Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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June 11, 2014

4 Tricks to Trapping the Elusive Motivation


Show of hands … who’s had a recent stare-down with your computer, muttered politically incorrect things at the blinking cursor and blank page, then proceeded to clean the toilet, weed the garden and the neighbor’s garden, fill the car with all those boxes collecting in the garage for the past year and driven them to the dump, read and filed emails from two years ago, just to avoid writing?

Not judging … come on. 🙂

Come on … I can’t be the only one! Can I?

*Clearing throat*  Well alrighty then … Moving right along.

Life and other priorities have sucked up much of my writing time lately. Okay, okay, I’ve let them suck up much of my writing motivation lately. Sometimes it’s just easier to clean toilets or answer emails than to make myself sit and write.

Maybe it’s years in the corporate world where deadlines drove every minute of my day, but I do better with external motivators. Here are a few tricks I use to get the writing done (and no, super-gluing my behind to the chair isn’t one of them):

1. Setting a deadline.

When I first sit to write on a new project, I don’t necessarily have a deadline in mind. But as soon as the story takes hold, I need to corral the loosey-goosey pantser writer that I am by putting some structure on what I’m doing.

There are any number of ways to come up with a deadline. Look for contests that you’d like to enter and set the opening of submissions as your target date. Or if you’re looking at querying agents with that manuscript, give yourself a deadline to have a polished manuscript done by a set time—perhaps before the post NaNo crunch, or before/after the holidays, or a respectable time before or after a large conference so that your manuscript doesn’t land in the post-conference frenzy.

Set a realistic deadline. Don’t expect to write and polish an 80,000-word manuscript in two months. That’s not to say that some people can’t do it, but the majority of us could use a bit extra time. Build in time for critiques and beta reads, give yourself a couple of weeks between drafts and before submitting to gain some distance.

2. Accountability partners.

I have two writing buddies I check in with regularly. Sometimes it’s a daily “are you writing today” or a “I accomplished this today, how did you do.” Some days it’s talking one or the other of us off a ledge or commiserating over bad writing, dirty toilets, cats with hairballs.

When I flip on the computer first thing in the morning, that’s the email I’m looking for. And when one of their emails or texts pop up during the day, it’s almost as good as a double espresso. 😉

3. Joining a group challenge.

I love challenges. The extra push of being in the trenches with others is a nice little motivator. A few I’ve participated in:

  • NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for those who can crank through 50k during November
  • Camp NaNoWriMo is a more open ended version, with sessions in April and July and word-count goals between 10,000 and 1,000,000.
  • PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) also takes place in November and is geared for picture book writers who want to build up a collection of ideas.
  • The Women’s Fiction Writers Association puts on a Write-A-Thin challenge for members in January. Though the focus is on editing (hence the “thin” part), all goals are welcome and encouraged.

If you’ve been part of a group challenge that’s not listed here, please add it in the comments!

Another option is, of course, to create your own challenge. As part of the Power Writing Hour, Jamie has been cheerleading the group with several challenges recently. May was for creating a writing habit. June is one of my favorites—by far—the Finish Something Month. Oh baby do I need to finish a few things! The support and enthusiasm of these groups keeps my motivated even when it feels like someone has their finger over my snorkel.

[Note: if you didn’t read Jamie’s post on Monday about online writing communities, you can find it here. They are great motivators!!]

It doesn’t have to be a large group either. You can put out a challenge for your critique group.

4. Reminders, reminders, reminders.

I keep a sticky note above the computer with my target dates. First draft done by such-and-such date, first round of revisions done a month later, beta read or another round of revisions X amount of time after, final revision and polished manuscript on this date.

Once I have those deadlines, I print out calendar pages and mark what word count should look like in order to meet my goal. Doesn’t mean I always hit that mark, but it keeps me focused on moving forward. Even if I’ve fallen a bit behind on word count, there’s usually a section of the book that flows faster and I catch up. That calendar stays on my desk, in plain sight. Seeing the word count goal each day when I sit to write is a great motivator.

Play around with one or two or even all four of these. You might find a combination that helps you stay focused on the end goal of a finished, polished manuscript.

Your turn ... what’s worked for you?

About Orly

OKL-NewAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet.  When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.

28 comments on “4 Tricks to Trapping the Elusive Motivation”

  1. Oh Orly, as one of my critters (crit partners) you know how I've struggled with this recently! What works for me (whining doesn't count) is #1 and #4.

    I start at my deadline on a calendar and work backwards, adding up the days. Then I subtract at least one day a week, and subtract any special things I have coming up that will eat up my writing time. I have a Open House party at the end of the month, and hello, #RWA14!

    Then I take the total days that are left and divide it into my word count. Then I up the word count to allow for all the crap that will happen that I don't know about yet.

    That gives me my daily word count.

    Then I sit and type until I at least make the goal every day - whether it takes two hours, or ten.

    Yeah, the life of a writer is all glitz and glamor, isn't it?

