Monday 10 March 2014

Motivating Your Inner Writer

You’re writing your story, maybe you’re a few days in or perhaps a few weeks, and suddenly you feel the compulsion to do the dishes. Or the laundry. Or tidy up that closet. And if, like me, you aren’t overly fond of housework or tedious chores, it may occur to you that it’s rather odd that you now feel compelled to do something you dislike rather than do the thing you’ve loved since you were a kid.

Not that writing can’t be a frustrating endeavour, but why would you actually want to do that menial job you usually find any excuse to avoid doing? Why not go do something fun? Or nothing at all? Seems a bit strange, no?

There is in fact a pretty simple reason why, and once you understand it, it can actually make it easier to get your head back in the game.

Your outer writer, the one who thinks things through and knows what needs to be done, want to get on with it—bum in seat, fingers on keyboard, brain in gear. Even if you aren’t feeling inspired and you only get a few words down, your outer writer knows that that will still help you get to the finish line.

Your inner writer, however, has other ideas. Your inner writer can be a moody so and so, and some days really can’t be bothered writing that same story you’ve been writing forever. Rewrites too? Will it never end?

When inner writer and outer writer are on the same page everything’s tickety-boo. Full steam ahead. When they’re at odds, there tends to be only one winner.

The thing you realise pretty quickly once you start writing a story, especially a novel, is that it’s going to take some time. There’s no way round it. Even if you worked around the clock it would still take several weeks at least, more likely months. And the thing about doing a difficult task is that the pay-off, the good feeling, comes at the end. You finally finish and no matter how much you hated ironing those shirts, something wells up inside of you: a sense of accomplishment.

You get that feeling from finishing a book too, it just takes a lot longer. And people tend to get impatient. But you can give yourself a shot of those good vibes by making the bed or vacuuming the hallway. Doesn’t matter how much you dislike doing it, the one thing you know for sure is that you can get it done right now. Beginning to end, all in one go. Desk untidy, ten minutes later, desk tidy. And here comes that good feeling, even if it’s only for a few seconds.

We all know some things are worth waiting for. Often the longer you have to wait the greater the pleasure when you do finally complete. We know this, but we don’t necessarily always appreciate it. When the finish line is far, far away we crave a little of that sugar sooner rather than later.

So we go do something that provides a small sense of accomplishment. Not a partial achievement, not a step along the road. Completed. Finished. Done.

You don’t get that feeling from watching telly or making a sandwich. It has to be a proper job. Like dusting the coving. As trivial as it might seem, those menial jobs are giving you a shot of well being.

You can use this knowledge to your advantage. Next time you find yourself in front of the blank page or blank screen—you know exactly what scene you need to write but those books on that shelf look like they really need rearranging into alphabetical order—take a breath, close your eyes and ask yourself how you’re going to feel once you get to the end of your story.

Don’t try to force an answer, just pose the question, and then see what emerges.

You might find yourself thinking back to the last thing you wrote, or it might be from when you folded all the towels and piled them up in the closet from largest to smallest, doesn’t really matter, the feeling is pretty much the same.

If you draw a blank, go and do that job that’s nagging on the back of your mind, and after you’ve washed all the dishes in the sink and put them away leaving a nice, clean, tidy kitchen, just stop and look around. Sit with the feeling of satisfaction for a few moments so you can use it as a frame of reference.

Now when you ask yourself how you will feel when you finish your book, that feeling (from whichever method), will not only return to your memory, it will permeate your entire body and give you a lift. You don’t have to do anything with it, just let it remind you what the goal here is.

Now go back to the blank page. Chances are you will be reinvigorated and ready to write. I can’t guarantee it of course. There are no guarantees in this game, but hopefully you will find this technique of some help.

If you found this post useful please give it a retweet. Cheers.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I try not to think of the manuscript as a whole. My goal is to get to the next scene. I can usually reach that, which gives me that sense of accomplishment.

mooderino said...

@Alex - any end point can do the trick.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

You've described me exactly. I often go running when I get that urge to step away from the writing. In the summer mowing the grass, about an hour and a half job, is where I go to figure out that next scene.

Unknown said...

