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.

Function and purpose in writing skills

Stay on target... stay on target...
Stay on target… stay on target…

In writing, we have all these rules and pieces of advice that get dished out. I offer plenty of them here, and follow others with varying degrees of dedication. But these rules aren’t just neutral things that create some kind of abstract ‘better’ writing. They create different sorts of writing, which have different impacts. A lot of the advice leads to writing that is familiar and accessible, that people will easily get into and enjoy. But we have to remember that’s what the advice is good for, and only deploy it when that’s the aim.

Going back to Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Morgenstern’s use of the second person is so disconcerting that some people make a rule of never using that voice. It’s challenging, even alienating, and as As If pointed out on Google+, it breaks the fourth wall, the implicit barrier between the reader and the content of the story. If you want to write relaxing action fiction then ‘don’t use second person’ is a good rule. But in The Night Circus it adds something to the mix, because the use of that voice fits the purpose of the story.

Don’t just take the approach that works well, take the approach that works well towards the aims you want. The advice that works for me works for me because I like accessible genre fiction with varying degrees of action. The advice that’s ‘good’ for me would be terrible for someone who wants to produce ground-breaking experimental fiction. Good writing depends on your aims, and if you don’t keep those aims in sight then you will end up working smoothly and efficiently towards something you never wanted.

On which topic, have you ever followed writing advice that ended up not suiting you? What widely accepted wisdom have you rejected, on writing or something else? Share your thoughts in the comments, and whatever you’re working at, make sure that you keep your aims in mind.


Picture by Pete via Flickr creative commons.

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.