Tag Archive for: writing life

Starting a new writing project can be overwhelming. Even when I’m excited, there’s so much ahead. There’s words, time, decisions, commitment—and when I think about how many words it takes to draft and revise a novel or how many things are still undecided or how many hours (and then days, weeks, and months) are between me and the end of my book, it can stall my momentum. So, it’s important for writers to have some idea of how to create writing motivation.

Lack of motivation isn’t the same thing as a lack of desire. I wanted to dive into my novel back in November, but I only managed to work on it for 15 days before the end of 2023. (Which for some of you probably sounds amazing, but as a daily writer, it’s much less so.) Some of those distractions were related to life—the holiday season, illness, commitments to friends and family—but some of it was from a lack of motivation. Luckily, writers can create writing motivation, it just requires some ingenuity, a toolkit, and knowing yourself really, really well.

Create Writing Motivation

Identify the Easiest Goal

Start by identifying the easiest goal that will also make you feel good about your progress. There are three rules to follow when identifying this easiest goal:

  • Choose something you can achieve every time you sit down to write.
  • Choose something that also gives you room to exceed your goal.
  • Choose something that will feel like progress.

For example, if you usually write 250–300 words when you sit down to write, your easiest goal might be to write 100 words on your novel every time you write. 100 words is less than you normally write, so you know it’s achievable, and since you normally write more, you have room to exceed your goal and feel great about your progress. And just imagine the day you write 500 words. That’s five times your usual goal! Now that’s a lot of progress.

Goals you might consider include:

  • word count
  • time spent writing
  • completing scenes or beats

Track Your Habit

Record each time you meet your writing session goal. You can use any kind of tracker you like but use something that will create writing motivation.

Physical or visual trackers can be good for seeing how small progress grows. You can mark days on a calendar, fill in blocks on a bullet journal, award yourself stickers, or use an app with a visual component (various graphs and chains are common in tracker apps).

It can also be helpful to have a tracker that automatically accumulates your progress. Like, a word count tracker where you fill in daily word counts, but the tracker informs you of how many total words you wrote and on how many days you worked. That data can help motivate you on future weeks and months to challenge yourself to reach a little further—or it can let you off the hook, so you know you’ve got padding for any rough days ahead.

Break Your Plan into Manageable Chunks

Stop looking at your novel as writing and polishing 100,000 words, or even as writing 30 chapters. Don’t think about working on your novel for three hours every day for eight months (or the end math on that being 720 hours).

Start with that big picture, and then break it into smaller and smaller chunks until you find the chunk that sits comfortably in your head and motivates you to write.

You might need to break your novel into:

  • which chapters you’ll write each quarter of the year
  • which chapters you’ll write each month
  • how many scenes you’ll write each month (or week)
  • how many words or hours you’ll write each week (or day)

How you divide your plan into chunks doesn’t have to match your easiest goal—and may help if it doesn’t! Keeping an eye on time for your easiest goal and word count for your plan can provide multiple ways to create writing motivation. If you don’t have twenty minutes to write today, but you can quickly slap together your planned landmark of 200 words, you’re more likely to write than assume it’s a wasted writing day.

The Key to Motivation

The real key to learning how to create writing motivation is to give yourself as many motivators as you can. Word count goals, time goals, scene or chapter or date goals can all help move you forward—as long as they speak to you.

You might rely on a few rewards or prizes along the way, too. Some days that negotiation for a hot chocolate if I write 500 words is the thing that gets me from 437 words to over 500.

Accountability buddies, social media check-ins, and other ways of reporting your progress to someone can also create writing motivation. Knowing yourself, knowing what motivates you, and adapting other people’s suggestions to what you know will help YOU create writing motivation is the difference between starting your project and finishing it.

