Pitchforks And Cupcakes: Motivating The Writer

Motivational Poster, Not

Yes. That is our dog. She’s usually much cuter. Usually.

No, that is not her poop. It’s something called a P’Nutz. But it looks like poop.

That’s not really why we’re here today.

I’m here to take my foot — thankfully for you, a relatively meager size 9-and-a-half (bad news: 9-and-a-half wide) — and punt it up your ass. Once it’s up there, I’m going to wriggle my toes around inside your colon, and I’m going to keep doing it until you silly writers get to writing.

See, with something like NaNoWriMo once more rising out of the East and slouching toward Bethlehem, this is a good time to take a look at how a writer motivates himself. How do we do what we do? How do we get our asses up in the morning and make the magical word donuts for our adoring eaters, er, readers? What’s the point?

We’re all driven toward a certain stagnation. We drift slowly toward an inert state, if not careful. Momentum makes momentum, but the reverse is true, as well.

Let’s talk about how a writer motivates himself, shall we?

Step One: Self-Actualize Your Bullshit

You silly writers. You have all these silly ideas. I live and die by my muse! I’m creating art! Inspiration is everything! I don’t need meth and cookies! I’m a beautiful princess! … okay, I think I got off the track a little there, because by gods, I am a beautiful princess. You should see my tiara. Also, you don’t need meth and cookies. One or the other, sure. But both? Only for the experts.

No, the point is, you need to clear your mind of all the bullshit. Writers bog themselves down with an unholy host of nonsense ideas. We make writing about everything but the act of writing. And, don’t get me wrong, the actual career of “Writer” requires a wealth of skills and a cabinet of secret weapons. But your biggest and best weapon is your actual writing. So, when it comes time to actually Put Ass In Chair And Write, forget all the other garbage. Forget publication. Forget adoring fans. Forget your Muse. Your Muse is as insubstantial as a devil’s whisper (or an angel fart), and just as easy to grab hold of. Writing is about putting blinders on. It’s about ducking into the trench and doing the work.

It is the katabasis — the Journey to the Underworld, the shedding of anchors and fetters.

One more bullshit notion to dispel: writer’s block. Get shut of it. I’m not saying writers can’t be unmotivated or uninspired, but that’s not unique to writers. We give it a name like it’s special. It isn’t. Ever have to mow the lawn, but you just can’t drag your ass to do it? It’s the same goddamn thing, so don’t get excited. It’s not some tragic artful state. You don’t have The Vapors. People give Writer’s Block power the same way they gave The Muse power. You’re breathing hot air into empty notions and inflating them. Lance the balloon. Let the air out.

Man, Writer’s Block. That’s a myth that deserves its own blog post. Maybe this week.

Anyway. These things are not motivational in and of themselves, no. But they can block your motivation. Do not let them. Dispel. Gain control. Yes.

The Food Web Step Two: Repetition, Repetition, Redundancy, Routine and Repetition

Oh, and also: repetition.

Ever heard the theory that if you do something 16 times, it becomes a “habit” in your brain? I dunno if it’s true. It’s probably nonsense. I mean, I only snorted rhino horn powder and antifreeze like… twice before I developed a habit. But, let’s say that the spirit of the law is true, even if it’s false at the letter level. The point is, you do something enough times, it becomes rote. Routine is great. Writers need routine. We’re like dogs. We need a firm hand. We need someone to walk us. We need fences, lest we stray.

Now, this isn’t motivational at the outset, no. That’s like saying, “You know how do I motivate myself to lose weight? I lose weight!” The point is, routine is a mechanism by which you lubricate your writing self. (Man, that sounds sexy. Yeah. Lubricate.) Once you’ve developed the habit, you’ll need less motivation — if any at all — to do the deed and get to writing.

Step Three: Lying-Ass, Cheating-Ass Deadlines

If you have real deadlines — like, someone says, “Turn this into me by X Date, and I’ll pay you Y Money,” then you don’t need this part. Otherwise, you need someone to lie to you and give you deadlines. Seriously. Try it. You can give yourself deadlines all you want. If you haven’t exercised the deadline muscle, you need to in order to make it Big and Strong (which, by the way, are the names of each of my testicles). Have someone give you a realistic deadline. Got a significant other? Make her give you a deadline. “I want to read chapter one by the end of the week.” Something like that. It’s a false move — a feint, a juke right — but it works.

