Everyone tells you to write every day, but how do you manage that when lacking motivation? PHS Editor, Kali Anthony gives some tips on what to do when you find yourself flagging.
When you start out writing, you tend to get the same advice. It goes something like this: write very day, and finish the damned book.
Now I happen to think that’s pretty awesome advice, but no-one really tells you how to fit in writing every day, or how to cross the finish line if you... Really. Don’t. Feel. Like. Writing. Today.
A lack of motivation isn’t necessarily such a huge problem if you’re not published. You’ve got the time to take, to get it right, and ride out any low periods. The problem is, if you’re going to write professionally and are looking to get a contract with publisher, they’re not going to really care if you’re feeling a bit flat and not in the mood for the story. They have a time limit, and want your words. So it’s important when unpublished to start as you mean to finish and that’s treating your writing like a job, and getting the job done, no matter how you feel. It means you’ll already have the right work ethic, when you finally get “the call.”
Now, all of this is grand, but how to get a wriggle on, when even cleaning the bathroom feels like a more worthwhile activity than writing your story? And yes, I have cleaned my bathroom rather than writing my book. Just saying.
Levels of motivation are associated with your brain’s reward system. In essence, this gives you the happy feels when your work—whatever it may be—is done. That’s the dopamine doing its job. The problem is, you don’t get the dopamine kick until you’ve done the hard stuff, and this means delaying gratification. In a world of instant gratification for most things, delayed gratification means you’ve got to keep going for long enough to feel good about what you’re doing.
We all know how that feels. The rush of achievement when we’ve written our words helps us forget that on some days, getting those words done is about as fun as having all your teeth extracted without anaesthetic.
But it’s also where most of us fall down, putting in the hard yards before feeling the reward whether it be in writing, exercise, healthy eating or whatever. So here are some tips and tricks I’ve used to get motivated and get writing.
Ditch the mobile phone/internet
This in number one for me. Social media is all about immediate gratification, and the internet is a big, black hole you can fall into for hours without noticing. Now in the morning, when my alarm goes off at 4:30 am, I leave the phone next to my bed. I’ve also disabled the internet on my laptop.
This means there are no distractions. And you know what, it’s worked a treat because rather than think, “I have to check Twitter,” I just sit and write.
I don’t check my phone till I’ve done my words.
Set small goals
At the beginning of my writing process, I’d set big daily words counts. I thought this would help me to strive harder, but my consistent failure to make word count only made me feel bad about myself.
When I cut back the daily word count to what seemed achievable, I found myself routinely eclipsing it. This made me happy, gave me a sense of achievement, a confidence boost and as a consequence had me back at the computer the next day.
Make yourself accountable
Another great way of getting motivated, is to make yourself accountable to others. Writing is a solitary activity but last month I talked about finding your tribe. This is important, because you're communicating with like minded peeps about what's important to you, and they can keep you motivated.
So, join a word count group. Arrange sprints with a writing friend. It’s more fun doing things together, and being accountable got me writing every day because I told others what I wanted to achieve and they helped hold me to it.
Make a date with yourself
Writing is my time. One of the few things I do just for me. It’s a selfish activity because it’s something I love that I have to set time aside for. Rather than bemoaning the alarm at 4:30 a.m., I re-framed my view of those early hours. I now celebrate the ninety minutes of alone time before I have to get myself and the family ready for work and school. Those early morning hours are all mine, with no interruptions.
Set up a welcoming place to work
I write in my kitchen, it’s the only real spot in the house to do that so early in the morning. When that kitchen gets messy, and it does (why, why does everyone use the kitchen table as a dumping ground for their stuff?) the whole space feels cluttered, and when I have a cluttered space my mind feels the same. I can't think clearly about the story. So, last thing at night I make sure the table is clear to give myself plenty of clean space physically and mentally. I also have a bunch of fresh flowers on the table to make the space look pretty—it’s currently a bunch of pink roses. Some people light candles to get them in the zone. I set up water, coffee/tea and snacks, to keep me tied to my spot.
A little clear and welcoming space of your own can make all the difference in getting you started, keeping your backside on the seat, and fingers on the keyboard.
It’s okay to fail
Whether it’s writing badly, or not achieving other goals, it’s important to realise that failing is okay. I used to beat myself up for not making word count, or missing a day’s writing. All that led to was the feeling that writing was a chore. When I realised sometimes life gets in the way and on some days I couldn't write let alone make word count, I felt a whole lot better about myself. It also motivated me to try harder the next day because rather than thinking myself a failure, I recognised that I had to make up the time later.
Decide—is writing really important to you?
This is the hardest of all. Deciding whether writing is actually important to your inner self. This requires a bit of navel gazing and considering your "purpose". But working out why something is important to you, can remind you of why you need to get motivated and keep going.
If you find an activity enjoyable, you’re intrinsically (internally) motivated to continue it. We all know how important internal motivation is for our characters. Turns out it’s just as important for ourselves! Even on my darkest days, I get a deep satisfaction from writing. It can be like pulling teeth, but when you solve that plot problem the rush is worth all the wailing and moaning with head in hands or bashing said head on the table.
If your reason for writing is extrinsically (externally) motivated, your motivation will flag because the reason's you're writing are not personal to you. Of course, you might find you’re extrinsically motivated if you’re on a deadline or being forced to write from some other reason, for example see this month's The Write Thing , where our authors talk about making deadlines. Then, the writing is something that has to be done and you don’t have a choice. But even if you’re in that scenario, find reasons why which are internal to you, so the tough job is meaningful. For me, right now, one motivation is to be published. Another motivation is the desire to give my characters the best story and “life” they can have. That’s my responsibility and mine alone. I don’t want to do a half-baked job for them because to me they are real people.
Look, we all know that writing isn’t easy, which makes getting motivated feel insurmountable at times. I’ll be frank, I don’t always get it right and my list above is by no means exhaustive. But on those days where I feel like throwing in the towel, I remind myself regularly why I keep writing. I reset small goals, cut myself a bit of slack, and find the fortitude to keep going.
Do you find it hard to get motivated? What are some tips when you find yourself flagging? We’d love to hear from you here or on social medical using the hash tag #motivation.