Sunday, July 29, 2018
Double, Double Toil & Trouble - #5 Motivation
I get asked a lot about motivation and how I find the time to write. I'm going to start with a bit of wisdom that one of my colleagues at my day job says often: The person who cares the most gets what they want. If something is important to you, you'll make it happen, no matter what. It could mean you must sacrifice something (or someone) like sleep, nights out with friends, a clean house, (not virgins - no blood sacrifice needed) but if it's important, you find the time.
Every spare minute I have (mostly) is put into my writing work.
But really, how do I do this when I have a full time job, two kids, a husband, three cats, two guinea pigs --also Netflix, sleep, and eating?
I'm incredibly disciplined. That's it. If there's a job to do, I do it.
It's a skill I have honed over the years as a teacher, a job which requires a lot of organization and time management. It's carried over to my writing world quite effectively. I don't often procrastinate and when I do procrastinate, it's usually time being spent on some other writing related work.
I am also selfish. I know that being selfish is often looked at in a negative light but I'm going to tell you that you must be selfish to some extent if you are pursuing your dreams and goals. I don't do things to purposely hurt other people but I do put myself and my writing time first in many instances. I have learned to also say NO when I have things that need to get done. I've been on the other side, doing all the other things instead of write and that just turns me into a grumbly, pissed off lady.
I have talked to other writers who set aside certain days of the week or hours in the day for writing and that's a good start for carving out time for your writing. But if you aren't protecting that time or making up for lost time (because things happen and sometimes the one day you set aside for work gets taken over by an emergency) then you are not being selfish enough. If the writing is important to you, you'll make it happen.
I set word quotas. Daily, weekly ones that I alter depending on the time of year. I only use word quotas when I am actively in a project. I don't have time to write for the sake of writing (like journalling or stream of consciousness). I write for the sake of projects or blogging or contests or deadlines. And yes, I still enjoy writing even though I'm tackling it as a business rather than as a "creative" artist. This is why the idea of a muse doesn't work for me (see my post here), I can't wait for inspiration to strike if I'm actively involved in a project. I just have to write. So, typically I aim to get 2500+ words per day during the summer (because I'm off work) and 15-20K per week. During the school year that number decreases depending on what I have going on to about 1000 words per day and 10K per week. So far this year I have written approximately three novels and it's only July. I plan to write at least one more before the year is out but that will depend on my editing schedule...because don't forget, I'm also working on other aspects of writing at the same time. For example, blogging, marketing, editing, etc.
Where does this motivation come from?
I want to be a successful author so badly that I will work as hard as I need to to make it happen. If I'm not working as hard as I need to then I won't be ready when opportunity comes my way. I am also very "type A" and have a lot of will power when I need to.
But that doesn't mean that failure doesn't get to me. And trust me, I've had a lot of failure...set backs, road blocks, etc. That's where external validation comes in. Creatives need external validation and anyone who tells you differently is full of shit or delusional. As the creative person, you decide what type of external validation you need and what will ultimately satisfy you. For me it was always acknowledgement from respected professionals. It wasn't until I started getting positive feedback from agents and editors that I truly felt validated as a writer. I reflect on those compliments whenever I feel down about my progress.
Another source for me is from readers. When I get feedback from readers that is positive and encouraging, it makes me feel like I'm doing something right and that I belong in this crazy writing world.
Any time I'm talking to another author who is really contemplating abandoning their writing, I always think it's because they are lacking in external validation...and figuring out what they need and from whom, and then going after that praise, is what they need to do to keep on keeping on. But it's not easy to get external validation sometimes because you totally can't control how someone else is going to react to your work. It really wasn't until I was well into my writing career that I started getting the kind of validation I needed to keep going...and it started slowly, quietly and I had to take a lot of hits, more than praise, to get the kind of validation I needed.
Which leads me to the last aspect of motivation that is important to consider: external vs internal (extrinsic vs intrinsic) motivation.
External is what motivates you outside of yourself and can be money, prizes and awards, reviews, fan mail, etc.
Internal is what motivates you within. What makes you want to write above doing all other things and despite all the negative shit that comes with it?
For me internal motivation goes hand in hand with my work ethic. I am a worker and I am efficient. I don't like sitting around when there are things that need to be done. I like writing, most of the time, and I get excited by new ideas and also by exploring new ways to tell stories. Writing is my passion and, for as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a writer so I'll do what I need to do to make it happen. I have dreams...great big dreams about long lines of readers waiting to get books signed and doing public interviews and running workshops and being acknowledged as an expert in my field in some way. So with that in mind, I keep on keeping on and I battle the hits that come, I weep a little when my soul is crushed and when I fall down I get the fuck back up and get to work.
Being a writer is hard work. If you're not working hard, then, in my opinion, you're not in it to win it. I do believe that perseverance and dedication are key components to success even when things aren't going the way you imagined.
As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book Big Magic, you've got to be willing to eat the shit sandwich that comes with every dream in order to achieve it. Because every life pursuit comes with drawbacks, a.k.a shit sandwiches...so you have to be okay with eating that shit sandwich if you want to achieve your goals and if you're not prepared to do that then, I guarantee, someone else is totally willing to eat your shit sandwich along with their own. I know I am.
The person who cares the most gets what they want.
So there you have it...the truth about motivation, if you want it badly enough, you'll make it happen.
I'm all tied up with some writing deadlines so my blog series is on hold for a bit. Stay tuned for some announcements and I'll resume Double, Double Toil & Trouble as soon as I get some things knocked off my to do list.