The Family Jewels Step Four: Minimize Distractio… Hey, Shiny Objects!

Writers are idiots. I mean, really — we’re deep idiot. I don’t know what it is, but we’re easily distracted. We’re like raccoons or magpies. Always pawing and pecking. The world is home to many distractions. You can’t get rid of them all, no. You still can bite your fingernails and play with yourself and eat carpet fibers. But do what you must to remove the other distractions from your writing area. I know, I know. You want to finally put together that puzzle of the kitten riding the horse. Or maybe you finally want to ding Level 74 on Age of World of Groghammer. This is why I don’t play MMOs anymore. Not because I don’t want to. Fuck that. I want to. But I know me. I know my shit. And I know I’ll fasten my mouth to that sweet grinding teat the moment I wake up in the morning just to get a taste of that sweet MMO milk.

Hell, my router has a button on it that says INTERNET. Sometimes, I just gotta turn that shit off to write.

You reduce the distractions, and you create an open space — a kind of tabula rasa, a blank page. That is motivating, because you want to fill the emptiness.

With your word squeezin’s.

Step Five: You Are Bee #3,476 In the Hive Mind

I don’t mean to suggest you should play with bees, nor am I suggesting that writers are just automated ants in a giant colony. I do mean that it will motivate you to talk to other writers. Writers of all stripes. Speak to those with less experience. Speak to those with equal and similar experience. Speak to those with far greater experience. This is motivating. They did it. So can you. Just don’t get caught in the Hate Cycle. Don’t think, “I’m not as good as them.” Or, worse, “Fuck those guys for being better than me.” That way leads to badness. Hey, I love me some schadenfreude, for real. But if you delight in the misery of other writers, something’s wrong with your machinery.

Point is, community is a good thing. (It’s one of the things I missed in that NaNoWriMo post.) Writers are good signposts. They can help you. They can commiserate. They can boost you up. They can offer you advice. They can show you the way and help you find work. Mostly, other writers are pretty cool. You’ll meet a few stinky fuckballs, but that’s true in general. Overall, I’d say that (and we’re talking real writers, here — sorry, fake-ass biznitches) writers in general are actually nicer than most other people. I mean, not me. I’m kind of a jerkhole. But everybody else, yes.

The writer’s community is full of motivation. Harness that shiznit.

Step Six: Reward (Cupcake!)

Actually, Reward: The Cupcaking is the newest game from White Wolf Game Studios. I’m developing it. It’s going to be super-sweet.

The motivation here is an easy one: give yourself the carrot, not the stick. Set a target (say, 1,000 words a day) and set yourself a small reward. Or a big one, if that’s what you need. (A new Maserati!) Finish your work, and ta-da! Cupcake! Fail your work and…

Step Seven: Punishment (Eternal Shame)

Been over it already, but shame is a powerful motivator. I don’t want to be ashamed of myself. I want to be proud. I want the people around me to be proud. Why not? Miss the mark time and time again, and shame will straighten you right out. Sometimes, you need the stick.

Step Eight: Finishing Moves, Fatality

Finishing something feels great. Not finishing something feels like you just drank a cup of motor oil and threw it back up. So, finish something. Start small, and get to the end of it. Write a 2,000 word short story. A poem. Anything. Once more, this in and of itself is not originally motivational, but it plants the seeds of future motivation. Knowing that you can finish something is a big punch in the pants. Er, the good kind of punch to the pants.

Cash and Bullets Step Nine: It’s Time To Get Paid

Seems obvious, but it bears mentioning: get paid for your work, and you’re going to feel a shitload happier about doing the work, even when that future work isn’t necessarily paid work. The first money earned from writing is a big deal. I know, I know, writing isn’t all about the money. But as I was saying to DJ MC Henley and the Blue Ink Alchemist, while writing may not be about the money, it damn well better be about the Putting Food In My Body and Remaining Beneath A Roof. Since we haven’t yet gone back to wampum, it appears that I require money to afford things like food, shelter, and hobo wine.

