Image from Flickr by Wiertz SÃ©bastien
“Do you have any tips about how to motivate yourself?”
– Allison, by email
While all writers struggle with motivation, it’s particularly tough for fiction writers. We often end up working for years on a novel or short story collection … and it’s very easy to end up writing less and less frequently.
These nine tips work for me, and for most of the people I coach. There’s a good chance that most will work for you too. (Even if you’re not a fiction-writer, you’ll find that many of them still apply.)
#1: Have a (Firm) Deadline
Deadlines have a wonderful way of concentrating the mind. As soon as your writing has a deadline attached, it becomes urgent.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have an agent or publisher breathing down your neck, you need to get a bit creative about your deadlines. Simply saying “I’ll have finished the first draft by Christmas” isn’t necessarily enough.
To make your deadline more powerful:
- Get someone else involved: a friend, a writing buddy, a teacher or coach. Promise that you’ll send them your short story by a particular date.
- Enter a competition. These have very real deadlines, plus wordcounts; they’re great for writing discipline.
#2: Take a Writing Class
Every time I go to a writing class, course, or lecture, I come out feeling inspired to write. Back in 2008, when I started my creative writing degree at Goldsmiths, I was worried I’d lost my motivation for fiction — I was enjoying blogging too much. After a single class, though, I was raring to get started on my novel, Lycopolis.
You don’t have to take a degree to get motivated. Try local writing classes or events — if you can’t find any through an online search, ask at local libraries or bookshops.
To get the most from a class:
- Be prepared to participate. Usually, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out. Make an effort to speak up — and don’t shy away from reading out your work, if there’s an opportunity for that.
- Try something different. If you’re a novelist, go to a class on screenwriting or poetry: you might not choose to try out a new medium, but you may well find yourself re-inspired for your novel.
#3: Listen to Music That Fits Your Writing
With a bit of luck, your preferred genre of fiction and your preferred genre of music will overlap. There’ll be something in the sound of the music, or the lyrics, that appeals to your creative side. You might not like to listen to music while you write (it can be distracting) — but you could put your favourite album on before a writing session.
I listened to a lot of Metallica while I was writing Lycopolis. Mostly as an excuse to listen to Metallica… but the energy of the music helped inform the pace of the novel, and a few lyrics inspired particular scenes.
You might like to try:
- Picking a specific album (or even one track) as “writing” music. Listen to it when you want to get into the writing frame of mind, and not at any other time.
- Using a particular song as the basis for a new scene. You could simply take the general mood of the piece as the starting point, or work particular lyrics into the dialogue or narrative (even if you take them out later).
#4: Imagine Yourself Writing
In all sorts of fields, people use visualisation to help them reach their goals. Top athletes, for instance, might imagine going through a particular set of moves again and again. Public speakers may picture themselves walking onto the stage, delivering a great speech, and receiving the applause of a thrilled audience.
Some writers like to daydream about their finished book on the shelves … and while there’s nothing wrong with that, visualisation tends to be more effective when you see yourself doing the actual writing.
When you want to feel more motivated to write:
- Sit with your eyes closed and imagine yourself writing. Hear the click of the keyboard, see the words appearing in front of you on the screen.
- Don’t be afraid to visualise problems. Imagine getting stuck, feeling tempted to check emails. Then imagine yourself saying “no” to that impulse, and sticking with the task at hand.
#5: Set Aside Time for Your Fiction
You’re never going to stumble across a “perfect” time to work on your novel. Other commitments in your life — school, work, family, friends, different hobbies — could easily fill every day, if you let them.
Keep your fiction going by setting aside time for it. For me, that’s often Saturdays. I look forward to diving into my novel (and this helps motivate me to get my other writing done during the week, too…)
To really make time for your fiction:
- Block out several hours, if you can; perhaps even a whole day. Even if you can only do this once a month, it’s a great way to relax into your writing and make serious progress.
- Stick to your fiction appointment. If you’ve promised yourself that you’ll work on fiction all day Saturday, turn down social invitations. You don’t need to explain why unless you want to: “Sorry, I’m busy that day,” is fine.
#6: Picture the Scene in Progress
In #4, I suggested visualising yourself writing. Another great use of your imagination is to picture the scene that you want to write.
Where are your characters located? What are they saying or doing? Try to “see” the scene unfold in front of you.
This can feel a bit odd at first, so:
- Don’t worry if you can’t “see” the scene in glorious technicolour and surround-sound. When I imagine my characters, they’re often small (like dolls), as if I’m looking down from a height, and I can’t hear them. Other times, I can imagine what they’re saying, but I don’t have a clear picture of the location.
- Write down notes to capture what you imagine: these can just be brief bullet points about things that need to occur in the scene. Often, the act of writing will spark off new ideas.
#7: Remind Yourself Why It’s Important
One of the reasons why writers grind to a halt and eventually give up is because the rest of life seems “more important” than writing fiction. When you’ve got bills to pay, dishes to wash, family to care for, friends to see, writing a novel can seem like a big waste of time or a huge indulgence.
It’s not. Your fiction is important. Even if you never publish a single word of it, you’ll still have gained a huge amount through the writing itself.
So that you remember that fiction matters:
- Record your reasons for writing fiction, and don’t be afraid to say why it matters to you. If writing fiction makes you feel happy and grounded, that’s important and valid.
- Talk with other writers. That could mean meeting up for coffee with a writing friend, joining a local group, or hanging out on Twitter or in writing forums online.
#8: Workshop with Other Writers
One of the great things about workshopping isn’t just that you get insightful feedback on your work-in-progress; you also get the buzz of having people read and discuss your writing. Often, they’ll be keen to know what happens next — which can encourage you to get on with the next chapter.
Seeing other people’s work progress can also be motivating: you’re around other people who value writing and who take it seriously.
When you’re looking for a workshop:
- Find a group that meets regularly. Anything less than twice a month makes it hard to keep up motivation.
- Avoid any groups with destructive members who seem to have their own agenda to pursue. Feedback and criticism are valuable; personal attacks, or constant nitpicks about non-issues, aren’t.
#9: Write the First Few Sentences
This tip might look deceptively simple. It’s also very effective. When you’re not feeling motivated, just sit down and get started.
You don’t need to be in the right mood for fiction. You don’t need to wait until the muse descends. You don’t need to feel like every word flowing from your fingers is gold.
You just need to write.
If you need some help getting those first few sentences down:
- Give yourself a time limit. Write for, say, ten minutes. However unmotivated you’re feeling, you can manage ten minutes.
- Start half-way through the scene. Jump in with a line of dialogue or a sudden action, and go from there. You can always go back and start things off more smoothly later (and you might even find that midway is the best place to begin).
Next time you want to write but feel unmotivated, give one or two of these tips a try. (And if you’re still stuck, go for my ultimate motivation tool: I’m either going to write or clean the house. Works every time..!)
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