Ten Tips for Finding Motivation When You Don’t Have Any

Motivation can be a problem. I’ve talked about it before, but I’d like to think I know more about it now after a year of enforced writing. I’ve also been talking to a lot of other writers about what motivates them (and demotivates them) and I’ve come up with this list. Some of these pieces of advice are generic, but that doesn’t mean they’re not true and some I’d like to think are unique. Either way, give them a shot if you’re feeling more like watching TV and cramming chips into your face than writing.

 

1. Remember that every writer you love was once a newbie who had no idea what they were doing. 

It’s easy to give up. Writing well is as hard as any other artistic skill, but like most skills it can be learned. At some point your favourite writer sat down in front of a blank page and made a start. And they sucked. No one writes well right out of the gate, not even people now lauded as geniuses. If you’re lacking the drive to finish something you know isn’t perfect it can be helpful to think of it as both it’s own thing and a stepping stone to something better. But if you don’t finish your work, the stepping stone will sink out of sight and you’ll get a pants leg full of cold water.

I’ve lost control of this metaphor.

2. Start

Sometimes you just have to start. It’s much like going to the gym in that the hardest part is getting there. Tell yourself you’re just going to write ten words. By the time you’ve sat down, opened up your story and written out ten measly words you’re already set to do more. They don’t even have to be the right words, hell, copy the ten nearest written words if you have to, just get your fingers moving. It’s easier to keep going than it is to start.

3. Finish

Finish what you start. You probably won’t want to, there is nothing sexier than the book you’re not writing because that book is a concept in your head instead of a real thing and damn those concepts look good. It’s like a heavily Photoshopped picture of a model. It’s not real, but your brain still looks at it and thinks ‘dang’ (my brain is a prospector from 1845) while happily ignoring the fact that none looks like a cover model in real life, not even a cover model. When you actually sit down and write your concept it’ll have to do all those annoying things like ‘make sense’ and ‘not make people bleed from the eye sockets’ and when that happens you’ll look over the horizon at the next sexy concept. But there’s a trap, and it’s one I spent years in.

If you don’t finish what you start then you’ll never get to the level you want to be at, whether that’s published author or ruler of the bookverse. You” keep improving those first few chapters or half books and they’ll be great, but you still won’t have learned the equally important skill of finishing a book, making it as good as you can and then moving on.

4. Pick Up A Published Book That Sucks

This is where my advice starts getting off the reservation. One of the best moments in my writing life, at least in terms of motivation, was when I picked up a popular novel and realised that I could do better.

That doesn’t mean I actually am better of course, but that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that at least in my own mind I felt like getting published wasn’t impossible any more, I could do at least as well as someone who had gotten there and that was incredibly motivating.

There are plenty of bad books around, pick one and take a close look at the writing. If you can recognise where the writer went wrong, then you can push yourself to do better.

5. Internal motivation is great, but sometimes you need something external

My parents often told me that I needed to motivate myself as a kid, that their telling me what to do and the promise of punishment or reward was inferior to my wanting to do things off my own bat. They were right, of course being self motivated is better than being forced.

On the other hand, want to guess what got me to do more things?

I suspect this isn’t true for everyone, but for me sometimes I need the threat/promise of external consequences to get me going. The same seems to be true for most people.  They need to be immediate, because the human brain is not good at long term consequences and they need to be serious enough that you can’t just shrug them off.

Deadlines are good, but there needs to be consequences for missing them and we as human beings aren’t good at dishing out our own punishments and we’re pretty relaxed about giving ourselves rewards to. If you can put the punishment and reward system in the hands of someone you trust, then that’s worth a try…just make sure you do trust them first.

I can’t say for sure what will work for you, but if anyone figures out a reliable and safe way to deliver an electric shock to writers who miss wordcount then I’d totally buy one.

6. Deal with underlying causes

I had to deal with my depression before I really made any progress on my writing. I simply couldn’t maintain any momentum on my writing while at the same time having all the get up and go of a sea slug. Once I got proper treatment for the depression, then I found everything became easier, not just writing.

It doesn’t have to be depression. It might be as simple as lack of sleep. If you’re experiencing low motivation even though you like writing then you need to take a hard look at what else is going on in your life and take steps to deal with that problem.

It might not be easy, and you may need help to deal with the problem that’s draining you of your motivation, but if writing is something you really want to do, then getting yourself in right place to write is worth it.

7. Ask yourself if this is what you really want to do

This will not be popular advice.

If you find yourself dreaming about being a writer, but not actually writing for long stretches, or obsessively reading online advice instead of writing at all then you need to ask yourself if writing is what you actually want to be doing.

Writing is hard. It can hurt. There are real consequences to choosing to spend your free time making up and writing down stories especially if you want to try and make it a career. You will have to give up some of your spare time, maybe most of your spare time, in order to get it done. If you don’t enjoy actually writing then you might have to admit to yourself that writing isn’t what you actually want and do something else.

It’s your life, and you owe it to yourself to do the things that make it both fun and meaningful. If that’s writing, then go for it and don’t let anything stop you, but if it’s not, that’s okay.

