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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Spotlight on Motivation! How do you keep writing...


The last few weeks I've covered some things to think about before you submit that manuscript you've been working on for the last ________ (fill in the blank: month, year, decade). These tips have probably given you ideas to take into your next rewrite or maybe confirmed you really are ready for submitting. But regardless of where you are in the writing process, there is one thing we writers all share.

The need to stay motivated.


Motivated to finish the first draft of our manuscript.

Motivated to do rewrites.

Motivated to tackle the submission process.

Motivated to keep writing while you wait for your agent to (hopefully!) find your manuscript a home.

Whether it's your first book (screenplay, stageplay, short story) or your tenth, we all have moments when we think, why am I putting myself through this?

This month I'll spend some time exploring ways to keep you moving forward with your writing career. Whatever "career" means to you.

Staying Motivated to Write: Part II

Last week I compared writing to going to the gym. You know you'll feel good after you get there, but it's hard to get off the couch. I'm going to stick with that comparison again and talk about scheduling your writing time.

Just as people are more likely to stay with an exercise regime if they put their workout times on their calendar, creating a writing calendar can help keep you working through your most current draft.

Most writers are also juggling a day job, family, and other personal responsibilities. Carving out time to write can be difficult. We also often find ourselves feeling guilty about taking time out from the rest of our lives to sit alone with a computer and "make stuff up."

So here's tip number two. Your writing time is just as important as anything else you do.

That's right, just as important. And I'll tell you why.

You're a better person when your writing is going well. I don't have to know you to know that's true. You're less grouchy. You have more patience. You are more able to be available for your family and friends and do better in your day job when you are also paying attention to your writing.

So don't feel guilty about taking the time out to do it. And more importantly, let the people around you know that is your time and you need to be left alone to do it. The more interruptions you have, the less productive, so if people leave you alone you'll get done faster. (Okay, so we all know you might get on a hot streak with all that focus and hide out in your writing space for the rest of the weekend, but it's the thought that counts).

Create your writing calendar

This is a two part process. First, is to figure out what your goals are in what you're working on. Are you writing your first novel? Then you might want to sketch out a calendar for when you'll have steps done. Finish basic research by X date. Finish the first chapter by X date. Reach 60,000 words by X date. First draft by... you get the picture. Whatever those milestones are, write them out. That way you'll see your progression, and deadlines, even when we make them for ourselves, can make us work just a little bit harder. Some writers choose a goal of a certain number of words per day or per week. Others use larger chunks, like a first draft in six months. Find what motivates you the most and use that. Put your goals where you can see them - tacked to the wall, on your computer desktop... I sometimes like to write mine on a whiteboard above my desk, that way I can erase them (or change them!) as I reach them.

Next, you need to figure out your weekly writing schedule. Put that into your work and personal calendar to block that time out. Let your partners and friends and children know you are unavailable during those times unless it's an emergency. Obviously, sometimes things will come up you have to deal with, the dog needs to go to the vet, your child has a half day at school, you have to travel for work. But if you find yourself a consistent rhythm to your writing schedule, you are not only more likely to have more writing time, but you'll use it better, because you're prepared for it mentally. You know that from 6pm to 6:30pm Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you lock yourself in your writing room and crank out some work. 

For a lot of people, writing every day isn't reasonable, so don't beat yourself up about it. Find a schedule you can stick to - much better to write for an hour ever other day, than schedule writing daily and cancel every day because you've got to many other responsibilities. You don't need a four hour block to be productive. Learn to get a lot accomplished in a short time because you are focused, instead of getting little accomplished in a long time because outside pressures are getting in the way. 

It can also help to make yourself a note at the end of a writing session about what you think happens next - that way, when you sit down a day or a week later, you can pick back up again, losing less momentum.

Since you learned last week that you have to let the inner critic go, you also know that you aren't going to censor yourself during this time, you are going to get your words down on paper and worry about perfecting them later.

Unless you are in the rewrite phase, which you've got marked down on your list of goals, and scheduled in your calendar, so you know exactly when you want that polished draft done.

Scroll down for Part I


Motivation Part I

One of the hardest things about being a writer can be sitting down in front of the computer day after day, without knowing if anything will ever "come" of all the work you've been doing.

Regardless of whether you are thinking about the New York Times Best Seller List or just finishing a first draft to prove to yourself you can, staying motivated can be a tricky thing.

It's easy to write when you've got nothing else on your schedule, it's raining outside, and you're waiting on your next paycheck before you go out and do anything that requires an entrance fee. After all, writing costs nothing, or at least not much since you really can still write with a notebook and pen. It also doesn't require other people or access to a club. Anyone can do it.

So why don't they?

Because it's hard! Even when we feel compelled to write, as most of us do, we also feel compelled to sort socks, play with the cat, and watch daytime television. It's a little like going to the gym, you know you'll feel better after you do it, but it's hard to get out the door. Human beings are, by nature, impacted by inertia. The moment you stop writing it can be hard to get going again.

So here's a few things you can do to help overcome that inertia, starting with one's mental state about why one writes in the first place. Sometimes understanding our motivations can help.

Why do we write?

Along with being impacted by inertia, human beings are also expressive creatures. We dance, sing, paint, and tell stories. Almost all of us, at one time or another, said, read, or heard "Once Upon A Time," and knew something great might follow.

We are born to tell stories, some of us are just further over on the storytelling scale than others. Which is great, because everyone over on the other side is just waiting to hear a story. Knowing that, we storytellers suddenly feel pressured to tell the best story we can right out of the gate. But that's not the point. The point isn't writing the perfect story, the point is telling the story in the first place.

So, one way to stay motivated is to stop pressuring yourself for a specific outcome. Stop worrying about an agent or a book deal. Stop worrying about whether anyone is going to like what you are doing. Focus on whether or not you like what you are doing.

Do you enjoy the process?

Does it quiet the voices in your head that keep poking you about getting their story down on paper?

Do you find yourself working out plot problems while standing in line at the grocery store and every conversation you overhear in public might give you insight into human behavior, which you can then steal and put into your own work?

GOOD! Start there. Enjoy the process. It is, after all, the only thing you have control over.

I often hear writers say they aren't "ready" to write their story yet. They aren't sure if it's good enough or they have an idea but it isn't formulated yet.

My question then, is, what would it look like for you to be "ready?" The whole story mapped out in front of you? Okay, work on your outline. Or, more organically, just start writing and see what unfolds. Write that opening and then write that ending and then figure out how to go from point A to point 12.

How "good" is "good enough?" When someone buys it? That's not going to happen if you don't write it. Write it, then worry about the "good enough" part. If everyone worried about the perfect first draft, nothing would ever get written.

So, my first piece of advice on staying motivated is to get rid of expectations and just enjoy the ride. If you stop second guessing about whether or not what you produce every time you set down is "good enough," you'll find it's a lot easier to actually set something down.

Perfection is for rewrites, and even then you'll make mistakes, that's what editors are for. Or Beta Readers, or ...

Let your work be messy and unclear and illogical and flawed. There's time enough later to make it clean and clear and almost perfect.

Step one. Write the first draft. You can, you really can, you just have to put in the time.