In my decade of writing for daily newspapers, I didn’t have time to be distracted.
Like a cook whipping through lunch rush orders, I raced around town, frantically conducted phone interviews and typed until my fingers were permanently curled into the keyboard to meet frantic deadlines – and that didn’t include extra interviews and additional writing to fulfill my editor’s every whim.
Of course, by the time I got home after a 10-12 hour shift, I thought I’d lose my last grasp on sanity if I even looked at a computer, let alone tried to piece together an intricate plot that would keep readers guessing until the final page of my novel.
Now, life’s not quite so hectic. As a public relations executive as a state college in Missouri, I have deadlines, but nothing compared to my previous occupation. I still have a lot of face time with a monitor, but I do more design work and editing (now I get to be the Grim Reaper for all those poor souls who send me their work for publication).
Still, it’s tough to be motivated to work on my novel or that short story idea that I woke up in the middle of the night to write down on the notepad next to my bed after a long day at the office – especially now that spring is here.
But be motivated I must, or my characters will languish in that motionless purgatory I confine them to when I don’t follow through with my writing schedule.
So my job is to find a way to get motivated – get back on track with that manuscript that I’m using as a coffee cup holder in the living room. I got on the phone to chat with some friends to share what I’ve done in the past to get motivated – and got some great ideas for ways to get myself out of the non-writing rut.
- Write a bit at a time. Children’s author Veda Boyd Jones once told me she wrote a book a few sentences at a time between high priority projects. That’s two sentences a day. No, it’s not a lot, but after two years, she had several thousand words and a strong manuscript. That just proves a little can go a long way.
- Get some books. It’s easy to buy books on writing that you never crack open. But one that I’ve found useful – and fun for the times my fellow writers and I need to brainstorm – is The Writer’s Book of Matches from Writer’s Digest publishing. This little ditty fits in your purse ladies (guys, you’ll just have to suck it up and carry it) and has 1,001 prompts to get your brain going.
- Brainstorm with people you trust. Grab a cuppa and hang out with your writing buddies and see where the conversation takes you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written an idea down on a napkin just from something someone said during innocuous conversation.
- Make an appointment. Author Jen Lancaster told Writer’s Digest that she works from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day – or until she satisfies her word count goal. Creating a reasonable schedule that works for you can make staying on track easier.
- Observe. People watching is fun. Go somewhere with a notebook (and lots of pens or pencils) and just see what people are doing. You’ll not only get ideas, but you may also see something that sparks the idea of your next best-seller.
- Join a critique group. One of my best motivators is my critique group. Before I moved six months ago, we met every two weeks at Borders café in Springfield, Mo. We would, of course, gorge ourselves on chai, coffee and scones while we went over everyone’s work. I always used that two weeks as a deadline – and nothing motivates me more than thinking someone just might show me up with more pages or more ingenious copy. I don’t have that now and I know that’s a reason I’m struggling. It’s just too easy to play games on Yahoo! or get on Instant Messenger to chat with friends instead of writing.
- Start a blog. Freelance writer Kimberly Stephens in Nashville says having a blog forces her to write. “If I go out there and haven’t posted something in a week, I feel like an idiot,” she says. “Although the blog isn’t the novel I hope one day tow rite, it is a great way to practice telling a story or organizing my thoughts – kind of like drawing lines and circles to warm up in art class.”
- Journal. I use my journal as more of a personal item that I write in when I need to vent or just need some space to think through life. Some writers use it as a way to work out story ideas. If you have a personal journal, start one on your novel. Or better yet, start one for each character on the highest priority project you have and see what they tell you.
- Subscribe to e-letter that gives helpful hints to writers. Be careful to choose only the ones that apply to your genre or freelance work. Don’t flood your Inbox with too many, or you could eventually get frustrated and send them all to the spam folder without a passing glance.
- Read magazines on writing. Find a magazine that suits your genre. And don’t forget glossies that cover all the bases. For example, in each edition of Writer’s Digest Magazine, there is a section called, “Highly Successful Habits of Debut Authors.” See if this sparks some ideas that will work for you.
- Volunteer to write for a newsletter. This opportunity puts me in the hot seat. I have a deadline. I have to be in front of the computer – and while I’m here, might as well check out how my characters are doing, right?
- And now for the dreaded final bullet point: discipline. It’s tough for creative types to get organized at home. I’m efficiently organized at work to the point that people run when they see me. But at home, when the hair’s down, I’m ready to run free. That’s a really great stress reliever, but doesn’t help me get where I want to be in my novel.
There’s no one right answer to get motivated. It’s different for every person. For me, it depends on the season. But I know I can’t let the excuses build until I forget who my characters are or what they want to accomplish through my words.
I think African-American activist and author Toni Bambara said it best:
“The most effective way to do it is to do it.”