8. Get mad

“First you’ve got to get mad…” –  Howard Beale ‘Network’ (1976)

Hate your day job? Angry that you aren’t where you want to be? Angry at me for even suggesting you ask yourself if this is what you want to do?

Good.

Get angry. Use that feeling that you can do better to motivate you towards the keyboard.

Recently I got told (in a group) by an editor of a small press that no one has any hope of making a living, or even a secondary income, from writing. That if we wanted to make writing our careers we should just forget about it.

It ticked me off. A lot. But it also motivated me to try harder, that night I went back and wrote for three hours fuelled just on that anger. I’m still angry, and I’m holding on to that anger because it’s helping me. And here lies the trick, if anger is helping you then it’s useful and you should use it. If it’s not helping you, say you get a bad review and want to rant at the reviewer, then for your own sake you need to let it go.

Easier said than done, I know.

9. Get calm 

Sometimes what holds you back from writing isn’t a lack of energy, but too much anxiety. When your brain is thinking about fifty different things it can be very hard to settle it down long enough to focus properly. It can be easy to mistake this feeling of being all over the place for a lack of motivation.

Give this a shot.

Sit down somewhere quiet and do nothing but focus on your breathing for five minutes. When you breath in, think ‘in’ and when you breath out, think ‘out’. Get your breathing as slow as it can be and still be comfortable.

If you want to then you can look up mindfulness meditation on YouTube and follow along in a guided session. It might not work for you, but I find it helps get my mind back to normal I’m trying to do all the things at once.

So, did you try it? Feel better? I hope so.

10. Make a list

Maybe the most boring piece of advice ever, but one of the most important. Every day, make a list of what you need to do that day. Put down everything in order of importance, starting with the things you need to do to feed and clothe  yourself and your family.

Then decide how important writing is to you. Because somewhere on that list you need to put down ‘write X amount’. I hope it’s important enough to you to be higher than watching TV or playing video games.

Once you have your list, start ticking things off as you do them. This stop your brain from getting confused about what’s coming next, ad serves as a constant mental boost that will stop you from bombing out on the sofa before you’ve done what you need to do.

Speaking of which, make sure you put down something fun and relaxing on your list too. You might not have the time for it to be much, but make sure there’s something you really enjoy on there as well as the things you need to push yourself to do.

 

I’m not always good at following my own advice, but right now I’m feeling very motivated, and I put it down to the things on this list.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten Books That Stayed With Me

I was wondering how I was going to break the drought this blog has been under. Funnily enough the reason I haven’t been writing is that I was writing. I finished my novel, I’m just waiting for mentor edits currently. I’d wanted to update the blog last week, but found I didn’t have much to say beyond ‘woo!’

Not that there’s anything wrong with saying woo, it just doesn’t make for a whole blog.

Then I came across this post from Chuck Wendig about ten books that got under his skin and stuck with him. Like Chuck I’m not going to go for my ten favourite books, I don’t know if I could name ten favourites anyway, not without having to post a different list at a later date when they all change.

But ten books that stuck with me whether I wanted them to or not? That I can do:*

 

1. The Illustrated Edgar Allan Poe

I read this book when I was nine years old. I’d never heard of Edgar Allen Poe and the closest I’d come to reading a horror story was Where the Wild Things Are. I can’t even really be sure that this particular edition was the one I read, but it’s a likely candidate. I read the Masque of the Red Death first, marvelling at the illustrations and feeling the uncomfortable fear/excitement that good horror can bring out in a reader. After that I was hooked, The Pit and the Pendulum was next, then The Raven, which I didn’t really understand until I was older. I discovered I could be scared by a story, but more importantly, that was a good thing.

I can trace my fascination with scary stories back to this book, and I still remember the illustrations.

2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

American Gods is a weird book. I thought it was perfect the first time I read it, back in 2002, but despite seeing its flaws now that I’ve read it at least eight times, it sticks in my brain and refuses to leave, like a very eloquent demon. I still think about the implications of its universe and storylines, and Mister Saturday is one of my all time favourite characters.

There are some dark, messed up moments in American Gods but the book is that much stronger for them.

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I’m sorry I didn’t read Pride and Prejudice when I was younger. I didn’t get to it until my wife found out that I’d never read it and leant me her copy. It was an abject lesson that classic literature didn’t have to be boring, that romance didn’t have to be stupid (although to be fair I could have learned that lesson from any one of a number of well written romances) and that the lessons of satire can live on for hundreds of years.

4. Ready Player One: A Novel

I’ve been thinking about why this stuck with me so much and I can’t pin down a single reason. It’s just an all around fun, fast paced, ridiculous yet somehow plausible near future sci-fi that’s so chock full of nerdy nerdy goodness that if you didn’t grow up in the eighties you’ll need to read it with Wikipedia at hand to get the references (unless of course you’re like the main character Wade and already know everything there is to know about the 1980’s).

