Strategy Number Four: Motivation Hacks
Ultimately, there comes a point where you make a decision to write…or not. Before you even reach that decision point, though, there are ways you can increase your motivation so the chances are higher you will write, instead of letting resistance have its way.
Keep Word Count Logs
Word count logs are useful for more than helping you build your production schedule.
Jerry Seinfeld has a process to help him form habits which he calls “Don’t Break the Chain”. His process uses a simple calendar, where you cross out each day when you successfully perform the habit you’re trying to build.
Once you get rolling, with a series of consecutive days successfully completed, the trick is to not break the chain.
Keeping logs of the number of words you write per session is a form of chain-building. Only, there is more information available than simple checkmarks. As you record each day’s word count, you will find yourself comparing previous days, to see if you wrote more today.
There is also the unbroken chain of days where you have successfully written.
Both the chain, and the (hopefully) increasing daily word count will give you more reason to write tomorrow.
It is a form of gamification, and you are competing against yourself.
I am not a huge fan of not breaking the chain, as it is too simplistic for me. Many people like it because it is simple, though. As always, experiment. It may work well for you.
As I am already keeping word count logs, from which I build my annual production schedule, the daily process of adding my word count to the log reinforces my desire to do better tomorrow.
I find this also works for me across the year. Last year I came in just shy of one million words. This year I hope to break the one million words barrier. I’m on track, but only if I write every day I should.
There are two forms of gamification available if you use the word count logs:
- There are the total words you write each day, week, month and year.
- And there is the average number of words per hour you can write.
Your average words per hour rate is a super-interesting one to track. Not only does it help you build your production schedule accurately, but nudging it up higher is challenging. If you like challenges, you will love this one.
You could set a goal for yourself to lift your average up one, two, or three hundred more words per hour. Absolutely everything you do has impact on that average, which makes increasing it the ultimate game for obsessive writers.
Why not let yourself become fanatical about your word logs? Running averages, tallying total word counts and finding ways to eke out an extra dozen words per hour can add up to some serious gains in manuscript pages.
The best thing about this is that it happens almost invisibly. You may think a measly gain of twelve words per hour is nothing. However, a few months later you will suddenly find yourself finishing books faster and faster. It is a game of increments which, like compound interest, is incredibly powerful.
At the same time, you are giving yourself more and more reasons to make sure you write, next time you should.
You will also convince yourself you really are prolific and really can write faster, which improves your mindset, which I spoke about in the second post in this series.
When You Give In To Resistance, Analyse Why
It is inevitable that you will let resistance have its way, sooner or later.
As you become more settled into your writing routine, on the days when resistance does beat you, you need to analyse why.
Often, the reason you gave in to resistance is new to you, this time around. It’s something that you have overlooked until now. A new one for me, recently, was being derailed by too much noise in the house. Normally, I can ignore noise, but we have members of the family now living here and on this particular day the noise level impinged. I not only didn’t write much, I barely got started.
The reason why you give in to resistance could also be because of an old favourite.
Reading productivity blogs and telling myself I am improving my writing and business skills is an old favourite of mine. It is especially dangerous for me now I am running the Productive Indie Fiction Writer site, because any resources to do with productivity and time management, or project management, is fodder for the site. So it’s easy to tell myself that I am doing necessary research.
Whatever stops you from writing, either a new tripwire or old ankle breaker, try to figure out what derailed you this time.
When you have discovered the root cause, brainstorm for ways to minimize the impact of that element in the future. Particularly if this is an old favourite, roll up your sleeves and find new and better ways to neutralize it.
For example, I have invested in high-quality sound-cancelling Bluetooth earbuds to work with my desktop, which are more efficient than my old ones. On days when the noise level spirals beyond my tolerance, I will stop dictating and use the earbuds to provide an immersive writing environment, so I have a fighting chance of getting words down.
The other thing you should be wary of when an old favourite form of procrastination reoccurs, is the danger of reinforcement. The more often you repeat that pattern of resistance, the more it calcifies internally. It becomes a habit.
If you realize you have let a favourite form of resistance defeat you, brace yourself against repeating it in the next few days, to avoid reinforcing the habit.
Which leads me neatly into:
Habits – good and bad
The most effective habit for making sure you write when you should is too always sit and write when you should. The habit feeds the habit.
The trick here is to make sure the triggers which activate the habit are repeatable.
It requires a bit of conscious thought to set up the habit of writing so you automatically write when it is time to.
This is where writing rituals come into their own. If the very first step of your writing ritual is so simplistic and easy to do, that you do it with zero resistance, then it will lead you into your writing ritual and you will automatically start to write, with no decision-making involved.
That first step must be absolutely simple and a no-brainer to do. Lighting a candle. Putting on a favourite sweater. Anything pleasant and self rewarding. Putting on a certain soundtrack, one that you only play when you’re about to write. These simple steps must be unique to your writing ritual. Then the habit is far more powerful.
Of course, bad habits reinforce just as powerfully as good habits do. The more frequently you fail to write when you should, the easier it will become next time.
Habits can’t be broken without huge, concentrated effort and sheer willpower. They can, though, be replaced – and more easily than trying to break them.
If you have a bad habit of not writing when you should, find a replacement habit and consciously cultivate it for the thirty days or more the experts say it takes to build a new habit.
Use any of the trick and hacks I have outlined in this series to make sure the first thirty days are as unbroken as possible. Once the habit is established, you will be able to relax your vigilance (a bit!).
Next week, I will look at the fifth and last strategy to defeat resistance: Organization and Structure.