 

 

For full access to The Write Life and more about what I’ve done to assist with my creative life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

Ask a publishing professional what you should write next, and they’ll never tell you. “Write what you want to write,” they’ll say. They might say writing what you want will produce better results, or that no one can guess a trend. But there’s another aspect I’ve never heard someone say but am now realizing is essential to the creative process: You have to trust your gut.

Trusting your gut as a writer applies to many different aspects of the creative process. You have to trust your gut when you’re drawn to write your next project. Or when you’ve chosen a weird name for your main character. Or when your characters go off your planned course, but it feels inevitable and right in your gut.

There’s also a point when all your research looking for the right home, agent, or editor for your manuscript ends, and you just have to trust yourself to make the right choice. Sometimes you just feel good about something, so you send your email off into the world because it feels like the right time, the right person, and you hope.

That hope is part of the publishing process, too. It’s the thing that keeps writers going after a stack of rejections and years of work and refinement. It’s what pushes writers to write the next thing, submit the next story, and do it all again, despite the difficulty, frustration, and feelings of failure. But we keep going because something in our gut keeps pulling us forward, and we keep trusting it to lead us in the right direction.

I’ve been too in my head about writing recently. I’ve been too caught up in the “right way” to start a novel. Too busy analyzing where to best spend my time. Too lost thinking about writing instead of slapping words on the page like a writer. I haven’t been spending much time listening to my gut, and that has got to change.

I’ve had a lot of distractions this month (mostly in the form of covid), so I haven’t made much progress on this change, but knowing what my next steps should be is making me feel more confident about my writing future.

How about you? Do you trust your gut when it comes to writing? Any suggestions on how I can get better at trusting my gut again?

 

 

For full access to The Write Life and more about what I’ve done to assist with my creative life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

This month has been A. LOT. There’s no other way to describe it, honestly. When life becomes a lot, there’s often nothing you can do about it except hold on, ride through, and hope you can figure out how to get some writing done while everything else is happening.

Many other writers would (and should) take a break from writing when faced with all the chaos and uncertainty I dealt with this past month. I find solace in maintaining my writing streak and keeping one element of my life somewhat steady, so I continued using daily prompts as a low stress way to take a break from writing while continuing to write regularly.

I also made progress drafting a new writing workshop about how to evaluate writing advice and decide what fits your life and what can be discarded. (Look for that in 2024.)

And I spent my time not stressing about life to stress about getting ready for DragonCon—which is happening right now!

If you’re hanging out around Atlanta, you’ll be able to find me at these fine panels over the weekend (schedule subject to change, as is the will of DragonCon):

FRIDAY

    • 11:30AM Stargate: The TV Movies and Beyond
    • 2:30PM Coping Strategies in Military Sci-Fi Media
    • 7:00PM It Was Kang All Along

SATURDAY

    • 11:30AM Mythology and Religion in the Worlds of Stargate
    • 7:00PM BFFs in the MCU

SUNDAY

    • 8:30PM Firefly: It All Comes Out in the Wash

MONDAY

    • 11:30AM Titans: Brother Blood
    • 2:30PM Guardians: Rocket’s Story

I’m on exclusively fan-focused panels this year, though I’m sure I’ll discuss some writerly worldbuilding during the mythology and religion panel, and I’ll be talking about the importance of relationships in action stories while discussing Marvel friendships, and I’m already planning a little English 101 exploration of protagonists to lead off the panel on Rocket Raccoon. (They may be fan panels, but I always bring my writing game.)

If you are someone who follows me on the internet and are able to find me at DragonCon, don’t be shy about saying hello. I’m always happy to chat with fellow writers and nerds.

 

 

For full access to The Write Life and more about what I’ve done to assist with my creative life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

No daily writer even wants to think the word “burnout.” But at the end of June someone directed that word at me, and I had to accept that part of my recent problem is related to burnout.

