by Stephanie Black
A friend asked me the other day how I got motivated to write my first book. She’s interested in writing, but the problem for her is that “gap between thinking and doing.”
I find this a very interesting issue.
I wonder if sometimes the difficulty in getting fingers to keyboard can stem from the difference between wanting to write
and wanting to have written
. It’s very possible to want the finished product—a book—but at the same time to lack the motivation for the actual lengthy process of writing it.
I have the same motivation problem with a lot of things in my life. For instance, I’d like to be organized. I’d like to have my library books back on time and to always be on top of everything, and so on. But I don’t want these things badly enough to go through the process of getting organized. It’s not until something becomes painful enough that I want to change more than I don’t want to bother that I take action. For instance, I passionately hate trying to find all the forms we need for our taxes. So each year, as tax documents start arriving in the mail, I put them into a Ziploc bag. Then when my husband is ready to do the taxes, I can hand him the bag. There’s always something I still need to find—for instance, the paper showing how much we paid to renew the car registration—but it makes it so much easier for me to have most of the papers all together. Because the problem bothered me so much, I was motivated to fix it. And, of course, there’s the classic example—I’d like to be skinnier. But I only want to BE skinnier—I don’t want to go through the process of GETTING skinnier. And until I want to lose weight more than I want to eat what I want when I want, it’s not going to happen. The motivation just isn’t there yet. I’m motivated enough to exercise, but not to count calories.
Back to the original question—for me, finding the motivation to write my first book was NOT a problem. Stepping away from the computer when I really needed to stop writing and go pay attention to something else--THAT was tougher. I was so excited about the story that I rushed for the computer every chance I got. I had young children, so the baby/toddler naptime after lunch was my golden writing time. Unless there was some unusual situation—like visitors coming to town—no way would I spend that precious time doing housework. If a friend came to visit during naptime, I would be internally twitchy because this was my writing time slipping away (but I would have been way too embarrassed to say, um, hey, I really want to write right now; could we visit later?) If my husband was gone on a business trip, I would sometimes stay up very late writing. Since I was not yet published, I had no one waiting for my book—no editor, no fans. There was no need to hurry so there wouldn’t be a huge gap between releases, and there were no deadlines. I could take as much time as I wanted, and I did. I spent years learning how to write and working on that book, and the fire didn’t dim. I loved it.
Subsequent books—well, that’s a somewhat different story. I’m still motivated, but the roaring fire has cooled a bit. I still love writing, but I don’t rush to devote every spare second to my story like I wanted to when I was working on my first book. I admit that I'm not as disciplined as I should be. But I am motivated enough to keep those books coming, knowing that if I want to be successful, I need to keep on typing.
So how can you motivate yourself when the fire alone isn’t enough to get your fingers to the keyboard? Here are a few suggestions to stoke the flames:
*Set small, concrete goals. Instead of a big monster-goal of “I am going to write a book”, break it down. “This week, I am going to write 250 words per day.”. That’s about one page. Or if you’re really feeling stymied, set a goal to write just 100 words per day. Or, if you prefer to set goals in time increments instead of by word count, you could say, “This week, I will spend twenty minutes a day working on my book.” Or an hour, or whatever works for you. Bestselling author and Whitney Award winner Josi Kilpack
said the following about getting out of a writing slump:
“What works best for me is forcing myself to write. I will set a timer for a prescribed amount of time and make myself write, no matter how much I don’t want to. I do about 30 minutes. Sometimes by the time the timer runs out I’m on a roll and I keep going. Other times I am so glad to leave the computer, but I am glad I did it.
"I think most writing slumps, at least for me, come from lack of confidence—either in my story, my ability to write it, or that I’ve taken care of other things in life enough to be able to feel good about writing. But it’s brutal trying to gain confidence when you’re not feeling it. I find making myself write gives me something to feel better about: “I’ve written three days this week, that’s better than last week” and eventually I find myself back in a groove.”
Following up on Josi’s comment about lack of confidence, my next tip is:
*Don’t demand perfection in that first draft. Get those words written and tell yourself you can fix them later. Of course you want to write your best and stretch yourself, but I think perfectionism can be the death of a first draft. If you worry too much that what you’re writing is awful, pretty soon you’ll sputter to a halt, or you’ll revise chapter one forty-seven times and never get anywhere near The End. Repeat after me: First drafts can be dorky. First drafts can be fixed. That’s what revision is for. There’s a lot to be said for gaining momentum, so don’t keep screeching to a halt to criticize yourself and redo everything. If you realize something in the story isn’t working, sometimes it helps to just make a note saying “fix this” and then keep moving forward.
*Give yourself little rewards. I’m an e-mail addict, so I often use that to kick myself in the pants, telling myself I have to write 200 words before I can look at my email again. It really works for me, and those 200 word increments add up. What little rewards might work for you? Chocolate? A favorite TV show? That novel you’ve been wanting to read? The chance to check your favorite blogs?
*Get a writing buddy or join a critique group. If you have to regularly submit pages
to a critique group, that’s some serious motivation to get to work. Or if you have a writing buddy, you can share your goals and follow up with each other—a little accountability can go a long way. Or join a writing challenge, like the ones author Tristi Pinkston
holds regularly on her blog, where you post your progress.
Now I’d love to hear your suggestions. What helps you stoke the fire and get that story written?