How To Motivate Yourself As A Writer
Writerly motivation is a tough nut to crack. I go and I write a single tweet, I get immediate feedback. Maybe nothing happens, or maybe some people respond. Could be I get some retweets, some LOLs, some digital high-fives, a troll or two. Social media is great because it’s a dopamine rush. I’m a chimpanzee who pokes the button and gets an immediate testicular tickle.
Writing a book is nothing like that.
Writing a book is you spitting in a tin pail once a day. And you won’t even let anybody see it until it’s full. “NO, IT’S MY SPITBUCKET, YOU CAN’T SEE IT YET, NOT UNTIL MY MASTERWORK IS COMPLETE.” *hawwwk* *ptoo* *plunk* “DON’T LOOK AT ME!”
It’s completely self-reflective and self-driven. Wanna know what it feels like? It feels like this:
You write a paragraph on little slip of paper, then whisper to yourself: “Is it any good?” Then you respond, also in a whisper: “I have no fucking idea.” “Oh, okay. Should I keep writing it?” “I really don’t know, please stop talking to me.” “Okay.” “Okay.” Then you use your manuscript to soak up the tears, and discover it’s not even good at doing that.
So, how do you do it? How do you motivate yourself every day to drag your sluggy body up to the keyboard and headbutt the keys until a story is made? Day after day, one month, two month, six month, a year if that’s what it takes? As the actor is wont to ask the director:
“What’s my motivation?”
So, here, then, are some practical thoughts on building your story, one word-brick at a time:
Seriously. Do it now. Stop looking at me and go write. Here’s the thing — it doesn’t work with everyone’s schedule, and I dig that. But for my mileage, getting up early to pound out some word count helped me to assign priority to it. I’ve noted in that past that we seem to get only so many IEP (Intellectual Energy Points) throughout the day — and we sometimes spend them on unexpected things, like impromptu corporate meetings, family crises, or being hunted in the woods by masked slashers. But, spend those points early on writing, and you never have to worry about losing the motivation to do it later. (Though you might die in the woods hunted by a masked slasher. So. Uhh. There’s that.)
Find Your Process
Sometimes, the way you do things is square peg, circle hole. Which is also the name of my Sexual Memoir. But whatever. Point is, trying to write the way somebody else writes is demotivating. But writing the way you write feels like a well-oiled machine. Also, Well-Oiled Machine is the name of the sequel to my Sexual Memoir. Which I’m capitalizing for reasons that are unknown to me.
Point is? Create a mechanism. Get yourself into the flow. Develop good habits. All these things are motivational generators — momentum creates momentum.
Do Not Fucking Multitask
Multitasking is a myth. Your brain can’t do two things at once because you’re a human and we humans are all unitasking dum-dums. You cannot write and then answer emails and then tweet and then braid your pubic hair. Stop that. Carve out a block of time, whether it’s fifteen minutes or two hours. Use it to write, and only to write. You will make progress and progress is itself motivating. Forward motion. Fuck inertia. To reiterate: momentum creates momentum.
Do not multitask, but also don’t keep running full-speed into a wall. Take breaks. Move that sack of slugs and rubbers you call a body. Force blood through you — blood is creative lubricant, after all. (Er, not literal lubricant. Weirdo.) Five minutes here and there will clear out a lotta cobwebs tangling up your motivational innerspace.
(Did I just use the phrase “motivational innerspace?” Ugh.)
The Sugar Tickle
Okay, I’m usually pretty clear that hey, carbs are not the greatest thing to be wolfing down when you’re trying to access WORDS and THOUGHTS and THINGIES (see, I just ate pasta, and all I can come up with for that third word is ‘thingies’). You eat a fistful of Snickers and sure, you’ll get that heady sugar rush, but then all that chocolate and caramel will gum up your THINKMACHINE and next thing you know, it’s Naptime in Writertown.
But! But. Snacks of the sugary variety can be nice (in moderation) as a reward for the day’s end of wordsmithing. You finish what you sat down to finish — you hit your daily word count — and that little stab of dopamine in the deep, junkie well of your brain may motivate you tomorrow. Because it remembers. A brain never forgets chocolate.