Doesn’t matter how much you get paid. Really. Get paid five bucks for a story, that’s a big jumping exclamation point inked right in the Win Column, friend. No, you can’t buy a lot of hobo wine for that amount — only about, mmmm, four and a half boxes, I think — but it feels fucking spectacular. That’ll give you tinder for your writer’s fire that’ll last a good long time.

Now, I don’t have advice for how to get paying work. I can only tell you that persistence is a part of it, as is not sucking.

So, be persistent, and try to learn your craft.

Step Ten: Love What You Do

If you’re one of those writers who finds only misery in what he does, do yourself and the rest of us a favor: stop it. Don’t torture yourself. If writing causes you pain, why do it? I’m not saying writing needs to be a thrill-a-minute. It’s work, make no mistake. But if it’s not work you enjoy — and work you want to do — quit.

Loving what you do is a powerful motivator. And, on those mornings when you’re not quite sold on this drain-swirl of a career choice, just think: Would I rather be pushing a broom? Not that there’s anything wrong with the world’s custodial profession — I’m just saying, writing for a living is a sweet-ass gig. So suck it up and stop complaining, Nancy.

Your Turn, Internuts

Riddle me this, writerheads. What motivates you? What gets you up in the morning to churn the verbal burn? What gets you geeked about fingers on keys, or pen to page? What keeps you going when the going gets punchy?


  • Funny thing is, last week I decided not to re-subscribe to World of Craft of Grognard, and let something I was working on slip (and I can’t complete it until next year). In the month or so since I finished my last writing thing, I’ve let that game take over my writing time. Instead of sitting there actually thinking or exploring some of my ideas, I turn on that game and say “I’ll think about it in the background while I… Oooh! Epix!”. I think the game may stay off for a while now. I have a blog no one reads and I am getting some ideas for a second one no one will read, and I am sick of not writing my novel. If it’s ever going to get rejected, I need to get it out the door.

    I went to high school with Trent Zelazny (yes, that Zelazny’s son). I lost track with him over the last fifteen years; when I knew him, he was more a musician than anything else. After Roger’s death, he kind of pulled away from a lot of people (totally understandable), and in that I just never really saw him again. I found him randomly on Facebook a few days ago, and he has one published book of short fiction and has a novel coming out next year.

    Things like that motivate me. Trent’s a great guy and a fantastic writer. Talking to Chuck, Jess Hartley, and others has helped keep me focus. My wife struggling with the stories she’s working on helps motivate me. Giving her (and others) advice motivates me. Writing really long responses with irrelevant examples motivates me. Pirates dancing from mast to mast under fountains created by the blowholes of whales… well fuck, who wouldn’t be motivated by that?

    I’ve read a lot of your posts Chuck, but I think this is the one that I’ll keep coming back to. Amazing job my friend.

  • Motivation, motivation….hm…wait, why am I posting this again?

    Nah. Motivation comes in many forms, for me. Currently, I just finished up a project, am a fan of real deadlines and done NaNoWriMo. The current thing was writing about various permutations of celebrity, which was something I had never done, but thought I could. So there was that aspect; the challenge to write in a new way. Also, there was the portfolio. I’ve spent the summer cataloging my history and it’s been a while since it was current, and being current is a motivator. Then, let’s not forget the greenbacks. And let’s be honest, we’re not talking hookers and blow dough, but paid-credit is good, especially as the deadline looms and eats my free time. Finally, is vanity. It is a flaw of mine. I’m a great contradiction–a vain fat man. But I speak of writerly vanity, rooted firmly in childish “Look what I did!”-ness. Interestingly, this project doesn’t totally fulfill that motive as I signed an NDA which limits me from going into detail or even taking a byline credit. Also something new for me, and potentially something I won’t do again. But maybe that’s the vanity talking.


  • I don’t know about y’all, but Heinlein speaks of the need to write in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. A more in-depth discussion is going to come soon, perhaps this afternoon when my anti-corporate slack instinct kicks in, but for now (and in the interest of staying on topic and not being too long winde… crap) I’d say what motivates me is that need to write. There’s stuff in my head and I’ve GOT to get it out in a written form. I just happen to have the skills to articulate it in a way people like reading and occasionally pay money to read.

    • Josh: If you get the Heinlein quote (or any quotes), shoot ‘em over here. Love to check that out.

