Five Ways to Motivate for Writing, or How to Get Your Ass in the Chair

Suzanne Roberts • July 25, 2016

1.     Accept that you will write crap

I tell my students that there is no such thing as Writers’ Block, not unless your hands are tied behind your back. The deal is not that you can’t write, just that you are afraid that what you write will be shitty. I am here to say that you do not have to worry: it will be shitty. That’s part of the deal. Especially when you are getting started or going back to it after a break. One of my professors, Gailmarie Pahmeier, likened it to pumping a well. The water first comes out muddy, and you have to pump for a while before the clear water comes. Writing is like that. You can’t be afraid of the gunk in the water: it’s part of the process.

Also, even if you are deep in the thick of it, the anxiety that paralyzes you can creep in. That’s because whatever you thought you were doing might not be working out how you planned. The story might reveal itself in a way you weren’t expecting, so now you are working in the dark. E.L. Doctorow says, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” That’s a scary place to be but the only place where you will create something remarkable. According to Robert Frost, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” Allow yourself to move through your anxiety to get to the surprise—it’s there waiting, and sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith and live for a while in the dark uncertainty.

2.     Give yourself rewards

I am big on presents. When the Wordy Girls meet, we go over our writing goals, and if we have achieved them, we give each other gifts. You can steal this idea with your own writing group, or you can give yourself presents. Maybe if you hit a certain word count, you allow yourself a piece of chocolate or a glass of wine. Maybe you will buy yourself an inspirational mug or cute writerly trucker hat.

3.     Be single-minded

This used to be easier. Writers used to work on machines that only did one thing: type. Now, the machines we are writing on can connect us to our friends, play games with us, give us weather reports, pay our bills, and match us up on dates. But if you turn off your modem, you limit many of these things. Sometimes that is impossible if you are living in a house with others, but that hasn’t stopped me (though my husband now knows what’s going on and plugs it back in).

I also set my kitchen timer, figuring that I can write for one hour. If I try to do anything else, I have to re-set the timer. Even if I have been writing for 57 minutes—a distraction means another hour, not another three minutes. Often I will go longer than an hour. But it’s amazing what you can accomplish in just one hour if you are not doing anything but working on your book.

4.     Write a priority list

Look at you to-do list and put everything into categories like “my writing,” “the business of writing,” “teaching at the community college,” “community college service work,” “exercise and recreation,” “friends and family.” Then put them in the order of importance and rearrange your to-do list that way, too. When I did this, I found that I was doing things lower on the list before I write. Now I stop myself. On my list, “Recreation” comes before writing, “college service work” and “the business of writing” doesn’t. It also makes me feel better about going skiing or walking in the forest. That’s my priority, and that’s okay. But if I do things in order of importance, I will write before I vacuum or clean out the refrigerator.

5.     Surround yourself with support

I would not be where I am without the support of my writing group, The Wordy Girls. I have also hired writing coaches and editors to help me along the way. Writing is mostly solitary, but I have found I can only get so far on my own. Joining a writing group, going to writing conferences and retreats, attending readings and other literary events will help you to create a supportive writing community.

Most people don’t care if you write or not. Surround yourself with people who do care about your writing. Weed people from your life who are not supportive, or worse, jealous or critical. I have a writer friend whose dental hygienist was condescending about her career as a writer, so she found a new dentist. Let go of the people who do not support writing, because if they do not understand your passion, they do not care to really know you. Who needs people like that around? You don’t. You have work to do!