As a writer, it’s difficult to stay motivated. The art of writing can be taxing, frustrating, and at times, almost impossible. There are days when everything except writing sounds like fun: climbing Mt. Everest, running an ultra-marathon, stepping into the ring with Brock Lesnar, finding One-Eyed Willy’s treasure map… okay, so that last one is pretty awesome, gotta admit. Anyway, how does a small-time writer (such as myself) stay on top of his/her writing goals? Here are a few things I’ve discovered that keep me going despite all the distractions of daily life:
1. Deadlines. During my time at Stonecoast, the constant threat of packets, workshop manuscripts, and residencies kept me on my toes. I needed to write if I wanted to graduate. Two years later, I suddenly found myself without any pressing deadlines. In all honesty, this initial discovery felt good, like eating-a-bowl-of-ice-cream-for-breakfast good (sorry, Mom). I didn’t write anything for two weeks straight. No blog posts, no journal entries, no stories. Then the itch came back something fierce. Hmm… perhaps not the best metaphor, but accurate. I got back into the habit of writing, and to make sure I continued doing it, I replaced grad school deadlines with submission deadlines. Now I write with the goal of submitting my work in the hopes of getting it published.
2. Peer pressure. Growing up, I hated being the focus of peer pressure. “C’mon, it’s just one cigarette,” “C’mon, just have one beer,” “C’mon, no one will ever know if you steal that candy bar.” Damn it people, no, I will not succumb to your evil ways. McGruff the Crime Dog taught me to take a bite out of crime, and by God, I’m not afraid to use my incisors for justice! Lately, however, I’ve discovered that peer pressure can be a positive thing. I formed a workshop group with my peers shortly after graduation, and it’s been a godsend in motivation. Reading my friends’ works-in-progress and seeing their commitment to the craft forces me to keep going. I don’t want to fall behind. I need to run with my pack!
3. Scheduling. I work full-time, so my muggle job takes up a big chunk of my day. I have weekends off, but those two days are often spent with family and friends (yes, contrary to popular belief, I do have a social life). It’s imperative that I plan out my week accordingly. I always try to schedule some writing time, usually an hour, almost every other night. I know most writers like to write every day, and many craft books dole out the same advice. For me, though, I’ve found that spacing out my writing sessions allows me to formulate better prose because even on my “off” days, I’m often thinking about plot twists, character arcs, opening hooks, and all kinds of other writerly things. Even though I’m not physically writing every day, the ol’ noggin is still turning its gears in hopes of pumping out some good stuff at the next writing session.
4. Books. I love books. You really can’t be a writer unless you’re also a reader. There are moments when I finish a book and the first word that pops into my head is “wow.” You know the kind: books that envelope you so tightly, you lose track of time, you ignore the hunger pangs in your stomach, or you forget that your neighbor’s dog is a loud-mouth little twerp with a ratty tail and an equally ratty jerk-face. Books like those are the ones that motivate me to keep working on my stories. Why? Because someday, I want to write something so cool, so incredibly mind-blowing, that it’ll make other people forget about their troubles, if only for a little while.
5. There is only one of me. This comes from the title quote, taken from a letter written by Martha Graham for Agnes De Mille. This is something I’ve mentioned before, but my fourth semester mentor, Michael Kimball, shared this letter with me during a time of great struggle (AKA The Dreaded Thesis). Its message has stayed with me since then. My voice is unique; only I can write stories the way I do. The simple desire to be heard can be enough motivation to keep writing. And on some days, it’s all I need to push through the stressful and difficult, yet exhilarating and fulfilling process of writing.
May you find your own sources of motivation to help you meet your goals, writing or otherwise. Stay thirsty, my friends.
Title Quote: “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.” — Excerpt from a letter to Agnes De Mille from Martha Graham.