I replied to a discussion in writerslounge
about motivation a few days ago and it got me wanting to write a proper post about how I keep myself motivated around writing. Motivation is something that I think a lot of people struggle with, but I've managed to keep slogging along for many years, with ups and downs, but mostly making progress each and every month. I thought I'd share some of my techniques.Have a goal
The most important thing in staying motivated is having something to be motivated to do
. This may sound like a no-brainer, but I think a lot of people miss this right off the bat. They want to be an author, or they want "to write", but that's about it.
I could write a whole post about goal-setting - and I probably will - but for now suffice it to say that it's absolutely vital to have some clear-cut goal in mind. For example "publishing a book" is at least more clear-cut than "being a writer". "Writing a novel this year" is even better. If you have a specific idea in mind that you want to actually write, that's ideal.
The more measurable a goal is, the better. Being measurable means that you will know when you've achieved it. If your goal is "to write" that could be accomplished by tweeting about that pretty flower you saw. But writing a 5000 word short story for that contest you read about is very measurable. You know exactly when you've completed it.
Goals should have not only a thing you want to do, but some idea of when
Goal-setting isn't just a thing you do and then walk away. You can have big goals like "write a novel" and smaller goals like "outline my novel by the end of the month" and even smaller goals like "spend an hour on outlining today". In fact, you should have goals at many different levels, each smaller one supporting the next biggest one, and so on. I'll talk more about this in a minute.
I set goals all the time. I have a goal of spending at least 1 hour per day on writing-related activities, and writing at least 500 new words per day. I have a goal of spending 30 hours per month on writing, as well. (Which means even if I miss a day, I might still be on track for my other goal!) I have a goal of getting The Sleeping Death
ready to be published by the fall. I have a goal of getting The Dreaming
written by the end of the year. I have a goal of writing at least one meaningful blog post each week. Some goals are soft, others are more firm. These are just examples.Keep track of your progress
It's a hell of a lot easier to stay motivated if you can look back on your accomplishments and realize that you've made progress, as well as see how much further there is to go before you complete your goal. There's nothing worse than those days when you feel like you'll never accomplish your goal, and it's vital to have something to look at that can remind you that you have
made progress, even if it's not as much as you might like, and even if there's still a long way to go.
Unfortunately, this means that you have to start tracking things at the beginning, before you realize that you need to.
I have a spreadsheet. Each of my writing projects is listed in the spreadsheet, and each time I do work on a project, I record how long I spent. If I'm writing, I record the number of words I wrote, as well. I total up the number of hours and words each week and at the end of the month. It takes only a couple of seconds to track each day, but the amount of value I get is incredible.
I can easily see if I'm neglecting one of my goals, or neglecting a project, if I haven't touched it in a long time. I can also look back - for years if I want - and see just how much work I've done and how far I've come. When you see how much work you've already done on a project, it's easier to keep going, so as not to let it all go to waste.Break it down
Big goals are way more exciting and motivating than small ones like daily writing goals, but they are intimidating. It's incredibly important to break down each monster project into small, manageable chunks. This not only makes the goal more achievable, but it helps to keep you motivated.
If you have a big, intimidating goal, it becomes overwhelming on those days when motivation is hard to find. But it's a hell of a lot easier to get yourself going if all you have to do is write 500 words. Or 300 words. Or 50 words.
Finding the right balance of forward progress that works with your lifestyle can take a lot of experimentation. You might start off with a daily goal that you just can's sustain because of work, kids, pets, social lives, etc. If you have a big dream you might have to sacrifice a bit to get there, but you need down-time, too, and some obligations can't be ignored for years while you work on becoming the next J.K. Rowling, like children.
You might also be tempted to give yourself an ambitious goal, like say 2000 words a day because you're afraid of not achieving your goal in a reasonable time. But if the number of words is too large, such that it demotivates you, you won't achieve your goal, either. Slow but steady generally wins the race.
And just think, if you started today writing just 500 words per day, in a year you'll have written over 180,000 words. That's a pretty big novel! And a lot of authors write about 1 novel a year. Consistency wins over big numbers, and a consistent habit is easier to motivate yourself to continue over the long haul.Play mindgames with yourself
Riffing off of that concept, don't be afraid to lower your goal on a particular day if you're having a bad day, if it's what it takes to get you going. There are days where 500 words seems impossible, but I feel like just maybe I could crap out 100 words.
Do 100 words, rather than zero. 100 words is nothing! Tell yourself that, and just crank out those 100, telling yourself that maybe after that you'll go do something else.
Then when you get to the end of 100 words, see if you can manage to bleed out another 100.
And so on.
Before you know it, you've got your 500 words and you feel good about yourself. Maybe you've even gotten over your funk and feel like you've gotten yourself on a roll and can manage another 500. Or maybe it's really just a bad day, and you just can't keep going. Either way, you can feel good that you achieved your goal - basically by tricking yourself into doing it.
I do this all the time. It works.Don't feel bad
Above all, don't get down on yourself if you miss your goal. Whether it's a big deadline or just a daily writing goal, there is nothing more demotivating than telling yourself that you suck because you failed to hit your goal.
You can always reset your goal and try again. It's amazing.
I find that I need to take a day off each week, to keep the juices flowing. But that day isn't always predictable, so I just allow it and don't sweat it. Whether it's a Wednesday or a Friday or a Sunday, I just say "Yep, that was my recharge day" and just keep soldiering on the next day.
Missed days happen, but that's okay! Overall I'm still making progress, and I can see that I am, because I can go back and look at my spreadsheet. So long as you try to stay positive, keep your eye on the prize, and pick yourself up when you have a bad day and try again tomorrow, you can keep yourself motivated to keep going.