‘Superglue’, that’s the answer I give when people ask how I motivate myself to write day
after day. ‘Apply it to the seat of your pants and face the screen.’ It’s a glib answer, but
basically this is the surest way to achievement.
There's nothing like the feeling of starting to write a brand new story. You’ve probably
been thinking about it for days or weeks before you actually sit down at your computer
and start tapping away. The characters are real in your head; the plot sounds promising,
and you are motivated. This is going to be The One, the great Australian novel.
Your initial feeling of excitement can last for weeks. It's rewarding to see the word count
increase as days pass. It's a joy to open your laptop and spend hours in your fictional
world, forgetting all your everyday chores.
Comes the day, though, when you turn on your computer and instead of having fun
writing the next scene, you stare at the screen and find yourself thinking about anything
other than your story. Visitors are coming for tea, your carpets need vacuuming and your
garden is neglected. You type a few sentences, but when you read them through they
sound about as interesting as last week's shopping list. Is it worth pursuing, you ask
yourself. Perhaps it’s just one of those days. You write in your diary, make a cuppa and
bring in the washing. All the time you’re thinking about how difficult it is to write, how
nobody said you ‘have to’ write, that getting published is almost impossible given
bookshops are closing. Doubts and negative thoughts crowd your head.
Before too long, this becomes the pattern of your days. Sometimes you manage to write
a description - even finish a chapter - but more and more, you find reasons not to write.
You moan to your family and colleagues about how you’re procrastinating and you ask
yourself ‘how can I get over this writer’s block?’
Here is the cold, hard truth: motivating yourself to do anything that’s hard work, like
losing weight, doing your taxes, exercising daily – and yes, writing -- is not possible.
You cannot motivate yourself to write. What you can do, is put a plan into action. Work
out a system to get what you want.
First, know that the rewards have to be greater than the pain, or you won't do it. We
spend our lives trying to avoid pain and to seek out that which is pleasurable. Yes, it’s
true! The good news is that once you realise this, you've just taken a giant step towards
your ultimate goal - getting your book finished and then getting it published.
Here are a few tips on how to reach your writing and publishing goals. First of all, you
need to get serious. This doesn’t mean enrolling in countless courses, networking, going
to writers’ festivals or reading writing magazines: none of it will do any good if you don't
get serious about the actual WRITING. To have finished pages mounting up, you have
to write. To get a manuscript complete enough to submit to a publisher, you have to
write. You have to write regardless of whether you’re in the mood; whether or not there
are family dramas or you’ve got a head cold. Superglue time is the published writer’s
What are some ways of getting out that tube of glue? As indicated above, you need to
put writing first. Make it your daily priority. Give it at least an hour a day. One hour out of
twenty-four is doable. If you can't spare just one hour a day for your writing, then you are
simply not serious.
If the reason you can't spare an hour a day is due to a genuine emergency (a serious
illness, for instance), then that's different. Give whatever the crisis is your full attention,
then get back to being serious about your writing as soon as it’s passed. Set up a
routine for your writing until it becomes a habit. Don't let anything get in the way. If
something totally unexpected comes along to derail you and sabotage your writing time,
then make that time up before the week is out.
Map out your road to publication. You need to go through a process to do this, so be
businesslike and create a checklist. This might include necessary research, writing
crucial scenes, finishing a chapter at a time, finishing the first draft, editing the draft,
getting feedback (perhaps paying for a manuscript assessment), re-polishing the draft.
Make checklists not only for characters, but also for setting, plot, completion dates for
scenes (or chapters), editing and polishing your work. Also rough out deadlines for each
list. Goal-setting – setting up systems -- needs to be a priority.
One of the best ways of motivating continuity on your writing project is to find support,
either with a writing buddy or through a workshop group that meets regularly. It really
helps to be accountable to someone, to have support in setting up good writing habits
and maintaining discipline with the goals and deadlines you’ve set up, and to critique
each other’s work. Your writing support can be a single person whose opinions you trust
(perhaps someone else on the path to publication), or it can take the form of a writing
course with set tasks, an online assessment/editing forum, or a reputable critique
service. Beware, however, of ‘supporters’ who don’t take the writing as seriously as you
do: some forums can generate into chatty emails that aren’t focused on achievement.
If you want to be part of a writing workshop that meets regularly to critique works-inprogress,
and you don’t know of one, then find one. This might involve putting a notice in
your regional newspaper or library, contacting the nearest writers’ centre or asking your
council’s community arts officer for local writers’ groups. A good size group is four to
five. Meetings might be once a week, month or fortnight.
Ready to get serious? Then stop reading this article, and clear the decks - mentally,
socially and physically. Arrange a quiet writing area that is yours alone. Commit your
writing plan and time to paper. Find a writing buddy or writing critique group, then
Discipline and good habits will get your book written, and motivation will come from
seeing the results.