Okay, let’s talk about staying motivated while working on creative endeavors. It’s…. a challenge, isn’t it?
As a psychology student and then a teacher, I learned a lot about motivation. The types of motivation, how to motivate students, what decreases motivation, etc. I’m also a mom, and I spend way too many hours a day trying to figure out how to motivate my children to clean their rooms, put on their shoes, or get along.
First, the types of motivation, in case you could use a review: Intrinsic and Extrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation comes from within: the sense of satisfaction about a job well done, pride, etc.
Extrinsic motivation comes from outside sources: praise, money, awards, etc.
Intrinsic motivation is generally considered “better” because a person has only so much control over external forces, and because ideally, we want people to drive themselves regardless of whether other people notice. This is all good, except that intrinsic motivation is a slippery little sucker, and creative endeavors, like writing, can be equally slippery. Meaning, when writers kick off a new project we’re usually chock full of intrinsic motivation. We want to write! We can’t wait to write! This story is amazing and we don’t care what anybody thinks because we love it so much! You can’t STOP us from writing!
And then we hit a wall. The words stop flowing, the prose sounds stilted, the characters cliche, and so on. And our intrinsic motivation dries up. But there’s also no real extrinsic motivation for a writer who doesn’t yet have an agent or editor relying on them and giving them deadlines. Too often, writing projects fizzle out when this happens.
I’ve found a few ways to keep my motivation high even as the initial story infatuation withers.
- Accountability buddies. Here’s some extrinsic motivation for you: your CPs and writing buddies will know if you’re slacking. And no one likes to admit they’re slacking, right? So find some buddies and hold each other accountable.
- Measurable goals. For this, I like pacemaker. It’s a website that allows you to set your own word count goal or editing goal, with a deadline, various plans, and it’s free. You can also join challenges with your friends. See mine below:
I love pacemaker because it forces me to focus on one goal at a time: word count. I set my sights high for my current work in progress– A complete draft (defined as 70k words) in six weeks. Phew! As you can see, I’m juuuuuust barely staying on course. Every day, I sit down to write, then enter my word count. Write a bit more, enter my wordcount. Still not at the line? Plug out a few more paragraphs.
It’s simple, concrete, and keeps me from slacking. I’m not revising, I’m not re-reading, and I’m not beating myself up over too many shrugs or eyebrow raises on the page. I’ll go back and revise AFTER I’ve hit that goal. I’ll fill in the sparse scenes, flesh out the characters, and delete the unnecesary descriptors. For now, I’m sprinting toward the finish line without looking back. Pacemaker allos me to choose one concrete, measurable goal, and tune out the little voice wailing that it’s not good enough. Shush, imposter syndrome! Nobody likes you!
- Classes. This is one of my favorites, but I know it’s not always feasible. I have access to a great writing non-profit in my town, so I take a few classes every year. Reading other students’ work, studying published work, and interacting with other writers always gets me excited to write. If you don’t have this available in your city, check online. Lots of sites, such as MSWL Academy, offer online courses with expert instructors.
- Read. If the words won’t flow, and you can’t seem to get your story written, take a break. Read a book you love and get inspired by the way the writer crafts her characters, or her prose, or builds palaces out of paragraphs (credit to Lin Manuel Miranda!). Or….. read a book that isn’t very good. I know, I know! That sounds awful! But…. every writer I know has had a moment where they read a book and thought, “I could do XYZ better.” And hey, as long as you don’t tell that writer, there’s no shame in letting your pride drive you back to your laptop, mmmkay?And with that, I need to stop blogging and get back to writing. Share your best motivators in the comments! What gets you to do the work? Bribes? Coffee? Do tell….