Staying Motivated to Write

editingI’m a great believer in the importance of measuring what you achieve. Maybe you’ll count how many words you’ve written, how many stories you’ve sold, how many hours you’ve put in. However you do it, it stops you dodging the awkward question of “am I actually writing”.

But how you use this to stay motivated is very personal and it can change over time. You shouldn’t get trapped in using somebody else’s approach, even when that somebody else is you in the past.

For example…

For the past year, I’ve been measuring my achievements but not setting firm goals. I had so much else going on in life, setting targets became too daunting. The thought of failure put me off achieving them. They were counter-productive.

I still measured what I achieved, and celebrated it with fellow writers. I kept track of story sales and freelance earnings. But there were no targets.

Five weeks ago, that changed.

Worries about income were making me tear my hair out (not that I have much hair to tear – number one cut all over means never getting hat hair). I needed to be sure that the money was flowing. So I set myself a target. I would aim to do freelance work worth a certain amount each week. And to do this, I’d work out beforehand what that work consisted of.

This time, the targets have proved motivating. I discovered that I could easily earn more than I was doing just by getting focused. Even in weeks disrupted by my house move, I’ve either hit those targets or caught up the next week. It’s relieved the pressure in my brain, letting me relax. Once I’ve finished settling in at the new house, I’ll have time to properly get back to my own stories.

Maybe in six months or a year I’ll need new targets. Maybe they’ll be different figures, or monthly instead of weekly. Maybe I’ll go back to measures. The important thing is that I use what gets me motivated, instead of getting stuck in a rut.

Do the same thing. Work out what gets you motivated and use it. Learn from others but don’t blindly follow them. Even when those others were once you.

A year’s progress

Today marks a year since I left my job and started working full time as a freelance writer. That’s come around pretty quickly, and I can’t say that I’ve made as much progress as I would have liked. That said, I’m far happier and healthier than I was doing the office nine to five, and as the main aim was to improve my mental health I’d say that this was a win.

During that year I’ve done some pretty awesome stuff. I’ve written for a bunch of blogs and websites. I’ve contributed content for a mobile phone game. I’ve had my best short story sale yet and been a runner up in a talent hunt by a major comics company.

So, what big things have I learned in a year of writing?

I've learned how to make an origami fez - that's useful, right?
I’ve learned how to make an origami fez – that’s useful, right?

Discipline vs balance

When you’re working for yourself discipline is really important. Making sure that you knuckle down to work even when you don’t feel like it. Not getting sucked into long lunchtimes of sitcom repeats or Assassins Creed.

That said, striking a balance is also important. Sitting at the keyboard all day in the name of discipline will drive you nuts. It’s not productive. Recognising when you need to do something else, balancing physical and mental activity, giving your brain time to rest, it’s all part of the real discipline. The interruptions you get in other jobs provide some of that, so creating the right level of interruption for yourself is important.

I’m still working on getting the balance right and achieving more discipline. Here’s hoping for a more productive second year.

Interest

I’ve done some seriously tedious and frustrating work as a freelancer, just to get myself established. But I don’t do that work as well or as quickly. Sometimes a worse paid job that interests me more will work out better financially, because I’ll get it done far sooner and with less time wasted on delays. Also it makes me far happier.

Staying on target

Sometimes I get sidetracked. We all do. Remembering my medium and long term goals is vital to regaining my focus. I hate to say it, but all those years of office work and management training are actually paying off.

It hasn’t been a perfect year, but it has been a good one. Now it’s time to celebrate – I think I’ll go do some writing.

Things I have learned from freelancing

So, after a little bit of time doing freelance writing, and an even littler amount of success from it, I feel that I’ve learned some valuable lessons for the other, more fun side of my writing life, and for anyone else who’s out there writing. These are, in no particular order…

Do more research

I’ve had to do research on all sorts of things. Not always in depth, but it’s always interesting to do, and even a few minutes’ research beforehand can making the writing flow much better and much more convincingly. Even things I think I can blag my way through are worth researching. I should bear this in mind for fiction.

Careful with the posture

Oh dear lord, the pain. I work at a laptop. This has been straining my shoulders and neck for weeks. That in turn creates headaches. Varying my posture, and never working slumped on the couch, really helps. So does the separate monitor I borrowed off a friend today. As soon as I can afford it, I’m buying one of those special posture friendly writing desks.

Goals are good, panicking about them isn’t

I’ve been setting myself lots of measurable, realistic goals – stuff like ‘write two chapters a week’ or ‘write one of those every Wednesday’. It’s good at keeping me focused and motivated. But inevitably, the first set of goals didn’t quite match what I could achieve. I’ve been running myself ragged trying to meet them, then beating myself up when I couldn’t. They’re still goals I should get to meeting sometime soon, just not yet, so I’m keeping them as aspirations. I just have to remind myself, when I start to stress out on a Friday afternoon, that as long as they’re pushing me to achieve more, I don’t always have to meet every goal.

Be more disciplined

Last night I sat up until midnight talking about gaming. Today I am dog tired and struggling to focus – hence this hasty post before I completely crash. I need to use my willpower to stick to things I promise myself, like getting to bed at a sensible time.

Now I’m going to follow some of my other advice, by having an evening off and chilling out. Have a good weekend folks.