Thursday, May 03, 2012

How to Motivate Yourself to Write

These suggestions are geared primarily towards fiction writing, but they can apply just as well to any form of writing. Some of these tips I've learned from others, and some are strategies I've learned through practice and trial and error. You may have heard many of these suggestions before in one form or another, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded, so here's one more reminder you might find helpful.

Always Stop Writing When You know What's About To Happen Next

You're on a roll. You're excited about what you're writing. You want to keep writing until you've gotten all you're ideas down. This may seem counter intuitive, but this is exactly when you should stop: midway, while you're still excited. Make notes of your ideas, and you'll find that excitement will continue to the next day, and if you continue this strategy you can sustain this excitement far beyond that initial inspiration.

When You're Not Writing, You're Thinking. This is Good

So you've stopped right in the middle of that inspiration. You've left yourself hanging, and you're bursting with ideas. But now you have time to ruminate over those ideas. Those ideas will serve as the seeds of other ideas, but they need time to grow. You may not even realize that you're thinking about them, but as soon as you get back to writing, you'll discover that that initial inspiration has turned into an even greater windfall. Like anything, this won't always happen, but it's more likely if you stop writing while you still have that seed.

Write Every Day

This is the most common suggestion that writer's make, but this is for good reason. Inspiration wains and you have no idea what to write, but the longer you put it off, the more you lose momentum. If you write a sentence, you're still writing. Even if you only only have the intention of writing that sentence, now you've gotten started, and starting is half the battle. You might end up writing something you know you'll get rid of later on, but it keeps the momentum going, and it makes it that much easier to start the next day.

 Keep yourself to a minimum word count, but keep your ambitions reasonable. What can you realistically write in a day, considering your other responsibilities and your pace? Keep your minimum at the lowest you can expect of yourself. When you exceed your minimum, it feels like you're really jamming, but when you write less, the times when you do write more should make it easier to forgive yourself when you don't. You're still on track. The high days of productivity make up for those low days.

Keep a Regular Schedule

Routine is key. I write every morning around the same time. I also stop writing around the same time. Maybe your time is the evening or the afternoon, but give yourself a general time line and target time. There's always time for writing. You're never too busy to meet your minimum, as long as your minimum is reasonable.

Allow Yourself Uncertainty

There are going to be times when you feel like you've screwed up, that you've ruined the whole thing and you need to start from scratch. This is healthy. Doubt means you're looking at your work with a critical eye. I usually find that I'm always walking a tightrope between feeling like I could screw everything up, and that maybe it's just working. The best answer to this, is to keep writing. Whether your practice is to chuck the bad writing after the first draft, or as you go, if you keep moving forward, inevitably you're going to write something you feel good about. I'm more of an excise as you go writer. I find that a certain amount of ruthless chopping in the early stages of a manuscript can be motivating, rather than discouraging. Don't get too ruthless--you can save that for the final draft. If there's a passage that you're unsure of but feel may have potential, put it in it's own file. You may never look at it again, or you may end up using it, or portions of it later, but putting it out of sight can help to reinforce your resolve.

Have the Resolve to Finish

There's no end to confidence you'll build by actually getting to the end of a manuscript. This doesn't mean you should never give up on a story, but only give up after you've developed the confidence that you can finish something if you're determined to. As you finish more projects, while at the same time, developing an increasingly rigorous editing process, you'll be well on your way to writing not only more frequently and more confidently but more effectively. Writers need to write, and you have to get a ton of bad writing out of your system before you can write well. Even if you're a very attentive reader and have read widely, the exercise of writing and writing regularly is extremely important.

Should I Make an Outline?

This, again, is a question of personal approach, but I don't tend to. Outlines tends to reduce a character's actions to plot points. If you're going for a character driven story, you may end up having your character artificially adhere to these plot points in a way that is contrary to what the character has become. Of course there is always a risk of taking too many digressions, or going off on tangents, but this is something that I think can be taken care of in the editing process. The other problem with an outline is that you deny yourself the discovery that comes with the writing process, of discovering a new twist or turn in the story that you could have never anticipated. Not that you shouldn't write with a plan, but if you have too much of a preconceived idea of where the story is going next, you may end up feeling like your writing by the numbers, executing the next scene in your outline as prescribed, denying yourself the excitement of that next eureka. This, to me, is what keeps writing engaging and current. I also believe it's what makes the reader want to turn the page. If you're not sure what happens next, neither are they. But avoid writing yourself into a corner--not knowing everything isn't the same as not having options. This falls nicely into the idea of knowing what's going to happen next before your next writing session.

Should I Keep a Blog?

I only write in my blog after I've accomplished my other writing for the day. It's great practice to write a blog, to write anything on a regular basis, but if you're a fiction writer and your blog doesn't contain fiction, the blog could prove to be a distraction. Opinion or autobiography requires a different skill set than fiction, and though any writing can be helpful, you've got to be writing in the mode of your chosen discipline if you want to get better.

Thanks for reading, and happy writing!


  1. Hi,
    I just came across your wonderful blog, nice work!

    Question relating to this post; you have to write every day but you have to draw every day too. How do you combine that? Routine, writing and drawing on fixed times every day, or do you let one of the two activities take precedence?

    Any way, keep up the nice work!

  2. Routine is key. I get up pretty early, walk the dog, have breakfast and write until about 9:30, so about 2 to three hours a day. Then the rest of the day is usually spent drawing, an hour break for lunch, and I usually stop about 5:30. For drawing I have a different technique that I described in an earlier post called the "Pomodoro" technique. Here's a link: While I draw I listen to audiobooks, The timer and the audiobooks keep me on task, and keep my stamina up. Also: I only listen to audiobooks when I'm writing, so this too, is a motivation. Though I usually write every day, I don't necessarily draw every day. Today, for instance, I'm mostly taking a day off--I had errands to run--but I'll be doing some figure drawing tonight from the model. I usually take a half day on the weekend, but generally my schedule is pretty consistent. So drawing takes up much more of my time than writing, but I write pretty fast. There are rare days when I write all day, but this is usually editing.