Maybe you’ve heard the story about Michelangelo and the block of marble that would one day be his statue of David. Some important guy – a prince or something – heard that Michelangelo hadn’t done anything with the marble even though he’d had it for months. The man went to see about this himself and found the artist just standing there, staring at the huge block of stone. “What are you doing?” asked the visitor. Michelangelo replied, “I’m working.”
I imagine Michelangelo was thinking, planning, visualizing, dreaming up and rejecting ideas, preparing himself to create. He really was working!
A lot of a writer’s work is invisible, too, because it goes on inside the mind. But too many times we tell ourselves we’re doing the Michelangelo thing when we’re really just stalling around. Writing is tough. It’s hard to start writing. It’s hard to keep writing. It’s hard to rewrite as much as you should.
Here are some ideas for getting and staying motivated. You’ll have to figure out what works for you, but hopefully one or more of these suggestions will help!
Set a reasonable goal.Okay, everybody tries setting goals. The problem is that most writers set pie-in the-sky goals that are just too hard to meet. (Like you’re going to get up a four in the morning every day and work on your novel!) You need to set a goal you can actually achieve. And if you really have trouble getting yourself to write, make your goal so easy that you’d feel ashamed to miss it. That way you’ll get somewhere with your writing even if it is just a little at a time – and you can feel proud when you overachieve!
Lose the not-worth-it attitude.It’s wonderful to have a whole hour, a whole afternoon, a whole day to write. (I was so happy when I was able to quit teaching and write!) But usually real life doesn’t allow that. It’s easy to feel there’s no point in even trying to write when you have tight time limits. Why, you’ll barely get started! And you certainly won’t get very far! And the end is nowhere in sight! Why bother? But even though it’s slow and inefficient, writing in little pieces can really work. Eventually you’ll write a whole something. Keep waiting until you have plenty of time, and you’ll eventually write…nothing whatsoever.
Work on several projects at a time.
It seems counterintuitive, but working on several pieces of writing at once can be easier than concentrating on just one. When you have a single writing project, hitting a snag can stop you cold. You sit there for ages, unable to decide what to write next, getting more and more discouraged until you finally quit, never to return to the computer until you’ve worked through the problem, which, face it, could take months. But if you keep several projects in the works, you can set aside a piece that’s not working and move on to something else. And something else if you have problems with that piece. Having several projects also makes it easier to start writing because you have a choice of possible projects.
Make the job fit.To keep yourself working for all of your valuable writing period, match your writing tasks to your personality and energy level. If you’re someone who works best when you’re fresh then start writing as soon as you hit your desk. Don’t squander your most productive time on checking your email, printing address labels, doing research, and the like. You can turn to those tasks later when you’re getting tired. Having some easier jobs at that time can keep you from quitting early. If you’re someone who needs to settle in a bit first, then go ahead and do some of those jobs. Just be sure to watch the clock so you don’t piddle away your time.
When you’re wrestling with a story, taking a moment away can really help. You can do that by setting the story aside and working on another writing project. (See #3.) Doing something unrelated to writing can help, too, so you might just step away from your desk for a few minutes, get a cup of coffee, sit on your deck awhile, or walk the dog. But be careful – and honest with yourself. If a certain activity tends to lead you into the temptation of just quitting for the day, don’t even start it. Substitute a less tempting activity and set a time limit for it.
You can keep your writing energy up over time by refreshing yourself with somenonverbal activities. Art classes, hobbies, and sports give you a break from all those words, words, words so you can come back to writing feeling renewed and open to new ideas.
Join a critique group.Getting together regularly with other writers is one of the most motivating things you can do. Reading other people’s work inspires you to write yourself. The support you get from writing friends keeps you going. Other writers’ suggestions help you improve your work which makes you want to write more. And needing material for your meetings encourages you to write on a routine schedule.
End with a jumpstart.
When you reach the end of one writing session, set things up so it’ll be easier to get started next time. Some writers stop in the middle of something – an exciting scene, an interesting dialogue, or even a sentence! I sometimes jot a few notes about where I’m planning to go next: a few words about plot, a snippet of possible dialogue, a question. If you’re using some kind of outline, check off what you’ve finished. Even just straightening up your desk and setting out what you need next time can help you get a good start.
Be nice to yourself.You’re trying to do something really hard so cut yourself some slack. Gag that critical inner voice, and take joy in what you’ve written. Write as much as you can but don’t hate yourself if that darn stupid real life gets in the way. When you can’t write, let your mind imagine, dream, plan, and prepare what you’ll write next. Who knows? You might be working on your masterpiece!
For more writing tips, visit my website!
Friday, June 26, 2015
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
I've written before about how I love to read what other writers have to say about writing, and I've shared their wisdom before. Here are some more quotes from my collection:
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Elmore Leonard
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us get up and go to work. Stephen King
I respect a man who knows how to spell a word more than one way. Mark Twain
The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out. Voltaire
You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. Jack London
Monday, June 8, 2015
I love this new picture book written by my friend Sherry Ellis, author of That Mama is a Grouch and That Baby Woke Me Up Again! It's a simple and charming story that teaches little ones a lot of basic skills. Not only does it help kids understand counting, it also teaches them about simple subtraction, colors, and classifying. With its rhyming patterns and predictable story structure, Ten Zany Birds is a fun read-aloud for pre-readers and a great read-along for beginning readers. Cute and colorful watercolors by Charu Jain enhance the fun story. Get the book here.