It’s February and according to the experts, i.e. USA Today and Inc., most of us have abandoned our New Year’s Resolutions somewhere around January 17 – 19. For most writers, we don’t have a boss looming over our shoulder, checking up on our progress, and there is no set deadline. That means the task falls solely on ourselves to get the story out of our heads and down on paper. This month our lanterns share how they keep that motivation alive.
I actually think motivation, as it relates to a writing project, is a lot like love in a long-term relationship. You make the commitment, you find out what it takes to keep it going, and you keep doing that — even if, as one writer put it, “it doesn’t always feel like love.” Sometimes it’s just putting one foot in front of the other, figuring you’re making progress even if it isn’t the ‘moonbeams-and-fairytales’ kind of progress you would like to be making! I guess another corollary is “fake it till you make it.” Keep plodding and eventually motivation will come.
So what happens when I do sit down to write? I’ve found that I’m sort of a hybrid seat-of-the-pantser and outliner. Stories come to me like patchwork — whole scenes, or ideas for scenes — that might fit anywhere in a story, as opposed to knitting, where you have a pattern and follow it from cast-on to cast-off. My best motivation comes when those scenes come to me. I hear dialogue, I see action — and I have this sense of urgency that I need to write it all down before not just those details but also the feeling of the scene evaporates!
Those scenes always need rewriting when it comes to fitting them together, but sometimes not as much as you’d think.
And later, if I have enough of those scenes, the story starts feeling alive. So often all I need to do is go back and read them, and I find myself back in that world, wondering what’s going to happen next.
And sometimes, if I really need a boost, brownies usually help. I’ve had this recipe for Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies for decades, and it’s a winner.
Kathryn Pritchett has motivation down to a science.
Writers write. We also do just about anything not to write because writing is hard work! When I catch myself using household tasks or non-urgent requests to avoid writing, I rely on these writing hacks to get back in the groove.
1. Set small goals. Whether it’s based on word count or time at the keyboard, a small goal gets me started and once I’ve started writing I usually keep going.
2. Enlist technology. If my small goal is based on word count, I set a target number of words in my Scrivener writing software. If it’s time-related I use the Clockit app on my phone. The latter is based on the Pomodoro theory of productivity which breaks your allotted work time into twenty-five minute focus sessions followed by five-minute breaks. This cheery red timer helps me keep going just a little bit longer.
3. Read. When the word well runs dry, I find it helpful to read something related to what I’m writing. Doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or nonfiction, just something that gives me more words and ideas to work with.
4. Move. Sometimes it’s better just to step away from reading or writing. If I do something physical—take a walk, go for a swim, dig around in the garden—I usually come back refreshed and ready to tackle writing anew.
5. Celebrate. Recognizing progress along the way motivates me to do more. For my current WIP, I’ve mapped out a “rewards” chart in Scapple (another technology tool) to help me note milestones as I flesh out my second draft. These rewards can be as simple as watching a movie in the middle of the day or signing up for an online writing workshop (also a good motivator). In pre-pandemic times I might have gone on an “artists date” to a museum or booked a weekend getaway. But for now, even small breaks in my routine signal “you made it!” and inspire me to keep going.
I’m one of those writers who can only function with a goal and a deadline out in front of me. A publisher’s due date is a good motivation, but if I’m writing something which doesn’t have to be turned in on any particular day, I make one up.
Being at home during the pandemic has actually made goal-setting easier, and I also know how lucky I am that I can keep writing in the midst of the chaos outside my door. I have paper calendars all over my house, and keep lists of deadlines on my wall. (My publisher, Annette Chaudet of Pronghorn Press, painted the artwork for the colorful calendar in the photo.) These are reminders of the joyful work which I am privileged to do, and prods for me to keep my fingers on the keyboard.
Mari Christie, author of BLIND TRIBUTE and NEVER KISS A TOAD, gives us a peek at her two writing goals for 2021. They are to finish Book One, the Cub, and draft Book Two in her new series, The Lion’s Club, set in turn-of-the-last-century Brooklyn, NY.
My motivation has, traditionally, been the compulsion to write, but since the pandemic, I find motivation difficult, to say nothing of concentration and focus. Currently, I am trying to make myself write fifteen minutes a day, without fail (except sometimes I fail ;-)), but that miniscule amount of time is often split between Lion’s Club and my Wattpad serial, NEVER LAND THE FIRST FISH.
For C.V Lee, finding time to write can sometimes be a challenge as she works two other jobs.
When that happens I challenge myself to write 500 – 1000 words per day for 30 days. Naturally there is a reward planned if I succeed.
When I am back in the habit, it can be hard to keep me away from writing as my characters start to beg me to finish telling their story. Once they are whispering in my ear, writing is a joy. And if I get writer’s block, I stop and outline. It is so much easier to write when you know where you are headed.
C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.