Because nothing motivates me like shame…and winning

I know this is nothing new to artists and other creative people, but let’s face it: being creative and unique is hard.  Like, REALLY hard.  Like, I’d-rather-clean-all-the-toilets-in-the-house-instead-of-sitting-down-to-write-because-even-though-I-WANT-to-write-it’s-really-friggin’-difficult kind of hard.  (Have I whined enough about it being hard yet?)  I’ve tried a handful of things in the past to help motivate me to write, some of which were successful and some of which weren’t, and I thought I’d share them in case you’ve had the same problems/successes with them, too:

  1. Writing at the same time in the same place every day: The idea of this is that your writing muse will become easier and easier to access if you establish a routine of “when I sit in this chair/at that desk/in that hammock, it’s time to write”.  I’ve honestly never heard of an established writer who didn’t suggest this, but I’ve not really been able to make it work, mostly because I’m rarely in the same writing-conducive place (as in, physical location) at the same times.  Since I’m often flighty and have a tendency to make plans on the spur of the moment (usually because I’ve FORGOTTEN something I agreed to that day and only just remember a couple of hours beforehand), I have trouble planning for daily writing.  This is a personal bad habit, and not necessarily a flaw of the habit itself, but my point is that I still haven’t been able to make it work for me.
  2. Writing at the same time every day: This was only slightly more helpful to me, if I didn’t restrict myself to one place.  But the only time I seemed to have was in the morning before work or in the evening right before bed.  Always being more of a night writer, I was able to keep up same-time-writing for only a week or so at a time, before I’d get tired one night and skip it (which always snowballed into skipping multiple days and then weeks) or would have some event that’d keep me out past my writing time (which would have the same snowballing effect because I’d come home really tired and wouldn’t write even after I got back).  Whenever I’ve tried this, it’s always been an on-again-off-again relationship that’s only productive for short sprints.  More like an affair than a marriage sort of thing, you know?
  3. Keeping a writing journal describing how that day’s writing went: next to useless because I forget to write in the journals.  Also, after I write, I’m kinda like, “I just got through writing, and now you want me to write about the writing?  It was hard enough coming up with THOSE words!”  So the whole system just falls apart.  (Plus, when I forget to write for the day, I feel the compulsive need to lie in the journal how the writing I didn’t do went, so it doesn’t judge me for being a slacker and skipping a day.  Journals are VERY judgmental creatures, and I, for one, don’t appreciate that kind of pressure.)
  4. Find “accountability partners” to help keep you going: These would be people who you could trust to ask you, with some regularity, “So how’s that story coming?” so that you use the peer-pressure of not looking like a slacker to help motivate you to keep writing.  I tried this and found that one of two things would usually happen: 1) my accountability people would usually forget as time passed (which is no slight to them, really—it’s not THEIR story or their passion and therefore difficult to remember for someone else’s sake).  Or 2) they’d remember and ask, but the shame factor wouldn’t be strong enough to motivate me to stop being lazy once I started slacking on the writing.  So they’d get an answer of, “Uh, yeah, about that…I intend to make up the word count tomorrow” almost every time they asked, which is somewhat de-motivating for them, too.  And though shame is normally a great motivator for me, it kinda backfired every time I tried to use it in this way.
  5. Using an online public forum, like the NaNoWriMo word counts, to keep you accountable:  An alternative to having someone you know keep you honest.  This method works because you know that even though nobody’s asking you about your writing, the word count is public, so anyone—both strangers and friends—can see how productive or not you’re being.  This is a more indirect form of shaming you into work, and I found this one more successful.  It also lets you privately compete against others’ word counts—and the “private” part is what’s so effective, because if you find yourself competing against someone whose word count is smoking yours, you have no witness to your loser-ness except yourself.  And then you can pick someone who’s obviously not being as productive as you so that when your word count smokes theirs, you can feel like you’re winning.  BECAUSE YOU ARE.  And it’s public so you can be smug in the knowledge that others can see how badly you’re beating them, too.  See?  Win-win.
  6. Keeping a personal daily log of how many words I wrote that day: This was a surprisingly successful trick for me, since I’m both anal-retentively in love with spreadsheets and highly motivated by small successes (and, conversely, very de-motivated when I don’t think I see any progress).  Seeing the word count rise every time I write made me want to write daily, if for no other reason than to see how high I could get my numbers up from the previous day.  It also gives you a good idea of how many words per day you’re comfortable with, in case you decide to make a numbers goal for the day.  This made the muse come a little easier, since I was then sitting down to write for consecutive days, instead of sporadically (which is kinda the purpose of the “write every day” habit that I couldn’t make myself do before).  When I did this, I was able to hit the 25K word mark, the longest I’ve ever written on one story, easily within a month.  This is easier than competing with a friend or another writer (like on the NaNoWriMo site) because when I compete against myself, it guarantees that I win every time.  Some may call it “stacking the odds” or “cheating”, but I like to think of it as “effective personalized motivation”.
  7. Making a .PDF of your story and putting it on an e-reader: This is, obviously, only useful for those with e-readers, but I accidented on this the other day and it’s worked wonders for my creativity!  [Brief, bragging back history: In a gesture of awesomeness and employee appreciation, my company bought everyone in the company their own Kindle, for both work and personal use, which they get to keep even after they leave the company.]  Since I’m a traditionalist, I vowed never to buy one for myself, but I’m reluctantly finding it to be….a bit…fabulous.  Only a LITTLE BIT spectacular.  And one of the reasons it’s become such a fun toy to me is that, since it reads PDF files, I’ve taken one of the stories I’m working on, saved it as a PDF, and put it on my Kindle.  So now, every time I open it, I get to see my name in print (right there under one of Stephen King’s stories and just above one of Cassie Clare’s) and open my story like it was something amazing and published.  Seeing this fabricated, tiny glimpse into my publishing future is pretty amazing.  The pros of this tactic are that it makes me want to write on this whenever I have down time, and I have it handy to read and review in a really convenient manner whenever I want (without having to drag my bulky laptop around or fiddle with sheets of paper for the same purpose).  Super motivating to me, and something I recommend if you 1) have an e-reader and 2) need a little extra boost to get writing on it.

Most Highly Respected Anonymous Readers, what have you found to be the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Writers?  Inquiring minds want to know.


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Filed under milestones, NaNoWriMo, procrastinating, Writing

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