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How Do You Stay Motivated?
Vera James
Posted: Sunday, July 3, 2011 3:38 AM
Joined: 6/28/2011
Posts: 2

I suppose this could be a form of writers block but it also isn't. I have this terrible problem of having grand ideas and then getting heavily obsessive over them, writing almost manically for a few days before all the fire just goes out. 

Sometime I think its because I don't write well, but when I go to read other unfinished drafts, I find that they are fairly decent. 

I've tried writing a page a day or something but I feel like I want to get to the meat of the story right away and I get so bogged down in trying to get there that I give up before I even get there. 

Does anyone else have this problem? And have you found a solution? 

L R Waterbury
Posted: Thursday, July 7, 2011 9:12 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 60

I have this problem all the freaking time. I guess that's why some people prefer to write short stories. I don't think it has anything at all to do with the quality of a person's writing. Personally, I think it's because I'm related to crows and suffer from shiny-bauble syndrome, which goes something like this: "Ooh, shiny bauble. I must have it for my nest. I'll just go-- Ooh, a different shiny bauble. That one's even prettier. I must have it-- Ooh, shiny bauble." Etc, etc, etc. You get the picture.

Also, starting a new project is related to my terrible case of Put-it-off-itis. I've found I get obsessive about something new just around the time I really should be working on something else. My internal logic tells me, "But this new project is constructive, so I'm not really wasting my time when I should be doing that other thing."

The only solution I've been able to find so far to keep me on task for longer than 5 minutes is to have a one-eyed Uncle Larry. That's not a euphemism. I really do have an uncle named Larry who only has one eye. He gets very excited about my writing so I show him what I've written and he bugs me constantly for new chapters. With him as a reader, I feel an obligation to continue, just to make him happy. And then, in time, when I get struck with another bout of inspiration while I avoid real work, I have a greater chance of returning to whatever project he's bugging me about. So that's my suggestion. Get yourself a one-eyed Uncle Larry. But not mine. I wont share.
Carl E Reed
Posted: Friday, July 8, 2011 4:15 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

Heh-heh! Loved the honesty and the humor and the frenzied, semi-maniacal phrasing of your glittering crow-eyed response, LR. You crack me up!

Your posting is a delightful, succinct, witty and very writerly writing on avariciousness, ADD and the compulsive snatch-claw hyperkinetic spasmings (“Mine! Mine!”) of the feverishly-fecund authorial mind.

I envy you your "one-eyed Uncle Larry"; may we all have such inspirational and energizing figures in our lives.

Actually, we do, but . . .

I have something to contribute on this topic, but I'm too tired to be both entertaining and insightful at the moment.

I will say this: Vera James, what you are experiencing is a form of Resistance. (Capitalization very much intended.) Check out THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield for advice on overcoming this insidious, ever-mercurial and endlessly-transmogrifying, hydra-headed enemy.

Three quick points:

(1) Most writers would kill to experience that intense, highly-energized, time-obliterating “in-flow” outpouring of emotion and concentrated focus you’re describing: that’s the Muse carrying you on her shoulders while you frenetically scritch-scribble out the myriad voices and visions that are using you as their instrument to be born into the world and concretized from out the whirling maelstrom of nothingness that is Void.

(2) Resistance whispers in your mind when you’ve finished: “You’re done. Move on. Fun’s over; nothing more to see here.” Uh-uh. Dead wrong. The second part of your job begins RIGHT THERE and it’s called “rewriting.” All writing is rewriting and revision. Strike that: All GOOD, SOLID, PROFESSIONAL writing is born of rewriting and revision.

The right brain needs to be given free rein during the process of creation, but then the coldly analytical left brain must step in and snip and crop and twist and prune and graft your syntactical and grammatical constructions into something memorable, coherent and psychically (notice I did not say psychotically) reverberating and un-ignorable [sic].

Think of Muse #1/Right Brain as an intoxicating, Dionysian spirit of wild revelry, senses-shattering visions, leaps of intuition, mystical knowing and inhibition-shattering insights—sex goddess, rock star, best teacher you ever had and Epiphany Personified, all in one.

(Note: the Muse changes gender depending upon the preference of her intoxicant. He/she/it/God/daimon doesn’t care what you think of its sex; what counts is RESULTS.)

But she leaves—yes, she do. Once her job is over Muse #1 leaves.

And that’s when the cunning enemy Resistance strikes: in the EXACT moment between Muse #1 exiting, stage left, and Muse #2 stepping out from the wings.

