We’ve all had trouble staying motivated once we start writing the next Great American Novel (at least it might be, if Stephen King takes a year off). For many of us, it follows a pattern. You get a terrific idea and think “Hey, this would be a dynamite story for that character I created!” You plot it, write a gripping opening chapter or two, and forge ahead. You’re going at a breakneck pace that’s on a par with the Indy 500, the prose is perfect, the characters are engaging, and then…you suddenly lose interest. You’ve started doubting yourself and can’t stay motivated!
The solution is simple in theory, but difficult in practice. You need to remove all the “can’ts” and “shouldn’ts” from your internal vocabulary. Eliminate pessimistic thinking by changing negative thoughts that imply you can’t do it, to ones that say “Yes, I can!” I was a fan of the motivational speaker Zig Ziegler, who used folksy catchphrases to make his points. One of them was borrowed from another go-get-‘em expert, the Reverend Dr. Robert Schuller (of TV’s “Hour of Power” fame)–“If you can think it, you can do it.” I was actually partial to Zig’s homespun interpretation: “Get a check-up from the neck up, and lose that stinkin’ thinkin’!”
What were both of them trying to say? Think positive!
It’s time for some cold hard truths about this beast they call writing, along with some potential solutions to the problems you’ll face. One is to get rid of the negative people and influences in your life. In general, you will be your own worst enemy, and you won’t need any help in that area, but beware of unsolicited volunteers! There are people in the world who will get some perverse delight in making you doubt yourself for wanting to become a writer.
When I announced the release of my first novel to my friends years ago, the response I got from some of them was a hearty laugh and the words “Get serious! YOU wrote a book???” This probably came as a surprise to some who had never even READ a book before, much less thought about writing one. That’s when you learn to keep smiling and move along. Don’t waste your precious time hanging out with those losers. I had a great comeback for anyone who was really obnoxious about my book: “You wouldn’t like it—it doesn’t have pictures.”
Surround yourself with positive people and influences. Writers’ support groups and critique sessions can be great, if they are administered properly. If you are constantly leaving these meetings feeling beaten up, depressed and uninspired, maybe it’s time to question if it’s worth attending. Finding the right critique partner can take time and several attempts. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself graciously from a negative situation. In the end, a critique is about improving and should be empowering, not depressing. Caveat: while this is a great tool for writers, do not—I repeat, DO NOT!—utilize family or close friends for this purpose. You likely won’t get an objective opinion.
Never stop learning. Feed the brain, and nourish the soul. I’ve been a published author for many years, and I still take notes when I attend writers’ group meetings and presentations. Why? Because you’re never too old to learn something new, and you don’t know where that next nugget of wisdom may come from. The digital publishing and marketing world changes on a daily basis, and it’s a challenge to keep up. A wise person once said “Every man is my superior in that I may learn something from him.” I realize that sounds a bit like Yoda or Kung Fu, but you get the idea.
Learn the difference between dedicated and obsessed. Every writer who made it to the bookshelves will tell you that it took serious dedication to get there. Being dedicated to your career goals is a must in the writing business, but beware of the writer’s vacuum, when you basically stop living because you feel the only thing you must do is write. Writing the book may be your number one goal, but when you shut yourself down in all the other areas, you are unable to be objective about your own work. Don’t get so caught up in it that you forget about finding the right balance. Do something fun and mindless on a regular basis. Go to dinner and a movie, get together with friends, or binge-watch your favorite TV show. If you need further suggestions, read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey, or anything by Dale Carnegie.
Warning: Hurdles and pitfalls lie ahead! As glamorous as the life of a novelist may appear, it’s partially a mirage. Like roses come with thorns, the writing career comes with its own downside. I hate to break this to you, but those pitfalls don’t disappear when you sell your first book. Be prepared for the possible detours your chosen career path may present. It’s also healthy to realize that this is a full-time job when you include the marketing you’ll be expected to do. Getting published involves a lot of small steps, and each step is another completed goal. Write down these goals, and regularly track your progress.
Throw away the measuring stick. You can’t gauge yourself or your accomplishments against others. Just because someone cranks out 5,000 words a day or sells a boatload of books each month doesn’t mean you should be doing the same. Every writer has to move at their own pace. There are usually good reasons why someone accomplishes more than you think you can, but don’t make yourself crazy trying to figure out what it is. The bottom line: the only person you have to be better than is the one who stares back at you in the mirror.
Along with that, beware the Green-eyed Beast. It’s human nature to feel envy but a full-blown case of jealousy is bad for the soul and spirit. It’s an ugly emotion, and can be very distracting. Better to follow the advice “Live and let live.” Have you ever been around a person who hears about something good that happened to someone then sarcastically mutters “It must be nice!”? This is an example of the negative folks who will try to tear you down because they’re secretly envious, so repeat after me: I will not become one of those people!
Don’t come down with Rewrite-itis. This can be a severe condition that affects both published and unpublished writers. Basically, it means you are never able to call a book, a chapter, or a scene finished. Signs: Rewriting the same scene, chapter, or book more than 10 times; never finishing a book because you keep going back to polish the first chapters; obsessing over certain passages and sentences; constantly having someone read your work, hoping they’ll give you some revisions to do; getting your manuscript ready to e-mail to the agent or editor, but not hitting “send” because you’re convinced it isn’t good enough.
Are you familiar with the Zen advice “If you love it, set it free”? There you go! I know I’ve reached that point when I can honestly say “If I keep messing around with this, I’ll ruin it!” Hit that damned “send” button and move on to the next project.
Go forth and write!