting the “PRO” sticker on my badge for the upcoming RWA National conference. The other ladies there will have theirs and I don’t want to be the one without. In order to get that badge, however, I need to submit my completed manuscript to RWA by June 30. That gives me just two weeks to get things wrapped up and emailed off. You’ll know if I was successful when you see my badge this July.
So, what’s motivating you (whatever your endeavours)?