      Shawn: And the blog post approves of you, sir.

      Keith: Hopefully the $$ compensates then for the lack of credit, because credit is currency in the writer’s world. Without credit, you’re broke.

      Scionic: Well, I read your blog. :)

      — c.

  • I didn’t mean that as snarkily as it sounded ^_^. More my point was I am going to write it in spite of the fact that no one (except Chuck) reads it. I also have been batting a serial around, and I am in the process of setting that up. Mine would be very limited run though, maybe 45-50 posts.

    Why? Because seeing the coolness of Shadowstories inspired me. Reading other people’s cool inspires the hell out of me, and you guys knocked it out the park with that. I sit there and go “This is cool… hell, I could do that. How would I?”

    Keith: I am gonna get right down with you on the challenge thing. When you combine challenge and deadline, that’s the ticket.

    And to all of you people that actually get paid to write: ..|.. Your success is an insult, and I shall not suffer you to be happy! That will completely change when I get paid for something, and then change even more when I get paid a lot to write something. I have my convictions, I am just not very good at them.

  • I can tell you right now that there is no way for me to minimize my distractions unless I duct tape the kids’ mouths and velcro them to the walls. Currently the man-unit is working 70 hour weeks at the office and home, so unfortunately I can’t even get him to watch them for an hour or so while I do anything “serious.”

    However. I made the decision to vomit something into my blog every day if possible, no matter how brief or crappy, simply to let me have the opportunity to play with words and keep myself… lubricated.

    I have had moments even then where I’ll be in the middle of a sentence and the house goes Defcon 4 and when I get back I have no idea what the hell my point was.

    I’ll try to do better though.

    • You will find much cuter dogs here —


      And yeah, kids, I imagine, are huge distractions. David Hill chatted up L.A. Banks, though, and she pushed through the pain and somehow found time to write even with children (as do David and Filamena). It’s tough, for sure. Heck, didn’t Stephen King sneak in novel work on scraps of note paper or something while at work?

      Of course, he was also drunk and/or on other hard drugs.

      So, there’s that. :)

      — c.

  • I write during the day, and have two running around… and it is hell. I’ll be following an idea only to have suddenly get up and make stop the kid from jumping off something, then sit back down and have no idea where I was going. Even with backtracking, I end up losing a lot of ideas.

    On the same hand, little things my kids while I am just sitting there trying to come up with something can give me the kick I needed. In all, they end up being more distracting than helpful, but I am thankful that they do help the process as well.

    Julie: I wish I wasn’t sober. Then I’d be able to wash the day away with sweet sweet liquor and forget I even have kids.

  • Not sure what to call it, but every time I step up to write something I get this overriding sense of “this has been done before, so why I am I bothering.” It can be something that is a better idea than the original, a refined inspiration of another that I would want more focus on a different theme, hell it can be something fairly unique…

    Still I look at my work (and even a lot of the work of others) and see parallels… I find it very discouraging.

    • Dave —

      No work is original. But your voice can be.

      The way you tell the story is where you succeed; less so in the originality of the story itself. Not to say you can’t make it feel like a fresh arrangement; but really, that’s an element of how your voice offers the reader the tale.

      — c.

  • I’ve started thinking less of how I’ll be compared to others that work in the same circles I do, especially when it comes to submissions to the Escapist, but more in how I’m different from the herd.

  • Yeah, I dig. There’s enough of a credit, in that it is able to be put on a resume and the employer will offer a positive testimonial (if it’s warrented), but no, no byline. And I must admit to loving that name in print.

  • Gary Chide has never been a writer, but he’s had success using Stickk.com to help with deadlines. Might work for a writer who’s hoping to make progress on a project. It initially seems shady but its on the up-and-up.

    Identify a goal, pick a referee to evaluate that goal, and then send Stickk.com an amount of cash you think the goal is worth. When your referee logs on and confirms you’ve met your deadline and completed your goal, Stickk.com sends ALL the money back to you. If you fail… Stickk.com sends the money to a charity of your choice. For extra motivation, chose an ‘anti-charity’ which is opposed to your personal beliefs.

    Writer’s who aren’t at the point of getting paid just yet might find it helpful to ‘pay themselves.’

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