5. Night Watch: A Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett

Night Watch is my favourite Discworld novel. Practhett was always good, but this book hammered home the fact that he was great. Night Watch is a story that takes a fantasy setting and then uses it to tell a tale of cops, killers, politics and humanity’s relationship to the past without ever losing the sense of fun that drives the book’s narrative along. Sam Vimes is one of the all time great characters in fiction, and I was genuinely sad when this book was over.

6. IT

Pennywise. ‘Nuff said.

7. Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane

While not all of the books on this list would make my top ten favourites,  Prayers for Rain would. It’s the third in the Kenzie Gennaro series of detective novels set in Boston, but I didn’t know that when I read it. I was quite literally dying when I first started reading it, and thanks to life saving surgery, I got to finish Prayers for Rain. As a detective novel it’s pretty good, but what makes it shine are the ways that the characters are rendered from the ‘doing the best I can’ gumshoe Patrick Kenzie to the psychopathic Bubba Rogowski. One of those books I was sad to finish, even though I had to find out what happened.

8.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Unlike the other books on this list, I’ve only read The Curious Incident of  the Dog in the Night-Time once, yet it’s stuck with me so hard I can still tell you about the protagonist’s spiral search method and that he doesn’t like the colour yellow. I haven’t gone back to it because it’s a tough book to read, and once the implications of the story sink in, it’s downright painful. Yet it’s also a brilliant book, one that broke the run of terrible literary novels I’d been reading at the time. Like Pride and Prejudice The Curious Incident of  the Dog in the Night-Time opened my eyes to genres and writing styles I’d never considered before.

9. Chickenhawk by Robert Mason

There are a lot of books out there on the horrors of war, and I’ve read plenty of them. I’ve been duly horrified, and then I’ve forgotten about those books. Yet Chickenhawk stuck with me when all the others had faded. Robert Mason is an excellent writer, and brings the stupidity and despair of war to the forefront, but that’s not what makes Chickenhawk stick. I think it’s the fact that Mason includes a lot of human touches that other authors either leave out, or hammer too hard. When I first read this I was already old enough to know war wasn’t the fantasy of glory I’d thought it was when I was a little kid, yet Chickenhawk was still a shock, and the mental images it left me with still make me stop to this day.

10. Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas is not a perfect book, but it might be the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a writer hitting the perfect voice for a character. On top of this Koontz paces the book incredibly well, and keeps a last act twist as an almost complete surprise. It didn’t last, sadly, and subsequent books weren’t nearly as good, but Odd Thomas lingers in my mind as one of the best urban fantasy books I’ve ever read.

Honorable mentions: Everything by Terry Pratchett, Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, several short stories by Mary Robinette Kowal, A Dirty Job and Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien and so, so many more.

 

So, how about you? What has stuck with you and why?

 

* All the links are Amazon Affiliate links, please help support this blog.

 

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The most important lesson – there’s never a good time

So as most of you will know in February I quit my day job in order to write. I freelance, I help people with ebooks, I make comics and I write fiction. All of these things add up to my day job. It’s almost as awesome I thought it would be, but for one massive misconception I had about having lots of time to write.

I honestly thought that when I had all the time and mental space to write there would be good, nay, perfect, times to write.

These things do not exist. You are more likely to find a unicorn raiding your fridge than find the perfect time to write. There are two reasons:

1. No matter how much time you have, the human capacity for filling up that time with stupid crap that seems important is LIMITLESS.

2. Writing is both fun and awesome. It’s also hard, which means your brain will do whatever it takes to stop you from doing it. It will want to be lazy instead.

I wish I’d known this, I think I’d have gotten a lot more done.

Instead the conclusion I have come to is that the most important skill any writer can learn is to force themselves to write. Even if they don’t want to, even if there are other things they need to be doing. Even if their kids/spouse/eldritch god from beyond spacetime is demanding they do something else.

It’s one I have to relearn every day. I’ve written about a third of what I’m capable of since February. A third. That’s horrifying. And I think a part of that is trying to wait until I had taken care of everything else I had to do before I wrote.

I think that if I’m going to make this writing thing work I need to do it the other way around. Barring life or death stuff I’m going to need to write first and take care of everything else once that’s done. This may mean I spend more time smelling bad and not wearing trousers but in the end that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

 

 

 

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Andrew Update

Hi everyone, it’s been awhile. I don’t have too much in the way of new writing advice to give except to say “keep going” and “try not to punch yourself in the face”.

Both are good advice though, don’t get me wrong.

I’m busy writing, funnily enough, trying to get this novel finished so I can sell it. If I can’t otherwise I’m going to have to go get a real job and no one wants that.

My webcomic Cthulhu Slippers is going extremely well, so well in fact that I’m a little bit shocked as to the response online. Lovecraft and comedy go well together, who knew?

Other than that I’ve been trying to keep my neighbours from killing each other over a tree and attempting to stay in shape even though I spend most of my time in front of a keyboard.

I hope you’re all well.

– Andrew

 

 

 

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No more comments for awhile

Hi everyone, I’ve had to disable the comments as some really persistent spammers where causing some problems. I hope I can reactivate them again later but for the time being all comments everywhere on the site are gone.

If someone can invent me a SMITE button that allows me to give spammers increasingly painful electric shocks, that would be great.

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