Stoking the Motivational Fire in Your Writing
Writing has always been my companion. I tell people that I was born with a pen in my hand. Through my childhood, writing was my best escape from childhood bullying. It’s been my best weapon against loneliness and despair. I wrote my first novel-length story by the time I was twelve. As a college student, friends would complain that by the time they started reading my work, I’d have re-written half of it. As an adult, my motivation to write has waned. There could be any number of reasons for this, but I can’t say why.
I still love reading. I still enjoy writing, but where I used to get physically ill if I didn’t write every day, now I struggle to put pen to paper. I’ve been trying a few things out and I’m glad to say I’m getting some of my motivation back.
Return to Your Roots
Before I graduated High School I was surrounded by music. My brothers and I constantly had something playing on our CD player, or boombox. We’d dance at random intervals, simply because we really liked a particular song. I listened to songs over and over while I was writing. The music would become background noise, something I ceased to hear at one point, but writing came easily. When I got stuck on a scene in my story, or had no clue where my plot was going, I’d exchange music with one of my brothers. Usually that knocked the devilish idea I needed lose.
Music didn’t disappear once I left for college, but it became a much smaller part of my life. While surviving schoolwork, jobs, internships and a social life, I wasn’t surrounded by music. I exchanged songs with friends on occasion, but it wasn’t the same. Once I graduated with my BA, I moved to Idaho, and music took up even less of my life. I didn’t have a boombox. I had an MP3 off and on—I’m usually behind the times—and my background noise turned into movies I’d watched dozens of times over and over. Every once in a while I’d dig through my music collection and that was usually to get rid of a persistent, unending song.
Lately I’ve been returning to my music roots. I have a stereo and constantly have it playing a CD, an mp3 or the radio while I’m home. I haven’t turned the television on since getting the stereo set up in my room, and I have no immediate desire to change that. I’m shifting through YouTube and Pandora for songs that spark something in me; as well as taking recommendations from friends. My urge to write has grown significantly, though it still isn’t where it once was.
Research/Fill the Well
When I hear fill the well, it’s usually in reference to doing something physical outside of writing, like walking, going to a fair, getting out of the house. I do find those types of activities helpful, but I also find research to be equally helpful in filling my well.
While at work, if I’m not interested in listening to music, I’ll listen to documentaries on YouTube. It can be about anything, so long as it interests me. I’ve listened to videos on the history of guns, studied all the English royals, learned about Ivar the Boneless, Hellewise Pennington, and Aphra Behn. I’ve watched videos on writing, fighting, traveling, and so much more. Most of it has nothing to do with what I’m currently writing, but the new information swirls in my head, ready to be used. Sometimes, a completely random thing I hear in the video makes me look at my story in a different way, spawning potential plot bunnies for me to follow, thus getting me to write. By allowing myself to research outside of what is necessary for my book, I’m learning a lot, expanding my mind and opening the door to getting plenty more story ideas. Most importantly I’m filling the well.
Goals can come in different sizes. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to get a draft of my sequel completely written. Like most people I didn’t set any parameters on how I’d go about accomplishing this. This is partially because I see New Year’s Resolutions more as guides. What do I want to accomplish? And if, for some reason, I have to change the goal, I can. I’m not tied down to the stone it’s written on, so I won’t drown if I toss it in the lake.
If I write what I’d like to accomplish the next day down in my journal, I significantly increase my chances of doing it. Sometimes I’m very specific on what those goals are “I’m going to edit the entire fight scene in this book” or “I’m going to come up with new words for an hour.” Other times, I’m less specific, “I’m going to get some editing done, or some new words written tomorrow.” Both are equally effective for me. I can celebrate my success in meeting those goals or commit to doing better in the next day’s entry, which in a weird way creates the accountability that I’ve been lacking. If you don’t keep a journal, I imagine you could post goals on your blog, or Facebook or Twitter. If you’re more private, finding a friend that will ask you “Did you make your goal?” may do the trick.
Those small, miniature, daily goals can help you work toward your big goal. If my daily goal always involves some kind of editing or writing, I’m making progress toward finishing a draft of my sequel and to completing my New Year’s Resolution.
Compete With Yourself
One thing I’m learning is that comparing yourself to other people leads to depression and writer’s block. Instead of thinking “I’m a failure. I’m twenty-six and haven’t published anything, but so-and-so is twenty-two and he/she has published so many books,” I’m trying to compete with myself. In the last few months, I’ve written down what my current word count is on the last day of each month. That way I can see how many words I wrote in the last month. I then tell myself, I’m going to write more the upcoming month. I’m going to compete with myself to get that higher word count. This pushes me to work harder without damaging my self-esteem or making me feel that no matter what I write, or how many times I re-write, I’m producing shit. It also helps keep the fire of motivation burning underneath me, so I write more regularly than I have in a long time. I’m sure I’ll experiment with other things to use against myself, but, for now, word counts work.
With bills to pay, a job to work, the stress of home life to contend with, life seems to do its best to drown the flames of your motivation. But hopefully some of these tricks will help you keep the flames burning. Have you tried any of these tricks? And what tricks do you use to stay motivated? Let me know in comments!