Writing motivation - how to get and stay motivated

Writing motivation - how to get and stay motivated

28 June 2016 Life Writing Autiobiography Memoir

‘One writes to make a home for oneself, on paper, in time and in other's minds.’ - American Jewish writer Alfred Kazin

In her book, Anybody Can Write, Roberta Jean Bryant says dreamers dream, writers write, and poems, books, and stories evolve from ideas, imagination and dreams. And she’s right. Anybody can write. Anybody can dream, but turning the dream into a story on the page requires motivation.

Humans are wired to tell stories. From childhood through to the end of life, we tell stories and we hear stories told and retold in families and among friends. Life is one big story. We see stories everywhere, in everything and everyone has a story to tell. How many times have you heard someone say “You should write a book!”.

The trick is having a go, getting motivated to turn that dream, those imaginings, those personal stories, ideas and memories into a page of writing. A great motivator full of delicious awe for many is the thought of having a book, a poem, a story of your very own, like a newborn baby, in your hands.

And if you want to write, there is nothing more motivating than reading what others write. Read as much as you can, especially in the genre you want to write. There are many books published on how to write. In my personal opinion, one of the best is Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind (Bantam 1990) in which she says the beginning of all writing is practise. It’s the bottom line, “the foundation of learning to trust your own mind”. Her rules for getting it down on paper are:

  1. Keep your hand moving
  2. Lose control
  3. Be specific
  4. Don’t think
  5. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation and grammar (that can be fixed later)
  6. You are free to write the worst junk in America (or anywhere)
  7. Go for the jugular

But where to begin? Welsh playwright Dylan Thomas began Under Milkwood with: “To begin at the beginning: It is spring, ...” but you can begin anywhere. Some say it’s best to begin in media res, or ‘in the middle of things’, ie in the midst of the action or drama. A lot of writers who want to tell a family story begin with births, deaths or moving house, beginning or ending a relationship or perhaps even adopting a family pet. All of these can lead to other things and so the story unfolds.

Of course writing does not start until pen touches paper, or fingers touch keyboard, and the writer actually wants to commit his or her ideas, his or her story, to the page.

To help you get motivated it’s a good idea to know why you want to write your story. People write for different reasons. In her book Writing Your Life, Patti Miller says there are many motives, from lineage, so that your descendants will know about you and your life; to healing, making sense of a death/divorce or any experience that has changed you. 

People write for history, so others will know what life was like in their day. Others write to share their wisdom, to express their creativity or, in some cases, to turn the writer’s suffering into art. There is no set reason, you are free to write from whatever motivates you, be that love, even revenge.

Once you decide to write, you’ll find that a dozen and one things try to block you, to test your motivation. You’re too tired today. The fridge needs cleaning. Visitors arrive in droves. The house is a mess and the dog has to go to the vet, a tree falls on the shed, you’re so hungry, even though you just had lunch, but you need a sandwich and another cup of coffee. Your hair needs a trim.

To help avoid these distractions, and ignite your motivation engine and keep it running, give yourself the gift of time. Set aside a block of time that is just for you, and use it every day. In that time, even if it’s 6am before everyone is awake, use that hour, or even half hour to put pen to paper or rattle away on the keyboard. Be diligent.

Tell your family it is your time and unless someone is dying you must not be disturbed. Set aside a room for your writing if you are lucky enough to have one, and put a notice on the door saying ‘do not disturb on pain of death’ or something similar. Your brain will then come to respect that this is important stuff that should be taken seriously and something you want others to take seriously as well.

And once the pen is on the page or the fingers on the keyboard, just keep writing, even though what comes out might be drivel, ungrammatical and full of misspellings and typographical errors. If you can’t write anything, then sit and dream, start remembering but use that hour so your mind gets used to the idea that there is a space in your life for telling your story. You deserve it.

The stories about how famous writers stayed motivated are many and legendary. Whether they are legends or facts, it’s said Wallace Stevens composed his poetry on slips of paper while walking. James Joyce, dressed in a white coat, used to lie in bed on his stomach and write with a large blue pencil. John Steinbeck wrote his drafts in pencil and always kept exactly 12, perfectly sharpened, on his desk. Some famous writers could only write standing up, some in parked cars and some set themselves the task of a certain amount of words per day.

An excellent tip for staying motivated is to keep a writer’s journal. Keep it with you so you can scribble in the doctor’s waiting room, waiting for the bus or when you go to a café for a coffee or to sit in the park or by the beach. Keep it beside the bed and, while dozing off, if you think of something, whatever you do don’t wait until the morning to write it down. It will disappear. Write it down immediately; catch it before it swims off into the underworld because it won’t come back. There’s nothing like the disappointment when you wake up and remember that you had the best opening paragraph to a story you have ever read or written last night, but can’t remember it.

To help you on your writing path, we recommend joining our friendly and supportive Bookform Writing Workshops, facilitated by professional writers. These fun and informative workshops are also a great way to mingle and meet with others embarking on their own writing journey!

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