Aw, Do I Have To? Seven Strategies to Stay Motivated

I don’t feel I was very productive today.  With the day all but gone, an unpleasant, anxious feeling is riding over me. Although I did manage to write for two hours, the beginning of a short story that’s been niggling away at my brain for the past week, and I did watch an interesting video, Antanas Sileika interviewing Jane Urquhart, I didn’t work on my novel. And now I’m feeling guilty.

Since committing myself full-time to writing, I find I’m not always getting as much done as I would like. I’ve heard other writers say that having more time to write, doesn’t always translate into writing more of the time.

So the big question is how do I stay motivated?

Here are seven tricks I’ve come up with to keep myself writing. They really do work—if I let them.

Copy Cat

As Tony Robbins suggests; identify people who are doing what you want to be doing and copy them. Why reinvent the wheel? I’m fortunate to have a number of people in my circle of writing friends who produce magnificent writing on a consistent basis. These successful writers are living proof that it is doable. So I watch, ask questions and attempt to copy them.

Fill the Well

Julia Cameron is a great believer that in order to consistently produce quality art, we have to ensure that we don’t allow our creative well to dry up. For me, I know that when things just aren’t coming, it’s time to grab my camera and spend a few hours taking pictures. When I focus my attention on a caterpillar eating through a leaf, or a single red berry hanging off a bare tree branch (each could be symbols of my writing), I’m filling my well.

Mix it Up

I’ve discovered that by mapping out each chapter as I arrived at it, I’m better able to see what is working and what is missing. I post missing scenes, character and plot points on a whiteboard (more about the wonder of whiteboards in a future blog). Now, when I arrive at my office each morning, I can pick and choose which scene I want to work on. Andrew Pyper has said he uses a similar plan of attack and suggests some days you just want to write the sex scene—so go for it. I give myself permission to write the scene I feel most moved to write (sex scene days are always fun days).

Walk it Off

Nothing beats getting away from my desk and taking a half hour walk. Before I lace up, I read the section I’m working on, drop a notepad and pencil in my pocket and invite my characters along. Each time I do this exercise, I’m amazed how putting myself and my characters in motion brings clarity and energy to my writing.

Road Trip

It gets pretty boring staring at the same four walls every day, so I pack up my laptop and go to a coffee shop, or a park for a few hours. In the nice weather, I write in my gazebo. Writing outside reminds me of when we were kids and the teacher would take the class outside and teach the lesson on the school lawn. I never feel I’m missing out when I can raise my eyes and see an overflowing flower box.

Trick or Treat

Bribery works. On mornings when I feel like stomping my feet and singing the ‘I don’t wanna do this’ song, I imagine a treat I’ll reward myself with at the other end of X hours of writing. In the past, I’ve used the promise of a trip to the bookstore, or an ice cappuccino if I keep my butt in the chair and my fingers flying across the keyboard. Of course, there’s no room for cheating. No work, no treat.

I See

Every morning before I type a word, I meditate. If prayer is speaking to God (or the universe if you prefer), then meditation is listening to God. I’m always blown away by what spontaneously pops into my head when I become still. I also practice visualization throughout my day, imaging my book on the bookstore shelf (I’ll be a few titles down from Michael Ondaatje), who I’ll invite to my book launch (be nice to me or you’re off the list), and I image readers, my readers, waiting excitedly for the release of my next book.

And then there are those days where I’m too lazy to even consider my list, so I schedule in a ‘not in the mood day’. Because let’s face it, some days you just need to clean the damn house!


Filed under Writer's blog, Writer's journey, Writing

11 responses to “Aw, Do I Have To? Seven Strategies to Stay Motivated

  1. Great list. We all need those ‘not in the mood’ days. The one thing I can’t imagine is being so sick of writing that I’d rather clean the house.

  2. My personal favourite is picking up a notebook and walking around the block. Nothing generates fresh material than fresh air.

  3. Vicki

    Thanks for the reminder. Red winged blackbirds are back…it is really spring. If I write til the worst of the cold is gone I can go out and enjoy it.

  4. Cheryl

    Thank you, Sharon. Love your list. All of it works for me. I need to check out the whiteboard idea for sure. And, if it wasn’t for Anne Lamott (“Bird by Bird”) I would never have thought to give myself permission to write that ‘shitty first draft’ of my manuscript … there’s a big motivator for me!

    • Thanks Cheryl, I promise to dedicate an entire post to whiteboards. I’ve had one up on my wall for six months, but wasn’t utilizing it properly. Now, I finish one point, swirl my chair around to face the board and pick the next point I feel like addressing.

  5. Sharon,
    Fabulous List. I’ve read other such lists before, but yours “suits” me. It’s realistic and thoughtful. Good insights into human nature. Ultimately it’s up to us to balance our writing lives, and your list gives me permission to change gears in new directions, to charge myself up and return to the task with fresh eyes. New eyes might not call it a task, might call it a project.

    • Thanks, Mary. I’ve come to realize ‘being in the mood’ really is a luxury. Today I’m not in the mood so much, but will keep my butt in this seat until I’ve worked through 500 words.

  6. Great list Sharon. I do do some of them, but I was one of those that had more time to write and didn’t. Thing was it started to feel like work and of course my brain railed at that and refused to co-operate.

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