Editor’s Note: the original version of this article was first posted on the C2C in 2010.
A writer’s love of writing does motivate us in the long-term, yes. But the dirty little secret is that sometimes writers need a little kick in the butt to get us motivated in the short-term, during the day-to-day battles of the long-long-long drawn out war.
I’m not saying we can live without passion and love for our art. Yes, love is a good solid base for our writing careers, but it is our capacity to utilize tools for self-motivation that keeps us building on that strong base.
We writers have to be REALLY good at motivating ourselves because sometimes we’re the only ones around to motivate… ourselves.
Here are several methods that I have found helpful:
1. Reward Yourself For Trying
I don’t think any fiction writer writes to win awards or to make money. Writing is no get-rich-quick career or an instant fame booster. But that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve an award for your day-to-day efforts. You do. Is no one else rewarding you? Then do it yourself.
This might be embarrassing but usually a strategically placed red velvet cupcake, or banana nut muffin, or double chocolate brownie by my laptop will get me through to a whole night’s revision of a passage in my book. Use whatever little goodie, or treat, or gift that will get you through the day-to-day drudgery. It’s not a luxury if you literally need it to get the writing done.
Rewarding yourself for trying also means not demanding that your work be brilliant every day. It won’t be: it will be awful most of the time, but that’s ok. You’re growing a tree, it’s as important to work on the roots as it is to work on the bark and the branches. So if you think you did a crummy job today, remind yourself: “I’m still working on the roots!”
2. Don’t Place A Goal On When You’ll Receive Your Worth
Please don’t say “when I publish this,” or “when my book sells this many copies I will be a writer.” If you’re writing with a goal in mind, then you’re already a writer, and if you’re trying your best, then you’re a good writer. If you’re writing regularly, then you’re showing up to work every day and that makes you a great writer. If you place your worth in the future, then you’ll think your worthless now. And I don’t have to tell you that feeling worthless is not fertile ground for motivation.
3. Be Flexible With Your Writing Schedule
If something happens that’s out of your control don’t feel too guilty about not writing that day. Guilt is one of those other emotions that will kill motivation in a heartbeat.
4. Don’t Self-punish
If you constantly punish yourself for not writing or for not being as good as Virginia Woolf already, then you’ll only fall into a hole of self-loathing and despair that will evaporate all motivation. This isn’t helping you or your book, so stop doing it. Be gentle with yourself. Patience is important, so if you find yourself being impatient with yourself, take a deep breath and quickly say: “Good job, ____! You’re doing it!”
Try also to see impatience like the yellow on a traffic light. When you start getting impatient with yourself, get ready to stop yourself before you start spiraling down the self-loathing hole. Impatience is often a precursor to self-punishment, so stop way before the red light hits.
5. Don’t Overwork Yourself
If you are an artist, it’s your job to play, no excuses. Now, there are times when you might be inspired and will go on for hours and hours with your creation, that’s not really workaholism. Usually that’s a good thing, because you feel a boundless energy. But when you start to feel a strain coming in, your eyelids closing, and that shine from the screen is starting to hurt your eyes, and your brain is all fuzzy and fried, then that’s when you’ve overworked yourself. Overworking is no good because the motivation to work the next day is taken from you. So, in the end, you actually end up getting less done if you overwork than if you simply allowed yourself to stop and play for a little bit.
6. Follow The Inspiration
Following the inspiration is difficult because that little pixie of inspiration that makes writing effortless and brilliant is not someone you can constantly count on. So, sometimes you set a schedule to just move through what needs to get done, but then the little pixie shows up, and even though you’ve scheduled yourself to be working on Ch. 2, she says you need to work on Ch. 19, a chapter you haven’t even begun yet. Just follow her. If you don’t, you’ll be beating yourself up as you write on Ch.2, and you’ll end up writing an awful draft that’ll just be tossed anyway. So why not move forward?
7. Work Through Emotions
When we are highly emotional or under a lot stress these are the most challenging moments to get motivated to write. After all, if our boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t love us, or our parents are judging us, or our boss hates us, how can we possibly feel good enough about ourselves to do what we love to do?
Now, generally writers and other artists get their greatest inspiration from their pain and anguish, so in those cases making the art is easy. But that’s not the situation I’m talking about. I’m talking about when what you are planning to write either is not congruent with your emotions or the emotion acts as a wall to your creativity.
To work through these emotions, first write all of your emotions down. Just listen to what your mind is ranting about and write it all down, let it all out, everything. If you’re writing it on your laptop then as soon as your done, trash that document. If you wrote it on a piece of paper, throw that paper away or burn it if you’re into dramatic displays.
For the moment at least, you’ll wash away that emotion and you should be able to move forward with your work.
8. Avoid a “Me vs. The World” Strategy for Motivation
You know this one. You motivate yourself by pitting yourself against your greatest enemy. “If I write this then I’ll show so and so that he was wrong and I’m not a talentless idiot who’d never make it anywhere.” Or you pit yourself up against society, who never thought a person from you background, your class, your country, your race, your region, your gender, your sexuality would ever make it, and so you work hard to prove them wrong.
This strategy seems to work to get you through the process, but doesn’t provide much joy in the end. Because you set up your motivation against the fall of an enemy, there’s never any closure when you accomplish your goal. When you finally produce that play or get that short story in the literary magazine, there is no anvil that will automatically fall on the head of that second grade teacher who said you couldn’t do it. In this motivational strategy there’s simply no victory. Plus a lot of negative energy has been built up in your body at your expense, and it often drains from you the strength you need to move happily forward to your next project.
9. Instead Use a “Me Together With The World” Strategy for Motivation
Remind yourself that you are playing a necessary role in society and, without you, a big part of what makes this world move forward will be missing.
Think about the first time you decided to be a writer. Was it a book that motivated you? Of course, right? It’s only logic. Unless you read something, you never would have imagined yourself as a writer. If writing gives you joy now, then that means you owe great deal of your personal happiness to other writers, the one–or many–who inspired you.
Chances are you’ve used some idiom or quote during your life to get you through a tough time. Was it: “Be the change you want to see in the world,” or “To thine own self be true,” or “The bigger they are the harder they fall,” or “You reap what you sow,” or “Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you”? We’ve all used these quotes to get us through snags in our life, and whose responsible for those bits of inspiration? Writers are.
If you’re a writer you’re delusional if you think it’s you against the world. That way of seeing things isn’t true at all. You are a vital part of this world. Writers have moved mountains, they’ve changed continents, they’ve set up governments and caused them to collapse.
Money may make the world go round, but the only reason you know that is because a writer told you it did. So whose more powerful?
Understanding how much you are vital to this world as a writer is a powerful motivator. When we know we are not only useful but necessary, we can write with greater ease.
When you don’t feel motivated to write your poem, short story, novel, then don’t write that. But, please do write. Write in your journal, write on you blog, write on your notepad. It can be awful, it can be brilliant. It doesn’t matter. Write in your head. Write something that will remind you what motivates you so that you are motivated to write, and maybe motivate others to do the same. That’s what I did.
How do you motivate yourself on a day-to-day basis to reach your goals? Any tips you’d like to share? Please share with us in the comments below!
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