    1. But, Laura, what would our morning and afternoon check-ins be without some wineing ... I mean whining. Yup, whining. No wine involved. Yet. 🙂

  2. Great advice! I have to break it down into small, manageable chunks, working back from my deadline. For a first draft, it will be a daily word count, for a second draft--page count, for third draft--chapter count etc. If I focus on the day I'm in, not the big picture, I am queen of my universe (provided I have coffee, chocolate, and gin.) 🙂

    1. Small, manageable chunks! That's the key for me too. And lots of coffee. Which is probably why I end up working at the kitchen table next to the espresso machine way more than in my lovely office upstairs. 🙂

  3. Terrific post, Orly. Also love Laura and Barbara's tips. Thanks ladies! Off to set my deadline!

  4. Orly, I was waving my hand vigorously at your open question. Some days scrubbing my bathroom with a bristle-less toothbrush seems easier that staring at that blank page. I know I do much better with a deadline, but I have found that the ones I make just don't work because I am so good at rationalizing an extension for myself. I have some great crit partners, but have yet to really latch onto an accountability partner who holds me to a word count.
    I really like the idea of June being Finish Something Month. I have 3 projects in the works and really need to buckle down and finish ONE of them.
    Thanks for your encouraging post!

    1. Kate, accountability partners don't have to be crit partners. My husband and 9 year old son are actually two of my toughest accountability people. I'm lucky that one of my crit partners is also my daily check in buddy.

      The online community though, has turned out to be a HUGE motivator for me. If you haven't already, check out Jamie's post from Monday - it might give you some ideas. There are a lot of us out there cheering each other on. 🙂

  5. Hi, Orly. I love that I"m not alone in this. I sometimes feel like if I were a real "creative," then creating would be easier. I'm happily meeting deadline now, but that's because I'm currently into final edits, cover designers and ISBNs! And Laura, this is a great line (and advice): "Then I up the word count to allow for all the crap that will happen that I don’t know about yet." So true!

    1. I don't think any "real creative" creates easier ... everyone struggles over some aspect of this crazy life we've picked - whether it's sitting down to write or the fear of putting your work out there or ???

      Laura nailed it with that. So very true. Maybe the 5th point should have been to cut yourself a bit of slack as well. A huge motivation killer is seeing the goals slip away and deciding you can't do it so what the heck, at least cleaning toilets is instant gratification. Life does happen. And we have to look at what we've accomplished rather than fixating on what hasn't been done.

      1. True, Orly, but for me - who will never believe she's a 'real creative' (i.e. a fraud) the only way I can keep doing this is to prove to MYSELF that I can do it. And the only way I've found to do that, is to prove it, through good word count, every day.

        I'm not suggesting everyone should - we all have our own dragons - that's how I face mine.

        And I take a day off every now and again too.

  6. Thanks for the peppy post, Orly! Just what I needed today. I really like the print out the calendar thing. And I keep those post-its in front too. Have too. I'm starting a fresh project and will work backwards(Laura-love that) and calculate the word count I need. I love this group. Such great support and ideas.

    Now, I'm off to walk the pup. But I promise, Orly--to come back to the screen! LOL.

  7. You didn't think we'd admit to procrastinating, did you? One of the local writer's groups calls itself the cat vacuuming society-we'd rather vacuum cats than meet our deadlines.


    1. Oh my god, Tom, that's priceless! And ridiculously timely considering I just finished vacuuming up a mid-sized cat worth of kitty hair. 🙂

    1. Yay, Jann! That formula works ... it's what I do too. Don't forget to factor in plenty of those "oh crap" and cat vacuuming days. 😉

  8. Good Advice Orly. It's so easy to put off writing. Maybe it's because we love to do it and we feel guilty about doing it when we think of all the "practical" things that need doing around the house. I"m overly practical when it comes to things like this and often forget that "i" need the writing to be happy. And really, what could be more practical than personal happiness? 🙂 I'm getting my head on straight but I still have a kink or two in my neck. Ha!

    1. Sharla, I had the same glitch when I first started. But if you don't take yourself seriously as a writer, no one else will either. My husband told me that right after lecturing me that I need to block off a couple of hours every work day and not do anything but write. Go figure. And he was right. Sometimes vacuuming cats and scrubbing toilets is more appealing, but my "job" is to write. Your job - after putting up a photo - is to write! 😉

  9. Thanks for the great article. Lately, what's been working for me is writing a bit in the morning and then again in the evening. Sprints are also terrific. My brain can't focus on writing for hours and hours at a time. It's like physical exercise - I tell myself to "just do it for X amount of time and then you can take a break if you need it."

    1. Sprints are a great motivator, especially if you’re doing them with others.

      I’ll confess though that I find myself, more often than not, focusing on the time passing rather than actually writing. 🙂

  10. Lovely suggestions. Today I actually drove into town to walk at the fitness center when my story got stubborn. Now I'm home and I. Must. Write.

    1. I'm impressed, Barbara. If I had to drive to a fitness center, I'd probably never go. But you're definitely on to something - I work out a lot of stubborn scenes either on the treadmill or the bike.

  11. Loved the post, and it's very timely for me. We just went through a possible game changing family crisis and for the past two weeks I've not been able to write. It's the first time that's ever happened to me.

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