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Thursday, April 4, 2013

On Motivation, Writer's Block, and Avoiding Discouragement...

One of the most common questions I get asked by other writers is about how to stay motivated through a draft (or many drafts) of a novel. Also, how to avoid writer's block. How to avoid discouragement and keep pushing ahead.

It's funny, because often people phrase their questions this way..."Before you were published, how did you stay motivated in writing and revising a book?" I think this is funny because things like motivation and writer's block don't magically change once you get a book published. Or if they do, they get worse. As for discouragement...rejection is a much more common occurrence in my life now than it ever was pre-pub.

Anyway, I do have some thoughts on the subject, so I thought I'd share.

1. On staying motivated: I love writing, for the most part, I love my stories and characters, and so I actually expend much more energy trying to motivate myself to clean the house or teach my son than I do motivating myself to work on my books. I get a lot of thinking and brainstorming time, but not as much actual writing time as I'd like. So when I have writing time, I'm thrilled and I already have plenty of ideas brewing and ready to launch from my fingertips into my computer.

Even though I don't struggle terribly with motivating myself to write, that's not to say I never struggle with feeling motivated. I go to the gym five or six days per week, but do you know how many of those days I usually feel like going? Maybe one. Here is what I've learned about motivating myself, though. If there's something pleasant in it for me, and if I take away the pressure to perform, it's not such a problem to motivate myself.

So here's what I do (and you can apply this to any area of your life, including writing): I keep an awesomely exciting book in my gym bag. I tell myself I can read a chapter while I warm up, as long as I get myself to the gym. After that, I can go home if I want to. The thing is, I almost never go home without a workout--and it usually ends up being a pretty decent workout.

If you're having trouble with motivation, maybe you need to take the pressure off. Tell yourself you only have to write a warm-up page. Or a paragraph. Then if you want to stop, you can (I'll bet you won't want to!) Rewards in the form of reading a good book (or chocolate) are always awesome too. I also highly believe in setting goals, but more on that next week...

2. On avoiding writer's block: Because of the above, I don't struggle with writer's block. I believe in writing every day. Momentum builds momentum. If I'm in my story in some way each day, it's usually not too difficult to move forward. After having to take a few days off, for whatever reason, I always dread going back to it (which is stupid, because I love working on my stories! But it only takes a couple of days to forget that.) So I say write every day if there is any way to make that happen, and think about your stories when you're not writing. Also, give yourself permission to write utter garbage once in a while. Usually writers don't feel blocked because they have nothing to write. Writers feel blocked because they fear they won't write well.

3. On avoiding discouragement: I think of my writing and publishing ventures as very separate entities. When I'm writing, I don't think AT ALL about the publishing process for that particular book. I write the book mostly for myself at first, and start to think about the audience much later. By the time a book is ready for me to pursue publication, I've usually had a very long break from reading it. It has had to go through several beta readers' hands, and it often takes time for my agent to be able to look at it. So by the time one of my books actually goes out to publishers, I'm very much distanced from the work and into another work in progress. Rejections may pour in, but because I've had so much time away from it and I'm so swept up in something new, they don't hit as hard as they used to. I always encourage other writers--the best thing you can do for your sanity when pursuing publication is to work on something else. Unrelated! Not a sequel!

Those are my thoughts on motivation, discouragement, and writer's block. How about yours? How do you deal with these things?


  1. "Writers feel blocked because they fear they won't write well."

    You just described my occasional blockage perfectly!

    1. I heard this from someone else once, Carolyn (don't remember who) but it really stuck for me too.

  2. I'm not normally plagued with writer's block. Reluctance yes. Crippled by fear, uh huh. I find it super hard to get over discouragement. I find that connecting with like-minded folks (such as our wipmadness group) keep me motivated. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us!

    1. Yes, connecting with other writers is so crucial! Great reminder!