How often have you said to yourself: “I could get this done if I was motivated enough.”
We’re all motivated when we first start a new project, like a novel. The reasons why we want to write the book are right there in the forefront of our minds, our enthusiasm is fired up and we’re going to nail that sucker, this time.
After a few hours/days/weeks, though, we get bogged down in the weeds. We spend our mental energy worrying about word counts, story structure, and whether the chapter hook we just wrote is powerful enough. There are so many moving parts we juggle when we write a novel, that it takes high energy just to keep all the balls up in the air.
Motivation is a fleeting thing, and disappears quickly.
This is true of any complex project.
So how do you keep your motivation going when the weeds are so high you can’t see the finish line, or even forget it is there?
Learn to love the process.
I’ve spoken before about falling in love with writing itself (instead of the extrinsic reward of ‘having written’) [here and here]. If you get joy from putting down words, and can’t wait to get back to your keyboard so you can finish the scene you just know is going to thrill your readers, the motivation to write is inherent in the writing itself. It doesn’t matter when the far-off reasons why you’re writing this novel fade from view. You’re still inspired to keep going.
If you haven’t yet learned to love the process itself, then you need an additional prompt to keep going, until the writing itself drives you.
Sometimes, if a book fights to put itself upon the page, you may also need a boost in staying power.
Life rolls and personal events can impact your ability to get ‘er written, too.
For all these occasions, you can motivate yourself to keep writing by the judicious use of rewards.
Reward yourself for big and small achievements.
Depending on how much your flagging motivation needs propping up, you can arrange with yourself (on paper, so your subjective memory doesn’t rig the system) a series of rewards for milestones achieved.
If you’re really mired, you could agree with yourself that you get a small reward just for sitting down and cracking open the manuscript file. Forget word counts, and scenes done. Just looking at the last few scenes you wrote is enough to trigger a pat on the head.
If sitting at the keyboard isn’t the issue, set up rewards for those things you’re ducking or finding difficult:
- Finishing chapters
- Finishing acts
- Completing the plotting
- Hitting your word count every day.
- Hitting your word count consistently for a week (month/quarter).
- Consistently increasing your word count every week by 2%.
You can gameify your progress through the novel in dozens of ways. Where your resistance is greatest is a good indicator of what type of rewards you might need to set up for yourself.
No food or shopping.
Choose the type of reward carefully. Using food or shopping as rewards, while enticing, can set up nasty cycles of their own you must deal with later.
What makes good rewards, then?
Here’s the best way to figure that out: Think about what you do when you’re procrastinating.
- Surf the social networks?
- Indulge in Productivity Porn?
- Indulge in actual porn? (I’m not judging!)
- Read how-to books?
- Sort your notebooks out?
- Binge watch TV series?
We’re creatives. The number of ways we dodge discomfort and give in to resistance are limited by our imaginations, which are vast, indeed.
List your favourite ways to duck the real work. Can you turn them into rewards? For example:
- When you finish each chapter, you get an hour to browse the Asian Efficiency Dojo
- When you finish the plot finished, you get the afternoon to nap.
- …and so on.
My personal favourite rewards are craft-oriented: I get to sew or work on whatever project is collecting dust on my craft table, as a reward for hitting a milestone I’ve been ducking or finding difficult to get going on.
If you have a hobby you spend too little time on, you can likewise use time on the hobby as a carrot to get your fingers on the keyboard.
My favourite reward is built into my weekly schedule on a permanent basis: If I write consistently all week, then I get Sunday off, to do whatever I want (usually, crafts). If I haven’t hit my word count for the week, I have to use my Sunday to catch up.
Rewards work for more than getting the book written.
There are some tasks we indie writers find repulsive or dreadful. I know authors who would rather drink a bottle of Ipecac than write the back cover blurb for their book.
Others would rather gouge out an eye than guest on a podcast (especially if video is involved).
Some people hate anything that feels like marketing.
If there is a regular task you find yourself avoiding because it’s challenging or uncomfortable, it’s a good candidate for a reward system, especially if that task sits in the upper right corner of the priorities quadrant (Not Urgent, But Important).
If just the idea of the task or project makes you break out in a sweat, up the gravitas of the reward. Make it a major pay-off that matches the effort you’ll need to get the project done.
If, for example, you’re part of the 53% of the population who would rather die than speak in public, your reward for appearing on a conference panel and not losing your cool [much], could be a whole day off to do nothing but binge watch TV and eat popcorn, no guilt allowed.
Pay now to play later.
Squeezing and flexing your production schedule to meet future milestones or requirements has an inbuilt reward.
For example: you watched me spend most of 2018 working my butt off to get six weeks ahead of the schedule, so that I could take that time off over Christmas while family visited from Australia (and so I could spend the time crafting my heart out). In this case, the milestone itself was the reward.
Any time you work to get ahead of your schedule in order to clear space for something else (a conference, a vacation, a sabbatical), you’re building in the reward automatically. You may have to remind yourself why you’re putting yourself through this pain, when you’re weeks or months away from the reward, but as you get closer, your motivation will spike, big time.