Muse #2 is all Apollonian left-brain: logical, analytical, objective, skeptical. Think of Muse #2 as the bald-headed, black eye-patched, salt-&-pepper bearded, ultra-suave, articulate and hyper-critical—yet wryly affectionate and supportive—world-traveled sixties-something professor who terrified you in your undergrad studies during that summer abroad in Europe.

Here’s the thing: You need the mentoring of both.

So don’t turn out the lights and lock the door when Muse #1 leaves you ravished and disheveled in bed, Vera—Muse #2 is on the way to pick you up in his chauffeured limo and take you out on the town for a night of culture and candlelight: quiet, intense criticisms, thought-provoking assays and gently but firmly-guided forays into the epistemology of knowing, the ontology of being and the necessity for a classically-rigorous rhetoric of judiciously-arranged thought and sequence of argumentation. To wit: a private, one-on-one mini-seminar extolling the glories of logic and the logical glories of critical wit, objective analysis and skeptical crit.

Which brings me to point three:

(3) You know all of this or you wouldn’t be here on Book Country, posting the answers to questions you’ve already exhaustively interrogated of the Self for the enlightenment and edification of others. By which I mean to say: If this makes any sense to you at all, it is only in the exact proportion and ultra-dimensionality that "answer" fills the hollow called "interrogative insight" within your own actively-intelligent, unerringly-moral and perennially-questing writer's psyche.

But I understand and applaud the cleverness of your phrasing: Questions are always more interesting than "answers" anyway, eh? Well done!

And now, I’m off to write. Thank you for the inspiration!

Resistance whispers in my ear: “But you’ve already written; this posting counts as your daily fulfilled quota of writing.”

As I said—and now, I’m off to write.

And Resistance is very, very angry. . . .

Jay Greenstein
Posted: Sunday, July 10, 2011 3:12 PM
“They can’t yank a novelist the way they can a pitcher. A novelist has to go the full nine, even if it kills him”
~ Ernest Hemingway

“The ideal view for daily writing, hour on hour, is the blank brick wall of a cold-storage warehouse. Failing this, a stretch of sky will do cloudless if possible.”
~ Edna Ferber
- - - - - - - -
Okay, you like creating. You like concepts. But filling in the blanks? That’s something else. The solution is self-discipline. If you want to be a writer, write. Find yourself an hour when there will be no interruptions. Find yourself a place that’s boring. As Edna suggests, above, a blank wall fronting an uncluttered desk is ideal.

Now, use the bathroom and take a drink, so there will be no excuse to leave the table.

Finally, place your tailbone in the chair and stay there for an hour. No breaks, no reading the newspaper, no calls to friends, no daydreaming. Write. Write anything you care to, but write. It’s your profession and you’re at work, so work.

You probably won’t make the hour the first day, or the second. But when you don’t, pick up the only other thing permitted to be on the work surface, a copy of Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. If you’re not writing you might as well be leaning something useful to a writer. That might even get you writing, to try out the things you’ve learned.

Instead of writing the story, if that proves impossible, block it out. Write a loose outline and organize the scene structure. Know what each scene is going to contribute toward raising the stakes and adding tension. When you know that, detail the scenes a bit, so you know where foreshadowing is necessary, and where it must be included in earlier scenes.

It’s a jigsaw puzzle, where each piece is made up of smaller pieces, which you’ll write when you get the form of the story defined.

But one way or the other, if you want to be a writer, write.
Vera James
Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 3:21 AM
Joined: 6/28/2011
Posts: 2

Thank you all so much for your advice. I'm most certainly intending upon trying the one hour system. I'll have to disable my internet to keep myself from getting distracted but I will do it.

And as for my one-eyed Uncle Larry, I think I may have scared mine away with the lack of finished products but I'll win him back. Maybe.
Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 5:42 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216

Generally speaking, I look at the cell phone bill!

I write for a living, so I don't have the option of feeling lack of motivation unless I just want to starve. Over the years, you develop a habit of just writing. Writing if creative in nature, but it's also work.

Working under tight deadlines has also helped me cultivate good writing habits!

I love deadlines. I just do.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 12:02 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

Vera's comment about 'unfinished manuscripts' made me think of Heinlein's rules:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

Sounds like you're having a problem with #2.

I find it's very helpful to know and *love* the climax of your story before you start writing. Then, no matter what else you write achronosly, do *not* write the climactic scene. Think about it all you like. Polish it. Make yourself want it. But don't actually write it or tell anyone about it. For me, that creates an unquenchable desire to make that scene happen, which drives me through all the transitional scenes and assorted 'this has to be in there but it's no fun to write' stuff.

Note - YMMV.

