Imagine the scene: you’ve been working on a novel for weeks, maybe months. You spend the bulk of your day at your day job, thinking about how you’ve scheduled today as a writing day, and how you’ll jump on that as soon as you get home and finish dinner. But then the time arrives, and already the post-work exhaustion has set in. All you want to do is sit on the couch and watch TV after you’ve cleaned your plate, or spend time with your partner or kids or roommates or pets. The idea of sitting at your desk and banging out a thousand words feels unbearable.
Now, let’s be fair–it’s important to give yourself a break when you need it. Sometimes you really are too tired to get the words down, or you’ve been missing out on time with your loved ones and you opt to fix that instead. But if this scenario happens too often, suddenly a week goes by and you haven’t written anything. Then a month. And maybe, if too much time passes, you abandon it altogether. That book you poured so much time and effort into never sees the light of day again.
As someone who has played out the above scene more times than I can count, I have a few tips for writers who have trouble with motivation:
- Understand your limits and forgive yourself for them.
I have struggled with depression since my teens, so I understand seeing a list like this and thinking, “Ugh, this is going to be a bunch of peppy talk for people who don’t have to fight this battle every day.” There are ways to compromise with your depression–or anxiety, or chronic illness, or anything else that makes productivity extra difficult–and then sometimes, there aren’t ways to compromise. The point is to make peace with the times when compromise isn’t an option and you have to prioritize self-care instead.
If you’re going through a hard time, be easy on yourself. Maybe set less intense goals, like a smaller word count or a shorter block of time dedicated to sitting at your desk. Make goals that aren’t related to getting words down, such as filling out a character sheet, or coming up with world building ideas, or going through the day inhabiting your character’s mind, keeping a silent commentary going of how your character perceives your day. That last one doesn’t produce physical results, but it’s still work, and it can still affect your novel. You don’t need results to have a productive day.
If you adjust your daily goals and still don’t meet them, don’t punish yourself. Some days are better than others. And if a life crisis–such as the death of a loved one or serious illness–requires you to take a few months off your project, that’s completely understandable and doesn’t have to ruin your chances of finishing the book. You can always come back to it.
- Figure out what inspires you (and how it inspires you).
Sometimes my writing well runs dry because I’m not engaging enough with other people’s art. There have been many times when I’ve been in a rut, read a good book, and felt reinvigorated, ready to make something amazing. The primary types of art I consume are books, video games, and music, and I’ve noticed that each of them ignites a different sort of creative fire in me.
If my prose has been sounding uninspired lately, then I turn to a book with prose that jumps off the page. Some authors really know how to embed rich feeling in their word choices, the rhythm of their language, and how they structure their paragraphs. Go-to authors who do this for me are Maggie Stiefvater, Libba Bray, Victoria Schwab and, of course, J.K. Rowling (on the classics side, there’s Leo Tolstoy and James Joyce). Reading these writers’ words envelops me in this comfortable cocoon–that feeling when I know I’m settling in for a good story.
If I’m having trouble coming up with ideas or need world building inspiration, I play video games. I’ve noticed my brain often wanders toward creative “What if?” questions when I’m immersed in a game, and that being entrenched in an imaginary world makes me eager to create one of my own. For me, the best games for this are the ones that generate a strong feeling of atmosphere, like Skyrim, Stardew Valley, Fallout 4, Kingdom Hearts, and the Legend of Zelda games. The project I’m working on next popped into my brain while I was playing Skyrim, and only grew from there.
Then there’s the pre-writing ritual I perform every time I write, which is listening to music and pacing back and forth for a half hour to get in the characters’ heads. Music is the best way I know how to understand a character and inhabit their worldview. The main band that does this for me is Paramore (how do you think I became a fan in the first place?), but I’ve also found tremendous inspiration in The Mountain Goats, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Green Day, The Beatles, fun., Muse, Regina Spektor, and various video game soundtracks. This is something I’m struggling with right now–most of the characters for my next project don’t have enough songs, because I’m not finding new music I like (I keep stumbling on bands whose lyrics are impossible to make out thanks to all the reverb–I just want to be able to hear the singer clearly!).
Of course, these are just examples pulled from my life. Figure out what works best for you. Maybe you don’t care about video games, but T.V. shows push that creative button for you. Keep an eye on the times you feel most creative and try to replicate that as much as possible.
- Do not set a goal for when you will be published or when you will get a book deal.
*looks in mirror* Yes, Morgan, I am calling you out here.
When it comes to publishing, the only thing you have control over is your writing. If you’ve never published before, you’re not under contract, and you have no agent, then you set your own deadlines and work by your own schedule. You ultimately decide how long the book will take, if life circumstances cooperate. You decide how much time to spend on revisions and writing your query letter.
But once that query letter’s sent off? The ball is in the agent’s court. It could take a day or it could take months (in publishing, it’s more likely months). Same thing if you get an agent and they put you on submission–you can’t do anything about how long it takes for editors to get back to you. So little is under your control, so it doesn’t make sense to mark a date on your calendar and say, “I’ll be published by [insert arbitrary marker here]!” Once you do get that book deal, the publishing date usually is set two years in the future (example: a deal announced in January 2018 is probably for a book publishing in late 2019 or sometime in 2020). Even if you happen to meet that goal, a lot of that is thanks to luck and timing.
Last year, I thought 2017 would be the year I got an agent and maybe even a book deal. I looked starry-eyed at 2019 and decided I would make that my pub year. Well, that’s not happening, and I have been very hard on myself for it, which isn’t fair. I did everything I could and things didn’t work out by the time midnight hit on December 31st, 2017. That doesn’t mean I failed, and it certainly doesn’t mean I should lose motivation to keep pushing. Don’t set impossible goals for yourself, because you’ll only end up feeling discouraged.
In 2018, I’ve decided to work on my next project and that’s it. I’m not putting pressure on it. I’ve set a very loose deadline. I’m going to take time to enjoy it. Then we’ll see where things go from there.
I hope these tips help you find motivation! If you have any tips of your own, let me know in the comments.
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