Writing Reflections: How to Stay Motivated

I’m at the point in a writing project, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, where I’m sick of it, questioning the inspiration, etc. And while some days the words flow and I’m excited about what I’m doing, some days making myself sit at the desk and edit is like pulling teeth. I remember hearing Rachel Bloom (writer and creator of the hilarious and smart show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) say in an interview that the hardest part of writing is writing. Simple but true.

The fun part is coming up with ideas, listening to inspirational music, sharpening pencils, making the Pinterest boards etc. The hard part is sitting down and planting your butt in the chair and editing that scene another time. It’s especially tricky for me when I know that the holidays are right around the corner and what I REALLY want to be doing is: a) be drinking mulled wine b) watching a Christmas film in bed c) be drinking mulled wine while watching a Christmas film in bed.

So here are some tips and ways that I’ve used in the past month to actually get myself to write, even when I don’t initially want to. Because if you want writing to be your job, or part of your job, you have to treat it like a job and show up and do it even when it’s not super duper fun. This is something I’ve always known, but it’s also easier said than done.

Much like how I don’t usually feel like going to the gym, but I always feel better after I do, I always feel better once I’ve done a bit of writing or editing that day. I think these tips will be helpful for others who are doing longer creative writing projects, or longer projects of any kind, like PhDs. I was speaking to a friend in the States recently who is doing a PhD in neuropsychology and she uses a lot of similar tricks so I know they are applicable across the board, not just for poets and fiction writers.

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My desk (on a good day)

1- Break it up into smaller chunks

This could be word counts or time limits, depending on where you are in the project. In my case, I’ve been editing a couple of scenes per day for my novel draft. I also try to work for about an hour and then take a break and make a tea etc. However, when I was trying to just get the rough draft out there, I had a word count that I tried to meet each day. So it depends on where you are in the project, but breaking up the larger whole into bite sized chunks (whatever that entails for you) is classic advice, but it has helped me keep my anxiety at bay and combatted feelings of overwhelm. When a project seems too massive, I don’t want to do it at all.

2- Set the scene

I try to make my environment as cozy and nice as possible by lighting candles and making myself a cup of decaf coffee and maybe putting on some light instrumental music (my favorite YouTube channel for this is OCB Relax Music) and a blanket over my lap. I’m trying to tell my brain: See, this is fun right? We’re having fun!!

Sometimes, I also take myself to a coffee shop and grab a coffee…and maybe a scone. Once again, I’m trying to tell myself: Look how much fun we’re having? There’s a hot coffee and a scone. You love scones. Scones are delicious. Isn’t this great?

But it really does help if my environment is clean and relaxed and cozy. Again, this is very common advice but it makes a big difference.

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A beautiful cafe in Milan, sadly not where I can work everyday

3- Have designated ‘writing time’ and off time

If I set myself a clear time of the day when I always (or typically) write. I personally keep a roughly 9:30/10 AM -5/6 PM workday, if possible, and try to get the writing done in the mornings and do other things like class prep, or research, or reading, in the afternoons. However, I almost never work in the evenings. In the evenings, I like to cook or see friends or go to the gym, which I do after my work day.

I can’t write all the time and I actually don’t even like writing every single day, so by giving myself time slots for writing helps. I get through the writing by saying: This evening, you can take a break and watch A Christmas Prince or some other ridiculous thing on Netflix. Just a few more hours…

4 – Get inspired

Get psyched about the project you’re working on once again. This might mean making a Pinterest board to give you new inspiration for the scene you’re working on. Or reading a book about a related topic. Or working on a scene that you particularly like, instead of one that is giving you problems. Or whatever it takes to try and reconnect with that spark that made you want to begin this in the first place. Or something that might help you look at the writing in a new, fresh way.

5- Take a freaking break

There are some days when I don’t feel like writing, but I make myself anyway. Then, there are some days when I’m so tired or I have too many other things going on and, on those days, I take a break and do other stuff. If I want a proper break, I go for a walk or go to a film (I love taking myself to the cinema alone these days) or get a coffee with a friend or anything to take your mind off it. You will come back with fresher eyes than when you forced yourself to slog through when you were completely drained.

I am not a robot. You are not a robot (as far as I know…). Some days I have bad mental health days, or mental health weeks, and I take a freaking break. I’m not a machine that can crank out scene after scene, day after day. I am so envious of writers who write every single day, without fail. But I can’t. Or, at least, I cannot at this point in my life. It’s not good for me and That. Is. Okay.

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An afternoon stroll outside in Oxford

6- Think about how great it will feel to be done

I think about the joy that I will feel once this manuscript is finished and I have written a full length novel, whole and complete. Edited and redrafted. I was so proud of myself when I finished the rough draft last summer and I know I’ll be so thrilled when it’s finally done. Or, at least, done enough.

7 – ‘The journey is its own reward’

On the podcast Big Magic, the comedian and author Michael Ian Black talked about how, looking back on his career, that: ‘the journey really is its own reward.’ The sentiment really resonated with me because, as cheesy as it sounds, we will spend SO MUCH more of our times actually writing, in our rooms or attics, or local coffee shops or deserted islands, than we will ever spend accepting awards or signing a bazillion copies or having any of the glamor that might (or might not) come after the work is done. Of course it would be brilliant if this novel or the next one I write, or the next one, won all the things, but that is not something I have control over.

What I do have control over is showing up and appreciating that I have the ability to express myself, that I live in a country where this is permitted, that institutions like universities and foundations have given me both monetary and pedagogical support, at various points in my career, to help me do this. What I do have control over is how I feel about it and being grateful that this is something I am able to do. That, even on the boring days, or the frustrating days, or the days when nothing seems to be cooperating and I want to bang my head agains the desk repeatedly, that I absolutely love writing.

Writing is the only thing in my life that I can do for literally hours and feel like no time has passed. Even on the challenging days. I still love it. And I hope you do too.

How do you motivate yourself to keep going? Let me know what works for you?

Happy writing!

x Carly

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