Motivation is like momentum. When you have it on your side, it feels like nothing will stop you. But when it’s gone, it’s like your legs have been cut off. Writing ceases to be a joy. Instead it’s like dragging bloody leg stumps over asphalt while feeling every little bit of broken glass dig in.
So how do you keep the motivation going? How do you find it inside yourself? Luc Reid spent a lot of time, and most of his website, pondering this. Combined with puncturing the myths about writing discussed in my other entry, he and Steve Kelner provided some really practical ways of helping out when you are stuck. Steve brought data to his side when he let the air out of the creativity myths, and Luc has backed his ideas with research as well.
Is it all a panacea? Not really. But they have worked on a lot of levels when it comes to motivation in general. I’m going to cherry pick and group a few together, but I want to start with a point both Steve and Luc made in their panels. And it’s about setting goals.
Please don’t run when you see this: SMART – Anyone who’s been in the business world knows what it means, and if you don’t, I’ve got a handy link for you. Setting goals and sticking with them is vital, yes And this is a good guideline. But also remember this – part of making goals attainable is to realize what is in your hands, and what isn’t. Take these two goals:
“I will finish and submit six short stories during the next year.”
“I will finish and get six short stories published during the next year.”
There is a difference between the two statements. One of them is an attainable goal. The other is not. “Finishing and submitting” a short story is very different from publishing one. The first statement is bound by what you can do. As much as we wish it were true, we don’t have much control over the stories we submit actually getting published. You can certainly submit six (or more) but don’t set publication as a goal. You can’t control it, and when you fail… well, that kills your motivation again.
So how do you get it back?
- Get a little exercise / take a walk / go somewhere else – it may seem strange, but exercise reduces stress, aids relaxation and builds endurance. Not one for a trip to the gym? How about a long walk or two, just you and a notebook? I’m trying to add short walks to the end of my day so I can purge stress and get some head time. Listening to an audio play as well helps divert me, too.
- Visualize success / pretend your finished / revisit your motivations / skip ahead – Stephen King famously said he had the infamous hotel room scene in The Shining in mind when he was writing the novel. It was a keystone. He’d visualize that scene, and write towards it. The scene was his reward. Keeping motivation is sometimes a matter of picturing the end result, or a pleasant byproduct.
- Choose a first step / track your word count / turn off the mental debate and internal editor – Too much time in our head leads us to arguments. Where do I start? Should I fix this? What should I work on next? Picking a first step and breaking things down into smaller tasks will help you get going. Tracking your word count, especially in a running tally, will help you distract the part of you which wants to debate every decision made. It’s kind of like watching a pendulum swing to hypnotize yourself. It helps you quiet the mind.
- Warm up / write about writing / converse / create or ignore an outline – These are all ways of doing some mental stretching. A warm up exercise is a good way to get yourself into a writing headspace. Writing about writing helps you think things out, as does conversing about it or getting a beta reader. Creating or ignoring an outline can also help. There are some authors who write outlines, and immediately shelve them. The outline was just to give them the waypoints to follow and help them figure a general plan. It’s always there if the want or need it again.
- Try something new / introduce a change – Luc recommended trying Scrivener or Write or Die if you want to change your work environment and habits a bit. But it can also mean using longhand for a while. or deciding to not write in the office, and instead write on the kitchen table. Even if it’s sketching out notes, writing down snippets of dialog, it’s still good writing. I finished Running Black by hand in Baton Rouge, in a spiral bound notebook. Writing “The End” was the strangest sensation, because it wasn’t how I visualized ending the book. And yet, there it was.
The last item was to write every day. This seemed to be a stumbling block at first if you only thought of ‘writing’ as adding word counts to your project. But writing is more than that – it’s writing out drabbles of dialog, noting down ideas, thinking about and organizing scenes. Just as you give yourself permission to write a terrible, really broad, needs to be worked on first draft, you have to give yourself permission to see writing as more than just upping the word count, especially if you’re stuck.
I’m rather infamous in my circle of friends for my endless notebooks. David Byrne would not approve. But it helps me knowing I have a place where I can jot down ideas, write down bits of dialog and get something down, even if it’s just a paragraph or two.
Every little bit helps. And I hope I helped a little here.