We need cheerleaders in our lives. People who unabashedly love who we are and what we’re doing no matter how kooky it seems. You’re not just dreaming about writing — you’re chasing that dream down with a fucking trident and spearing it to reality’s soil. You need someone willing to champion that and cheerlead you, not someone who will hike down their lederhosen and take a big squirrely dump on what you’re doing. This is real, and you need it to be real, and you need someone willing to acknowledge how real it is. That’s not to say we don’t need critics, too — and our loved ones can be that, too. Cheerleader and Critic are not mutually exclusive. But if you don’t have someone in your life excited to shake their pom-poms for you, find someone, stat.
And don’t forget to shake your pom-poms for them, too.
Read A Shitty Book
Reading a terrible book is really clarifying. “I can do better than this,” you say, excited to prove your supremacy over execrable prose-based poopsmithy.
Read An Amazing Book
Reading an awesome book is really clarifying, too. “I see the power and vitality of this,” you say, realizing how much writing and storytelling matter. Maybe you won’t ever be that good, but reading a helluva good book can be aspirational.
Get Excited About Tomorrow’s Writing
Sit. Stop. Think not about today’s writing but tomorrow’s. Get excited. Formulate plans. “Tomorrow, I’m going to kill a character and it’s going to be tremendous. Tomorrow, the hero wins. Tomorrow, I get to write a scene with an otter manning a laser harpoon. Tomorrow, I get to kill a politician with bees.” Whatever it is, find something in tomorrow’s writing that excites you.
And, pro-tip — if you can’t think of anything?
Then maybe tomorrow’s writing needs to upgrade its awesomeness, yeah?
Fuck It, Stop Looking For Motivation
I don’t have any magic answers.
I’m trying, I really am.
But listen. Listen.
Writing is fucking hard, sometimes. Writing is dentistry on monsters. Writing is trying to castrate a galloping horse with a slingshot. Writing is letting a bull loose in an orphanage.
And there comes a point when it’s like, you either love this, and it motivates you? Or you don’t, and it doesn’t. I can’t manufacture motivation. Neither can you. You can only stir the flames if there’s already a spark there. You can’t awaken a dead fire.
At the end of the day if your interest in writing is born only of little tricks and tips — basically you fooling yourself to write — then maybe you need to look really hard at this thing you want to do.
Writing is contagious madness, a lot of the times. Even when it sucks, you wanna do it. And that, I think, is one of the things that separates the Aspiring Not-Really-Writers from the Really Real Writers — the latter group writes even when it’s hard, even when the motivation is a dry well, even when the inspiration seems like a dead or dying thing. They hook the car battery jumper cables up to the coyote’s car-struck carcass and rev the engine and make the damn thing dance yet again. Seems dead, but isn’t. Every day then is an act of revivifying your own abilities and motivations. The act of writing becomes clarifying to the act of writing. To restate the principle for the third time: momentum begets momentum.
(Writing is like heroin, that way. Heroin leads to heroin. Writing leads to writing.)
Again, that’s not to say you can’t do things to get going. I sure do. But if day in and day out you hate the process and find yourself having to artificially engineer something that isn’t there — it’s worth asking why, at least. Motivation then becomes not this external thing. It’s internal to the process. It’s part of it. Self-generating, self-replicating, a fire that feeds itself.
The best motivation, then, for a writer is to write.
Write when it’s hard.
Write when it’s easy.
Write when life doesn’t want you to.
Write when you don’t want to.
Write when everyone tells you not to.
Write, write, write.
Love the process or hate it. Love the end or hate the end. Let that chimpanzee’s testicular tickle come not with the feedback you get or from what happens when you put it out into the world — but get it just from the act of creation. Putting one word after the next and forcing them to the shape of a story. The act of creation, difficult as it is.
Go forth, right now, and write.
And let the act be the motivation.
NOW PLEASE LOOK AT MY PAIL OF SPIT AND BEHOLD ITS GLORY.
* * *
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