Also, I'm kind of amused by the difference between Carl's 'all writing is rewriting' and Heinlein's rule #3. Personally, I'm somewhere in between. Once I've got some space, I reread and rewrite anything I can see obvious problems with, or that I can improve, but I don't go in with the idea of 'I must rewrite this'. Then again, for every word that makes it into the first draft, I deleted two that just weren't right.

Werid. I like deadlines, but what I really like are edits. I can fix what someone else has identified as a problem, but I can't always identify them.
Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2011 5:54 AM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 46

The best motivation, for me, is thinking back to how I felt when I finished my first novel.

I realized I'd actually written a book.

That's what makes me sit down and power through the rough patches. The tool I most often use is outlining. After that first rush of inspiration, when I still have the majority of the book to go, I lay a path out for myself. It's flexible, but has milestones major enough that, when I reach them, it's a minor victory. And I can run on that momentum for a few chapters more.

Outside of motivation for completing a specific story, I can see from one story to another my improvement as a writer. I can now write more complex and subtle scenes than I could a year ago. My world are larger and more twisted than my early works. I can now challenge myself not just to finish a story, but to finish a difficult story.

I like the challenge. I guess you have to in order to keep writing.
Posted: Monday, August 1, 2011 10:20 AM
Joined: 5/4/2011
Posts: 20

This is going to sound lame, but do what works best for you. Whatever has worked in the past to finish a project, repeat that technique. Same as with the gym, some people love to do the same routine, others find inspiration from switching things up. For me, I put a minimum on what needs to get done for a day. Shit or not, I have to write at least ten pages a day. Even if it sucks, I'll cut it in the editing process. Reminding myself that nothing is final is the best way to get over any blocks.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 5:44 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

Ah, the mystical problem of endurance. I too have that issue. I end up jumping from one project to the next whenever I get bored. Right now I have two rewrites, two short stores, and I'm working on novel number 3. (1 and 2 are no where near clean enough to be published.) I have all of this stacked next to me in a neat-looking pile, and hop from one to the next. It slows me down is distracting, but I don't stop working. I know that sounds unprofessional, not to mention I wonder how I keep them all straight, but I keep working. I learned that you need endurance when you write from a professor in college named Dr. Irsfeld.

His creative writing class was pass/fail. You needed 25,00 words by the end of the semester or you failed. Sounds easy? Hahahaha! Thats what I thought. Every two weeks you had to give him a story that was at least 3,500 words just to keep up (or a few stories if you write them extra short). The tough part was that he knew if you didn't edit. I remember sitting in class watching people getting chewed out for unclean manuscripts, unprofessional formatting, and not showing up when things were due. (He would dock you a certain percentage on your words for everyday that a story was late.) By the end of the semester I was wiped out. Doing his work and other classes burned me down until I was a shell.

I took his class twice. You want to know why? I learned how to sit down and work. I learned discipline. He's the one that said that you have to sit down everyday at the same time in the same spot so that the Muse knew where to find you. He didn't believe in writer's block, just laziness. Since taking his class I find that its just easier to write when you aren't waiting for inspiration, or the "right moment/thought." Writing is work and you have to try and stick it out.
Michelle Mills
Posted: Friday, August 12, 2011 11:21 PM
Joined: 7/21/2011
Posts: 41

The ebb and flow of writing is such a mystery! When I'm stuck, it's often because life has gotten in the way—taxes that need organizing, housework, kids, animals, husband, etc.... so much on my mind and a to-do list a mile long. To remedy this, I make a date with my pen and journal at my local library—a place where I can rid myself of distractions and focus only on my book. I don't even bring my lap-top as I fear that editing might slow me down. Some of my best chapters were crafted in a cozy red club chair by the fireplace of this historical building. There is endless inspiration at my fingertips, and I can almost imagine the ghosts of literary greats whispering to my imagination as I write away. Should I remain stuck on a chapter, I will jump forward to a new scene of which my writing flows with ease.
Posted: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 3:20 PM
Joined: 8/1/2011
Posts: 4

My motivation mostly comes from the things I read.

My biggest problem is I get caught up in "real life" and my writing life seems a bit disconnected from what I'm doing. When I feel that way I either read something ABOUT writing (like The Writer magazine) or read something that inspires me...for me that is usually a Neil Gaiman book.
AKA Dedlly
Posted: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 4:58 AM
Joined: 8/4/2011
Posts: 13

I've been at this a long time, writing I mean. I've made some money here and there, made deadlines, had the discipline of a samurai, and been hit by a creative stroke from time to time.

