It’s Monday and I thought it would be a good day to write another piece about the writing process. My previous (lengthy) post on how to write was an overview of the entire process, so now it’s time to delve into a few of the main points a little deeper to figure out how we can all find the motivation to continue our journey.
Motivation is funny - a lot of it resides in one’s head, yet it’s one of the toughest things to tap into when you really need it. As it stands today, I’ve found the motivation to not only write two novels but to continue working on a third, crank out a series of (unpublished) short stories, and create some local journalism. So how did I do it? I wish there was some kind of magic wand I could hand out to everyone who wants to continue down a similar path, but the fact of the matter is you’re going to have to figure out a lot of this on your own. All I can do is discuss my previous efforts and hope that they may be instructive.
Writing is damn difficult. Let’s get that out of the way right now. If you are going to commit yourself to a project of considerable magnitude, make sure your decision is final. If you find yourself waffling over the project a month into it, you haven’t dug deep enough to ensure this is what you want. What helps me the most when I sit down to write is simply knowing this is what I’m meant to be doing with my life. True, I do a lot in my life, including work at a bookstore, but when it comes right down to it, telling stories has become “my deal.” Make sure you understand your own, and that you really want to do it. Why is this important? Because you are going to run into roadblocks starting with the first day, and they aren’t going to get easier. Just writing the story is only one part of a much longer expedition to publication, where you will find yet more rejection but hopefully some success, too.
So once you’ve committed yourself, how do you keep at it? I wrote before about having a daily goal - this is very important. It doesn’t have to be a huge goal, especially if you’re just trying to get started. Pick a number you’re comfortable with - 500 words may seem like a lot but really isn’t; once you are able to crank out that many words each day you can raise it to 1,000 which is a pretty decent daily goal to stick with for a while. Finding the actual motivation to sit down at your desk is another thing - first I would say eliminate as many distractions as possible. If you happen to share a living space with another (lovely) human like I do, invest in a good pair of headphones for those times when she is watching HGTV in the next room. Make sure you have a clock somewhere that isn’t distracting, and a good writer’s drink like coffee, and that you have enough time to crank out your writing goal for the day. Planning your writing schedule out in advance is also a good idea - the night before a writing morning I always try to affirm to myself (and my wife) that this will be how I plan on spending that morning. Since I only have a few hours in the morning on the nights that I close, I try to get all the errands and chores I need to do out of the way in the hour before I sit down at my desk, and then don’t leave that area until my goal is accomplished. Most word processing programs have a “word count” option that will help you see how far you have left to go.
Of course, all the planning in the world won’t be worth much if you sit down at your desk and your mind goes blank. Writers’ block is something we all have to deal with, but it should never cripple your writing. Sure, some days there really will be nothing of value coming out of your typing, but that doesn’t matter. Consider that a LOT of what you’re putting down even now will be thrown on the cutting room floor regardless, and crank out what you can. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the writing of two books - you will get rid of a lot of excess that seemed so important at the time, but really did nothing to advance the story or reveal more about the characters. Even if as you’re writing it you think to yourself, “this is crap,” keep going. It’s wading through the crap that gets you to the good stuff.
Another idea that has helped me: at the end of each writing session, scroll down to the next blank page or two in your word document. Plunk down a few more sentences about where the story is heading and what topics you want to hit next. If your main character is going to run into somebody from his past in the next chapter, or the scary conspiracy is going to reveal itself in a new way during the next passage, jot down a sentence or two about the main points you want to convey when writing these next sections. I also find it helpful to put down a few “rules” or “themes” that I hope to follow throughout the entire novel: structural details, characters I don’t want to forget, or important settings. This way, the next time you sit down to write, you already have a page of notes for where the story is heading next. As I complete each of the notes, I delete some of them and add some new ideas until I get to the end (there will probably be some that never make it into the story, either). This is one surefire way I know to beat writer’s block - give yourself something to write about next time. Another way to do this, which I hope to spend more time on in another post, is to create an outline of your novel - that way you will always have a reference point.
These are some tips that have helped me keep going over the years. But really, the secret to motivation can only be found within yourself. If I watched more movies from the Eighties I would be able to insert some kind of snarky motivational quote in here, but suffice it to say that you can find this power in your own heart - you just have to know how to coax it into existence. Take it from me, the rewards will surely outweigh anything you gain from putting off your writing for yet another day.
John Abraham is an author and freelance journalist located in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Mary and their two cats. This blog is his attempt to catalog all the events that culminate a local writer's life.