It was pointed out that the last year has been, um, stressful. Putting my career on hold to take care of my family was one kind of stress, but then coming back to my job with my hair on fire, desperate to jump in and make things work better was another kind of stress on top of that. Add to that daily struggles, my own chronic illnesses, isolation and loneliness, and the state of the world—it’s been a lot. So, yes, I am burned out, even if it’s not the creative burnout I fear. (And that’s not to say that all the other burnout isn’t sapping my creative energies.)

I decided to take the end of June to clear my plate, so I could spend as much of July as possible relaxing and refueling.

There was one problem with my plan—I’m a daily writer. I can’t stop writing. So, if I’m not working on my novels, short stories, or anything else that is “for work,” what can I write while still taking this very necessary break?

A Writing Break for Burnout

I decided the solution was daily prompts.

I obviously enjoy writing to prompts and had first thought to dig into my vast resources and pre-select a few that jive with me. But that might feel a little too much like what I do monthly on Patreon and might encourage me to “do something” with whatever I write. The point right now is to not do anything. To keep up my writing practice without trying to set a goal, make something perfect, or even refine it in any way. If I stumble across an idea I want to develop later, great, but everything I’m writing currently should come with guilt-free disposability.

I downloaded an app promising daily prompts and resolved to use them regardless of how much I liked the prompt on its own. And the results? Have been pleasantly surprising!

Knowing whatever I write is meant for My Eyes Only has provided much more freedom than I usually experience while writing. I haven’t needed to worry about coherence and can jump from thought to thought or moment to moment without trying to find a transition or make a note to figure it out later

There’s also no pressure to write anything of substance or quality because no one is going to see it. I don’t have to release it for any audience or please anyone with what I’m writing. Everything can suck! There are no right answers! These are just words to keep my writing streak alive and keep myself connected to creativity!

Having the rule to write to every prompt, even if it’s not one that really engages me is another form of freedom. The first question I ask the prompt is “what will I do with it?” instead of “do I want to do something with this?” That subtle twist of language shifts my focus from me to the writing (and from the future to the present) and has allowed me to write something for every prompt.

Bonus: because I’m not editing and am just putting words on a page, I can complete my 250-word daily minimum in 10 minutes without any fuss!

More and more I’m feeling like using a daily prompt randomly supplied might serve as a good warm-up for my normal writing routine or as a way to reconnect when I’m feeling out of sorts. Has anyone else tried using daily prompts like this? What’s your experience been like?

 

 

For full access to The Write Life and more about what I’ve done to assist with my creative life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

After an up-and-down month in May with some extreme writing highs and lows concurrent with my vacillating mental health, I decided June needed to be about kindness. Mostly that was kindness in the way I treated and talked to myself, but I also allowed for kindness related to my writing. This writing kindness wasn’t just about writing kind things (though I did a lot of low stakes writing in June), it was about being kind to my writing life, accepting things for how they are, and recontextualizing what productivity and progress means.

The writing life is often NOT kind. We spend hours isolated, chipping away at our ideas, only to have to rewrite and revise and polish (and then rewrite and re-polish)—then to be told all the things we did wrong, or could do better by editors, agents, and audience. The stories we actually manage to finish and publish can be our dearest creations and still be met by rejection or—worse—apathy. The writing business is not kind, which means that writers need to be as kind to ourselves as possible.

What does writing kindness look like in terms of a writing life?

First, it means throwing out expectations and rules dictating what a writing life “should” be.

Do you have to write every day? Nope.
Do you have to write 1,000 words a day? Also, no.
Do you have to write for at least an hour every time you write? Very no.
Write from an outline?
Use Scrivener?
Draft in a Moleskine notebook with your literal blood, sweat, and tears?

Hopefully you’ve caught on that the answer to all those questions is no—unless of course any of those things are part of YOUR writing process. But none of them are part of every writing process and none of them mean you are a “real” writer simply by subscribing to them.

Beyond putting aside what you think a writing life should be, an important writing kindness is changing what you’ll accept as productivity.

