Pitchforks And Cupcakes: Motivating The Writer
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.
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.
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.
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?