Hi Moody, it's been a while since I last checked in. Glad I did! My approach is similar to Alex's, I generally try to think of the story in scenes and not as a whole manuscript (because I get easily overwhelmed). I find that I can knock out chapters more easily with this approach and get that amazing feeling of having made great progress. I recently started writing my word counts on a calendar beside my writing desk. It helps me keep great track and feel accomplished seeing the number growing!

Anna Soliveres

jenny said...

I agree with what some others have said. Just getting through a particular moment is often enough, and giving no thought to all the many many many moments to come. A bit like hiking a very mountainous trail, work just hard enough to get to your next camp site.

Shah Wharton said...

Spot on again Moody. I feel a strange dread in the pit of my stomach and put off writing for one reason or another, indefinitely. Although, it's rarely the writing stage in when happens. I dread the revision more than anything. Making sense of my first draft is hell!

L said...

It's displacement therapy. Also sometimes I don't even start a task in case I fail. I could be a psychologist's dream!

mooderino said...

@Susan - my fondness for folding laundry gets quite a boost when I should be writing.

@Karen - even when you know it's still hard to resist.

@Anna - Hello! I'm a big list maker. Gives a good feeling ticking things off.

@Jenny - that is an effective way to do it but sometimes the inner writer gets wise to it. That's when pushing the idea of completion can help.

Al Diaz said...

I had not thought on that but it makes a lot of sense. Many things are making sense now about why I put my story aside. I will try your advice!

nutschell said...

I can get overwhelmed when I start thinking of all the things I need to do before I get published. I have a list of all these to do things, But I try to focus on the next step (instead of the next ten steps) most of the time. I just finished another draft of my YA, now it's onto revising my MG. It helps to keep going, but it also helps to take a break every now and then. Great post!

Unknown said...

Very logical. Thanks for the great tips.

Unknown said...

"Will it never end?" is a question that I ask myself often. I just pre-wrote my Friday post and mentioned most of the same procrastinating tricks. Heh-heh. I didn't have helpful tips like you do though! :)

Emily R. King said...

When I draw a blank, I find menial chores give me time to ponder what I'll do as soon as I hit the keys again. It's good to have a game plan.

Great post!

mooderino said...

@Shah - revisions can really wear you down (especially the umpteenth draft).

@L - Always nice to be someone's dream.

@Lexa - Well I have tips, not sure how helpful they are.

@Emily - It's when I know what needs to be done and I still find myself doing chores that's the problem.
@Al - hope it helps.

@nutschell - I do likewise but some days it feels like it'll go on forever and I have to remind myself why I'm doing all this.

@lilith - welcome.

@Lexa -

Unknown said...

It gets hard focusing on a book because, like you said, its kinda repetitive and I easily get bored with my characters. Breaks do help though.

mooderino said...

@Maha - but breaks also take time and what you really want is to get into the flow and let momentum carry you through. It's very frustrating when everything seems more appealing than what you want to make yourself do.

Chemist Ken said...

I can jump right into my writing if I only have 15 minutes or so open, but whenever I manage to snag a large block of time for writing, I often find myself stalling at the beginning. It's like I'm overwhelmed by the prospect of having all that time available. Weird.

mooderino said...

@Ken - Usually I get that feeling when i've rushed other jobs to free up time and I'm mentally exhausted. It's like when everyone's got a cold but you're too busy to be ill, and then you finally get everything done and that's when the virus strikes!

Rick Watson said...

My inner writer has been kicking my rear end lately. It's hard not to give in, but I won't
Great advice. Thanks.

LD Masterson said...

For me, writing is like jogging. I never liked jogging, I liked having jogged. Same with writing. I enjoy having written. Luckily, that goes for a scene or a chapter as well as a whole story so I hit that high point more often.

Carrie Butler said...

It's usually in the moments when I simply cannot write that inspiration strikes. Sometimes I try to trick myself... LOL

Great suggestions!

mooderino said...

@Rick - I've been having similar issues. Just have to keep kick back.

@LD - it is a great feeling having finished. Much more fun than the doing.

@Carrie - sometimes you have to stop trying so hard to let the brain do its thing. Annoying brain.

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