In my experience there is no magic formula that allows a writer to stay motivated. Most of the time it's just discipline, a term that takes the magic out of the process, doesn't it? When I was younger it helped to have a place to write. In LA, I would go to this coffee shop called Insomnia and work for hours. Like most LA coffee shops it was populated by screenwriters. Surprisingly, a community sprung up among the diehards who showed up early and left late. But, things change. We all moved on and I found I liked writing at home.

Do whatever gets you going. Write by hand for a while. By a special pen and a fancy notebook and promise yourself that those blank pages will be filled with the first draft of your novel (but, for god's sake, don't lose that fancy notebook). Write on a computer with no internet connection. Get up early. Stay up late. It is always going to change.

Sometimes resentment can be a fine motivator. I had a really shitty writing professor a year ago. He's published all the time. His plays get staged. I really don't like him. I respect that he has persevered this long, but he is really quite horrible. His horribleness restored and continues to restore my faith in my own abilities.

The most important thing I've learned is managing disappointment. I think we all want to be cool about rejection, but we really aren't. You may have agents and managers working with you to sell your work. Things may get really close. You WILL get very excited, but it may fall apart for a thousand reasons that have nothing to do with your story or craft. Try not to be heartbroken. Try to keep working. But, if you need to take a break for a while, take it. Clear your head. You'll go nuts otherwise.

And, if you are making the effort and doing the work, try to be nice to yourself in your head.

Write now the quotes on this website are part of my process:

AKA Dedlly
Posted: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 5:43 AM
Joined: 8/4/2011
Posts: 13

Oh, and, hey, I found this out on the Internet. It's from Neal Gaiman. Pay close attention to number 7.

8 Good Writing Practices

1. Write.
2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3. Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7. Laugh at your own jokes.
8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
Carl E Reed
Posted: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 2:00 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 608

Thanks for sharing that, AKA Dedlly!

I especally enjoyed Gaiman's Rule #5.

LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 5:32 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

@AKA Dedlly: Those are awesome rules. I totally agree. I might have to post that on my wall.
AKA Dedlly
Posted: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 7:56 PM
Joined: 8/4/2011
Posts: 13

@LeeAnna Holt
@Carl E Reed

Happy to help.
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Thursday, August 18, 2011 11:04 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

Vera -

The best piece of writing advice I've ever received about writers block is something Margaret Atwood and Stephen King both tell writers:

Ass. In. Chair.

In other words, just keep writing. When you get to the tough part, and can't go any further, just keep writing. Even if you just start writing gibberish for a while. Just write past it and don't let yourself get up out of that chair.

Good luck!

Danielle Bowers
Posted: Thursday, August 18, 2011 11:48 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

Ass. In. Chair.


I'm self-employed and work from home so staying motivated and on task is the hardest part. What works for me is to sit down and make a list of goals for the day and rewards for hitting each benchmark. Examples:

1. Wake up, Ass In Chair and go over what I did yesterday. This recaps what I've already done and gets me primed for today. After that is finished I get my first cup of coffee of the day as a reward. Twitter and other social media come on after the first goal too.

2. Complete X goal THEN go hit my favorite websites, comics, Book Country etc. (This is where I am right now in my day, actually)

That's what works for me, instead of making one large goal for the day, like writing 5,000 words, I do a lot of small ones. That way if something comes up I can easily reorganize my goals to accommodate and keep going.

Staying motivated on a particular story is harder. If I find myself sitting at my desk and glaring at the manuscript, I work on a scenario. This is something I'll do randomly for character development and it never makes it into the story. One page, just make up something random that happens to your character during his day to day life. Someone rear-ends him, he gets summoned for jury duty, a baby dragon gets loose in his apartment. Whatever. It gets my head into that of my MC and after finishing a small skit like that it's easier to get back into the main WIP.

Hope this helps. Now get off Book Country and get back to work! *WhipCrack*
Posted: Sunday, August 21, 2011 3:37 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241

Once the easy, fun part of writing is over and the harder, but still mostly fun part of revising is upon me, I find that my biggest distraction is the Internet. I will work on a paragraph, then reflexively check my email, then onto various other locations until I find one that drags me away from work and my writing time is eaten.

Sometimes, I go to a place that either has no Internet or has some annoying barrier to it, like a code you get from the barista. I will feel the itch to pop over to my email and realize I can't, shift my weight, gulp my tea and move on to the next paragraph.