Some days writing productivity might mean writing 1,000 words. Other days writing productivity might mean thinking about your story in spare moments as you’re in the shower, folding clothes, or sitting in traffic. Dreaming up character backgrounds and names, working through worldbuilding details, outlining or researching—all of those things can be writing productivity!

Writing does not always mean writing because a lot of writing is thinking. It’s coming up with options, and then making decisions. And to come up with those options, you have to spend time thinking.

If you happen to be someone driven by word counts (cough, me, cough), then you can write down those options and thinking and brainstorming, so you can “get credit” for that productivity, but YOU DON’T HAVE TO! Be kind to yourself! Be kind to your writing life!

Another way to treat your writing life with kindness—and this is one I’m looking to develop more—is by surrounding yourself with supportive people.

Find readers and other writers who will tell you what you’ve written is wonderful and who will encourage you to keep going. Find someone who is so excited for the idea you’re currently obsessed with and check in with them to feed from their enthusiasm. Find a writing group that is interested in what you’re writing. Find people you can talk to about your work. Don’t accept jerks or critics into your creation process! Surround yourself with kindness and wear that kindness like armor and a shield to protect yourself from all the times writing is not kind.

It’s good to be kind to yourself and your writing life because so many other things will not be kind. Writing kindness is one way writers can cope with the rejection and isolation that’s baked into the writing process and find the motivation to keep going.

 

 

For full access to The Write Life and more about what I’ve done to assist with my creative life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

Most jobs have defined parameters: go to work, perform specific tasks at work, go home. Even jobs performed from home or that require overtime still fall into similar routines. There can be a start and stop time—an on/off switch, if you will—work defined by tasks or time, and there is always an end.

With writing? Not so much.

A cluster of hanging lightbulbs, all of them on because the writer on/off switch is also on and full of inspiration.

Photo by Diz Play on Unsplash

Writing has a habit of encroaching on everything. You’re in the shower, lathering in shampoo and—BAM—you have the solution to a plot hole. You’re making dinner, sautéing veggies and—WHAM—you finally have inspiration for your title. You’re trying to fall asleep, letting all your thoughts empty out of your head and—POP—the perfect line of dialogue appears. No matter what you’re doing, writing is happening in some corner of your brain and it’s going to jump up and demand attention when you’re least prepared.

But the opposite is true, too, isn’t it? When we sit down to write, our real life comes in to distract us. That could be in the form of remembering unfinished tasks on our to-do lists and things we need to do or buy or clean, or in the form of our loved ones poking their heads into our writing time with well-meaning interruptions that still derail our train of thought.

Writing doesn’t come with an on/off switch, and it can be difficult to switch in and out of writing mode to maintain a healthy work/life balance. (I doubt I’m the only freelancer who experiences this problem related to other work as well since sometimes those shower thoughts are about the manuscript I’m editing or the email I need to send or how to revamp my Patreon.)

Working from home doesn’t help this situation either because there is literally no separation between my workspace and my home space. They’re the same space!

I was at the end of my rope about this problem, so this month I tried to create some separation by utilizing a vacation home I occasionally have access to. I got to have a routine, a short commute, and a quiet, uncluttered workspace that has nothing to do with my home life! And when I went home at the end of my workday, I didn’t feel nearly as much pressure to keep working. I also felt less anxiety related to “you didn’t do enough” because I’d had more success getting things done during regular work hours.

Since the on/off switch for writers is mostly broken, writers have to try harder to create boundaries around work life and home life. A room of one’s own is a great way to do that, but not everyone has access to a vacation home (and I don’t even have access to it all the time). There are other boundaries that can be set—a schedule, a special place to write (even if that’s just moving from one side of the desk to the other), and other routines (a special snack, a lit candle, noise-cancelling headphones).

I’m trying to keep all those tricks in mind as I transition back to mostly working from home. I feel like this month has been a good reminder of the importance of separating work from home, and I’ll be looking for more opportunities to get out of the house and actually separate work from home.

Speaking of, anyone want to join me at a coffee shop to write?

