I always thought that the best way to beat writer’s block (of any severity) was to just keep writing. (In fact, I’ve probably posted that here on the blog more than once.) Sit down. Force words onto the paper (or screen.) Make your mind work its way to the promised land of renewed motivation by dragging itself along.
That always seemed like the responsible method for addressing the hot topic of motivation. Just buckle up and buckle down.
But it’s not.
I did a lot of writing this Summer. A lot of it. Some days (most days, actually) I didn’t look forward to it. For whatever reason, I wasn’t really ‘feeling it’ this Summer. I made myself sit down and write anyway. I kept on trucking.
I made a lot of progress. I even settled into a rhythm. Like I said, I got a lot of writing done this Summer. But… it wasn’t fun, at least not in the same way it had been for years. I did the hard thing and kept writing. And the motivation never came back.
My good old landscaping supervisor had a phrase he had to repeat to me over and over and over through our late afternoons on the jobsite: “Work smarter, not harder.” You see, whether I’m working on pulling out tree roots or hammering out an outline, I tend to bull-rush my way forward until the problem is tackled (and I’m exhausted.) The problem with that approach is that sometimes you’re the one who gets bull rushed.
So, all that leads up to this: today I want to discuss how to work smarter, not harder, and get yourself remotivated.
Step 1: Take Breaks
Writing can thrive in your life as many things, a habit, a hobby, a job. What it can’t be is a lifestyle. Day in, day out, up early, in bed late, always writing. I tried to do this last Summer as I hammered my way toward my unreachable wordcount goals. It didn’t work. I tried to bull rush my novel, and it bull rushed me right back.
Perhaps the most helpful piece of writing advice I’ve ever received came from author and GTW contributor Stephanie Morrill. She said anyone who was serious about their writing needed to set their writing time. She said to pick a time of day and every day sit down and write for an hour or half an hour or however long you decide you want to commit to your writing. She said making sure that you sat down at that time every day would make sure that you did some writing every day. What I didn’t realize though, was that by setting a time for writing to happen, I was also setting a time for it not to happen. A time to hang out with my brothers or read a book or mow the lawn. By picking my writing time, I was allowing myself to have non-writing times, and by taking those, I was allowing myself to back off the bull rush and catch a breath.
That breath, turns out, is the difference between enjoying writing and working through it.
Step 2: Vary Your Work
One of the hardest parts about writing a novel is the time commitment. Writing a first draft takes a long time. It’s not something you can sit down and muscle through in a weekend. And, while you’re working your way through it, it can get old.
I don’t have to convince y’all of this. You guys know what I’m talking about. Avoiding this is key to maintaining your motivational energy. You need to still love your story. Unfortunately, many writers dodge this boredom by stepping away from their novel for one (three) week(s). Or more. Once they’re out of the game though, they’re out of it for good. One week turns into three in the blink of an eye. And once you’ve been out of a story that long, it’s really hard to get back in.
Instead of dropping completely out of the creative game for a significant portion of time, try varying your work by taking part in quick writing projects on the side. Giving critiques is always a good place to start. Or writing a short story. Reading some other fiction (or select nonfiction.) (If you haven’t read Go Teen Writers, please do. Really, you owe it to your writing career.)
Keeping your brain engaged with creative energy while letting it take a break from your own story is a great way to restore balance to your writing life and keep your motivation fresh.
Step 3: Keep it Real
Here soon I want to do a post on keeping emotions engaged in your writing, but for now I’ll just say this. Some of the most powerful stories I’ve read are not all that ‘grand’. They’re just down to earth narratives about down to earth people. They strike close to home because they engage emotions that we feel in our everyday lives. If your story is boring you, maybe you need to reevaluate its emotional impact.
Again, more on this later.
Step 4: Avoid Distractions While Moving Forward
The whole ‘get off facebook and write’ mantra is a little old so I want to add a fresh element here. Staying away from distractions is great, but in this world, it’s also exhausting. We are constantly battered by distractions and we’re used to responding to them. It takes a lot of will power to tune them out and write. Soon enough, the distractions will win again and you’ll be back online.
How do you really get writing? How do you really get rid of distractions for good? Well, you can’t replace something with nothing. If you’re going to get rid of distractions, you have to fill your mind palace with something else. Your story, maybe? Know what you’re sitting down to do before you turn your distractions off, then do it. Are you going to write a chapter? What about? Are you going to work on a character outline? What do you need to know about him? Do you have a character sheet to help you round him out?
Getting your goals laid out before you start is always a good way to make progress. And really making progress is a good way to motivated.
Step 5: Achievable Goals
Every year when I do NaNoWriMo, I scrape across the 50,000 word mark just happy to be alive. But I always feel like I could have done more. Like I was in a good spot to really hammer out some hard words. That’s why last July when I did Camp NaNo, I set my word count goal at 100,000 words. Go me.
I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it, but ‘hey, I thought, what’s the harm?”
Actually, the harm was a lot. I realized very quickly that I really was not going to make 100,000 words, so I just started letting days slip by. When all was said and done, I’d only recorded 30,000 words on the month. My lowest total ever for any NaNo related month.
If you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll land among the stars. Where you’ll freeze in the infinite vacuum of space. And suffocate too.
Lofty goals which can’t be met are motivational killers. Don’t be sucked in by their daring charm. Set reasonable, small goals and meet them. That will help you build your momentum.
That’s all for today, Woodlings. I hope your motivated by this post (or at least by the methods in it.) Have a great week of writing!