Before we start: I looked dozens of articles in research for this one, hoping to find at least one tip that wasn’t drivel. Across the board, every article was utter shit. Apologies for the bluntness of those words, but to the best of my knowledge, this is the only good list on author motivation available on the internet.
Okay, ranting aside, we all try to keep writing - we really do - but the fact is, life happens. “In-between projects” is a state that, if the author isn’t careful, can become permanent; worst of all, it can happen to anybody, completely irrespective of the author’s innate ability (see Harper Lee, Emily Brontë, Ralph Ellison).
Whatever your personal reasons are for not keeping up with your writing: time, stress, et cetera... the following step-by-step guide won't just help you get started again; it'll keep you writing!
1) Write What You Want To Read
I love challenging myself. I really do. It’s fun to write something that is outside of your normal comfort zone… but there is a reason why Stephen King wrote primarily Horror, and Philip K. Dick primarily Science Fiction: these are the genres that felt most natural for them to write.
Especially when you’re coming back from a long hiatus, you should be writing in genres that you know inside and out.
2) Don’t Just Plan… Write Yourself A Prompt!
Write out a brief sequence of events for every chapter before you begin. Keep it short, but precise. Don’t write things like, “I’m going to introduce my main character.” That's too vague to be helpful.
If I’m writing the first chapter of a greek tragedy, I should write something like--
“Open on a conversation between King Theitis (our main character), and King Linus of Zebanee. King Linus boasts that his top warrior can beat any two of Theitis’s. Theitis, in anger, responds by saying that Tralis, his general, could beat his warrior with one arm behind his back. The battle is set up, and Tralis dies - solely because his arm is tied behind his back.
Point of Scene: This does many things; most notably, the scene shows Theitis’s pride and introduces the conflict between General Tralis’s troops and the Royal Crown (which will eventually lead to Theitis’s downfall)."
With this self-written prompt, we know where the chapter is going, and we know WHY it is being written… that takes a lot of pressure off the writing, which makes us far less likely to procrastinate.
3) Always End On A Cliffhanger
Conversely, never EVER stop at the resolution of a plot point. Mini resolutions are the death of motivation. When you reach a plot resolution, force yourself to keep writing to the next cliffhanger.
When Tina has a gun to her head, it is obvious that something important will happen. The urgency is omnipresent. In seminars, when I talk about this idea, people always complain that one shouldn’t stop when their writing is flowing. I totally disagree. If you know what happens when you stop, you’ll know what happens when you come back.
For myself, I almost always stop in the middle of a sentence. I’ll leave urgent half-sentences hanging for days, waiting desperately to be finished. Eg. “In a sudden burst of speed, she smacked the gun away and leapt behind...”
Go ahead. You know you want to.
4) Utilize The Technology-Free Hour
Everyone in my life has great respect for my writing hours, and this is solely because I, myself respect my writing time. Here’s how I do it--
A) I tell everyone who is likely to contact me that I will be writing for the next hour.
B) I turn off my phone.
C) I turn over an actual hourglass (See Tip #7), and don’t leave the chair until every grain of sand has fallen.
D) I limit my internet access to searching for synonyms or doing specific, relevant research on my writing. You might think, if you have writer’s block, that you will stare at a blank word document for the full hour… you’d be wrong. I have never, not one single time, stood up from one of these writing hours without having written something. Fact is, you can only stare at a blinking cursor so long.
Stop worrying about finishing your novel. Just plan that next hour, and slowly, it WILL get done.
5) If You Can’t Force Yourself To Write…
So you’ve read the above tip twenty times, but it hurts you to even think about writing. It’s never as good as you want it to be. You scheduale the hour, but can’t make yourself respect it, and find yourself doodling or watching TV…
Well, if you can’t force yourself to write, use your writing time better. Watch something related to your project. Read something that will make you think about the ideas you want to include. The more stories that you burn through, whether in film or the written word, the more excited you will get about the many things you can incorporate into your own fiction.
6) Join A Writer’s Group
Okay, okay. Not everyone has the time or the inclination. I, myself, haven’t been in a LONG time. That said, when I was writing Tiny Instruments, knowing that the writer’s group was eagerly awaiting the next chapter gave me some kind of motivation when thoughts like, “But the odds of me becoming successful are so slim!” and “But nobody reads books anymore anyway!”, came creeping in.
If your primary motivation comes from others, there’s especially something to be said about surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who are all working toward the same goal. There’s a certain energy that gets your thoughts flowing.
As far as joining a group goes, my advice is this--
If it speaks to you, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t.
7) Buy Yourself A New Pen, A New Hourglass, Or A “New” Typewriter
Weird advice, huh?
If you can’t afford it, I wouldn’t recommend doing this one often. Still, this tidbit is far more effective than you might first believe.
The logic is simple. If you have a REALLY nice pen, you’re going to want to use it. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to be just dying to put that Mont Blanc on the paper… go ahead. Feel how smooth it glides across the sheet as you crank out the world’s next great novel!
8) Realize That Crappy Writing Is Better Than No Writing
Perfectionist tendencies in writing are wonderful. They allow you to bring your writing to a whole new level as you constantly search for that perfect turn of phrase… but if you don’t knock it off, you’ll never publish a damn thing! Repeat after me: The more you write, the better you get.
There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in your work, but over-perfectionism can strangle a writer’s career; believe me, I’ve suffered with this throughout all of mine.
It's that simple. Follow the above, and soon, you’ll be holding your finished novel in your hands.