 

 

For full access to The Write Life and more about what I’ve done to assist with my creative life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

Whether pandemic, politics, or other difficulties have drained your energy and flattened your mental health, it can be difficult to create when you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or another problem that messes with your executive function.

I have absolutely been there. In 2012 I was diagnosed with situational depression, a decline I could graph in relation to my writing output. I wrote sporadically while I sought help and treatment, and as I began to feel better, wanted to reconnect to my writing life. But I was so far out of practice, I had lost my confidence, I had changed as a writer, and my mental health still kind of sucked. So, I couldn’t just dive back in. I had to figure out a new way to write, find strategies to “trick” myself into letting go, and most importantly—I had to figure out how to focus on writing and not run away!

If you’ve been struggling to reconnect to your writing life, join me for a workshop where I teach the practices and exercises I used to get back to writing, and share my secrets for reconnecting to your abandoned writing project. I’ve continued using these practices as I deal with anxiety and PTSD, so they’re not just to get you started, they’ll keep you going, too!

Start reconnecting with your writing life:
Sunday, June 12
1–3pm Eastern Time
Click here to register.

Get your ticket for this virtual workshop and don’t let your mental health detract from your writing life any longer.

A portion of every ticket goes to support the writing group Central Florida Inklings, who host this and other writing workshops.

My writing life has been very scattered of late. While I still have writing time planned daily and I haven’t broken my streak (still at least 250 words a day every day, just like the last several years), what I’ve been working on has been haphazard. After I finished my last writing project in early March, I’ve been struggling to focus on the next project.

  • I’ve started an outline and draft for another writing workshop.
  • I’ve revisited my next novel outline and taken a few notes on what threads I may need to reevaluate as I draft.
  • I’ve dawdled with a new short story.
  • And I’ve drafted the beginnings of a few new blog posts.

But I’ve had a lot of difficulty sticking with anything. (Or finishing anything, as you might have noticed how many times I said “started” or “beginning” in that list.)

The end of last year and beginning of this year has been really rough on my mental health. I’m starting to come out of the worst of it and am reassessing my schedules and routines to find better ways to ground and care for myself. (Sleep. Sleep has been a BIG problem.) But it’s difficult to focus on writing when my mental health is so out of whack. (Not to mention that the lack of sleep finally caught up with me and I’m sick for the first time in two years.)

A writing life is about a lot more than ideas in the brainpan and words on the page. It encompasses a whole lot of other things—priorities, time management, mental and physical health. When one of those things is out of whack, it’s hard to have a bountiful and satisfying writing life. I mean, the mechanical side is there—I’m putting words on the page every day—but the focus to finish and the confidence to keep going through a hiccup? Those are the things I’m struggling with.

When I’m experiencing this kind of struggle, I allow myself a little grace, focusing on just 250 words per day and not pushing beyond that. I also release my grip on “what counts” as writing and am more likely to include stream-of-conscious brainstorming, notes, and questions. (Hey, all those words eventually get me to the finished story, so why not count them?) The last thing I do—and the thing that often helps the most during these times of struggle—is I follow my attention.

If I want to capture the ideas for a presentation on writing time travel fiction (slotted for May with the Orange County Public Library, register here for the virtual workshop), I work on that instead of the project I’m “supposed” to be working on. That allows me to capture some of the excess thoughts cluttering my head and reduces the number of things distracting me. Hopefully I only need to do this for a day or two, and then I can resume my regularly scheduled writing. (But sometimes it takes more time to get a brain back on track.)

These little “vacations” are what I do instead of taking a break from my words, but for anyone not chaining together a consecutive streak of thousands of days of writing—a break is probably a really good idea!

Mostly this month I’ve been working on ways to bring my physical and mental health in line, including drinking more water, making more time for mindfulness, and doing my very best to accept that some days any effort is my best effort.

What have you been doing to care for yourself in your writing life?

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.