Posted: January 16, 2013 by K D Blakely in Karen's Words

So, I’ve seen a number of posts lately asking how to keep yourself motivated as a writer, and thought I’d share what has worked for me.

The famous (infamous?) “THEY” like to say writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.  There are times when it feels closer to 5%/95%.  I think we all live for that 5%-10%.  When inspriation hits, your fingers seem to dance over the keys.  No matter how long you type, you don’t feel aches in your arms or shoulders.  Words flow, and you can feel the scene/chapter/book, taking shape under your hands.  It’s like you could write forever.  I call it a writer’s high.  It makes you want to kick up your heels:

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Sadly, inspiration doesn’t come very often.

Since inspiration is rare, motivation is what you need to keep yourself going.

So how do you get it?

For me, there’s two types of motivation (though I’m sure others could add several more):

1) The first draft

There are terrifying days/weeks when the creativity muse goes on vacation, and you sit staring at the computer. I swear you can actually hear your cursor taunting you. “See?  See?  You’re not a writer.  You got nothing.  You’re a waste of computer space.  Why don’t you go do something constructive, like clean the cat box.”  It’s like a horror movie – the cursor is becoming a thing of evil, growing larger and more cruel by the minute.  (Maybe there’s a story there…)

Your brain feels paralyzed.  Your fingers feel like lead weights at the end of your arms.  The blank page stares back at you accusingly.

Okay, some of that may be overly dramatic…

But you do feel totally blocked:

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So what do you do when that happens?  I’ve found one thing that works for me.

I write.

I don’t worry about full sentences or punctuation.  I don’t worry about complete thoughts.  I don’t worry about the words I use.  I just start putting something story related on the page.  I find it’s usually (not always, but often enough) like priming a pump.  Once words start going on the page, the cursor shrinks back to normal and ideas start to come in fits and starts.  It’s not like when you’re inspired – you have to work at it, but usually ideas will come.

Also, I find it often helps when I listen to music that fits with the scene I’m trying to write.

2) SECOND, Third, fourth… tenth… … … Drafts

I find that the re-write process can make you wonder if you are suffering from a multiple personality disorder.  Sometimes, you start working on a section and suddenly you know how to fix a stumbling block in the plot, or a way to really bring your character to life.  Your fingers fly as you make corrections and tweaks and even major changes, and you know in every fiber of your being that  It  Is  Going  To  Work!   (Good thing I live alone.  No one questions when I let out a giddy burst of relieved laughter.)

Unfortunately, most of the rewrite process is Tedious.  That’s capital T – Tedious, as in:

Technical (punctuation, grammer, checking details to make sure you haven’t changed someone’s shirt or hair color in the middle of a scene, etc.)

Frustrating (“You mean I have to delete that whole %$&#*@! chapter?  Are you kidding me?”)   –  Yes, writing can make you argue with yourself.

Dull (“I’ve re-done this part five times already.  It’s just not working!”)

I could keep going, but you get the idea.  Sometimes a re-write is a fight from start to finish:

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So, how can you make yourself keep (voluntarily, knowingly, willingly) sitting down and torturing yourself?  The only thing that has worked for me is to establish a strict timeline once the first draft is done.

I start with the date I’d like to publish the book (or the date you want to submit your book for you non-indie writers).  Make it reasonable but something that will require you to push yourself.  Then work backwards.  For example:  2 weeks back to start the final draft, 4 weeks back from that to give it to beta readers, 3 weeks back from that for each draft numbered 3 or higher, 6 weeks back from that to start your second draft…

Better get started, you’re going to publish/submit it in 15 (+/-) weeks!  (By the way, those are my numbers.  Depending on the number of words in your book, how much time you can spend writing, and how fast you type, you’ll need to adjust the number of weeks in each phase to best suit you.)

The key is not to treat those as soft dates.

Don’t make them “I’ll try to get it done” dates.  Or “I’ll try my best to make it work” dates.  You must channel your inner Yoda:  Do or do not.  There is no try.

If necessary, design a penalty you will not like for every day you miss a deadline.  And tell people you know who will make you stick to your word if you do miss any of your deadlines.  That way you won’t be tempted to cheat when it gets hard.

Because when there’s a hard and fast deadline staring you in the face, and you really want to get your book out there, and you’ve got some nasty penalty planned if you don’t make your deadline, you will be far more motivated than you ever thought possible.

Mind you, I cursed, bitched, and moaned most of the time I spent in re-writes.  My fingers got sore because I was pounding on the keys in frustration as I typed (thank you ASUS for your excellent computer construction).  I sometimes got a headache from grinding my teeth (my dentist is not going to be happy).  I sometimes had to say no to things I wanted to do, because I’d procrastinated and was in danger of missing a deadline.  And some days, I had to stay up really late to stay on schedule.

But I stuck to it.

And I published my book on the date I set on my timeline!

I know me – I’d still be talking about writing my book if I hadn’t set those deadlines…


So, have you found ways to help keep yourself motivated?  Let us know.

  1. jennyleelee says:

    I found myself nodding my head and then looking down shaking my head at myself because I have fallen victim to what you’re describing! Thanks for the reminder that everyone gets stuck, but only the tenacious get themselves out!

    When I do get stuck, I have a hard time with “just writing.” I find that I just delete and restart, delete and restart, and then search around social forums because I have nothing to say. The way I get out of my writer’s funk is by talking to people and listening to their ideas. Listening to others helps fuel my own thoughts and ideas…which ultimately brings me out of my blocked state.

  2. Great description of the writing process! I’m guessing we all have those moments of cursor-attack. 🙂 And I think I can immediately bring to mind every time I’ve had a really overwhelming “writer’s high.” Let me think…yep, four times that were really extraordinary.

    Fortunately, most of the time I’m somewhere in between. My story and I may not be flying, but we do run along pretty comfortably. And when I DO get stuck, I find the best thing is to walk–literally. I take a walk and think about my writing problem and usually I have some idea by the time I get back to my computer.

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