Every writer struggles with motivation. How do you keep your ass in the chair day after day? How do you force yourself to open that chapter that’s been giving you hell, and keep at it? You’d rather cut your toenails, or take out the garbage than beat your head against a stubborn manuscript. Or maybe, like me, you’d rather play games on your phone. Hitting a new high score feels good, gives you a sense of accomplishment, of being in control. There are measurable results, and tangible rewards. The joy of competition.
The dangers of smart-phones are probably best left for another post, but the time I wasted on mine clued me in to something about myself: I need competition, even if it’s only me I’m competing against. I need that measurable result (never mind that finishing a rough draft is the ultimate measurable result – it’s too long term for the day-to-day gratification I crave). I need to see my high scores, and better them. I need targets, ones I can hit every day, to give me that warm fuzzy about this brutal business of writing.
It’s so simple I wonder why I’d never thought of it before: a word count record. A big one, on a flip chart (old school, I know) in my office. With bright colors that highlight my day’s success or failure. It is the first thing I see in the morning, and the last thing I look at, as I update it, on my way out at night.
As a master of procrastination, a certified PhD of pissing-away-time, it was a revelation. Here was the evidence of my phone addiction shaming me back to my manuscript. Only 500 words a day to keep the shame away. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeesy.
A funny thing happens when you put your progress up on the wall, where there is no escaping it. You work. And the more you work, the easier the work gets. The momentum builds, the chapters ahead of you shrink and the ones behind you grow. You become… wait for it… this is the big payoff… A writer. All the big names go on and on about this – that to be a writer you must write, every day, or as near to it as your life allows. You must put in the hours, and they will reward you. They’re right. It’s true. I believe them now. About the only days I miss are when friends or family, or a hangover (often the two coincide) are visiting. But even with a hangover I sometimes bang out 500 lousy words. I’ve had several days over 2000 words, one over 3000 (3210, on January 17th). There was a stretch in March/April when I wrote for 32 consecutive days. Thirty-two! That’s a record or a high score of some sort.
At the end of each month I tally the weekly totals and write them over my target word count for the month. I have exceeded the target every month since I put that board on the wall. Also a record or high score of some sort.
What do you do to stay motivated? I’d love to hear what works for others, or if you’ve got crazy-all-over-your-face like me, and opt to try the big board of shame on your wall, let me know how it goes.
(This post was 553 words – bingo!)