If you have a real, clinical issue with attention, though, you will probably have your own tried and true techniques for settling into work. My older daughter is shaping up to have the crow problem, at 6, and I recently discovered that letting her stand, rather than making her sit at a table to eat, paint, write--whatever--is a miracle for keeping her on task. Who knew? But there you go. She ate ten pieces of sushi, all with her chopsticks (which she is still learning to use) without moving an inch from her spot the other day, because I let her stand at the table rather than making her sit.
Sherry Foley
Posted: Sunday, August 21, 2011 11:33 PM
Joined: 8/13/2011
Posts: 6

I love deadlines and work better under them. I love a challenge, so that's in my favor as well. I make myself hit the 4,000 a day word count or I don't get dinner. I rarely go hungry.

We must find what works for us and WRITE!

Good luck everyone!!!~
Atthys Gage
Posted: Monday, August 22, 2011 10:34 PM
Joined: 6/7/2011
Posts: 467

I confess, I go a little green when I hear people talking about getting down thousands of words a day. Rarely do I manage even a single thousand in a day, unless I'm revising. I know some people can fling a lot of words on to the page, and I envy that, but I do far too much agonizing about the wording, even of first drafts where it really doesn't matter. Essentially, I do everything they tell you NOT to do in the writer's books.

The most disciplined writing I ever did was when I wrote my first novel, about five years ago. It was my first attempt at serious writing, and I did the whole first draft (100,000 words) long hand in spiral bound notebooks. It took about five months, but I carried the notebook everywhere. I didn't even touch a word processor until the draft was completely finished. So I was really disciplined, but still, pretty damned slow.

I'm far less disciplined now, and my productive pace is about the same. So maybe discipline ain't all it's cracked up to be.
Posted: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 5:12 PM
Joined: 3/29/2011
Posts: 25

I try to make sure I have enough of the book planned out that I don't end up getting lost and not sure what to write next. Though it's not always easy to plan that far in advance.

Also, taking a day or two off can work wonders. Sometimes the best ideas come when you're not trying to come up with ideas

As far as getting bored goes...well it happens to everyone. It might help to remind yourself why you wanted to write the book in the first place. Really, though, sometimes you just have to keep writing no matter how much you don't want to.
Samantha Jane
Posted: Monday, August 29, 2011 6:12 PM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 15

I have this same issue, always have. I have TWO stories that are even CLOSE to the finish line. The first one was like therapy for me. A black cloud lifted from my shoulders when I finished that first draft. I put it down for just a little bit and started outlining four new projects, which slowly grew to 6. Or was it 7? I wrote whatever came to me (as my friend Anne told me, I honored my vomit), just got everything in my head out on paper, regardless of which story it was to belong to.

So. Here's the status: #1: Is in the middle of revision 5 or 6, and posted on BC.
#2 is halfway through the rough draft status, but has been temporarily set aside (but some has ben posted on BC)
#3 Is a complete rough draft. ROUGH draft, needing facts and research (some has been posted on BC)
All of these are in mid-rewrite, etc, but have temporarily been tabled, along with the partial stories.
I didn't do ANYTHING for an entire month but read. I had NO ideas, no motivation to DO anything.

And then I read a recently released romance novel that angered me. It was badly developed, badly written, in my opinion. I couldn't believe it had been published. That lit a fire under me to try to do something better than what I had read.
So, with the help of Jane Espenson hosting writing sprints, I SET A GOAL to write a novel in a month. I sprinted and sprinted and got scenes down until I had enough of an idea to start stringing them together.
I didn't just need the support of other writers and the sprinting, and these scenes, I needed the responsibility of accountability, so I started blogging DAILY about what I had done or hadn't done. And that has definitely helped keep me going.
Here we are, at the end of the month, and my goal hasn't been met, not by a long shot, but I have a HUGE start. My August Romance is going to turn in to a September Romance. Right now, this one work, and the blogs, are my focus, until I can get that completed first rough draft.

Focus is definitely one of my problems. Chugging along until I run out of ideas completely is another. Sometimes I will write a scene up until a point where I might still have a little something to say, and then I stop, make a note about it, and I'll start there the next day, so that I have a jumping off point.
Whoever said writing was easy was obviously not doing it right.
I hope my blathering helps.
Stevie McCoy
Posted: Monday, August 29, 2011 6:38 PM
Joined: 5/5/2011
Posts: 38

I must say first things first...
Once you start something, no matter how bogged you feel you must finish the thought.

Now I do admit that is tough at times and its all a matter of finding something in your life that makes you accountable to your writing and your goals.

I have a good friend that I give a chapter to every week for him to read and review with what he felt, liked, or didnt like. I feel compelled to have a chapter done every week because my friend is expecting me to provide a chapter everyweek. I have gone from only have 5k in words on my manuscript on my own to now 30k because every week I give something to him.

Have someone in your life that makes you accountable.
Accountability helps bulldoze through even the worst writer's block.
At least for myself anyways.

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