Monday, November 27, 2006

Self Motivation

PBW had an interesting post over the weekend about keeping yourself motivated in the last week or so of writing a novel. You should sashay on over there and add your own motivators to the list, since then you stand a chance of winning a free signed copy of one of her books, and they're well worth reading even when you have to pay for them.

But free books notwithstanding, the post got me thinking. When commenting what it was that kept me going that last mile, I put down sheer bloody-mindedness, and on mature reflection I cannot for the life of me come up with a better motivator.

A lot of writers seem to promise themselves rewards, and there's a lot to be said for this approach. Make your daily word total, and allow yourself some quality time with a book, or your loved one and family (or away from your loved one and family - that might work as a reward too.) Finish a draft and buy yourself a new DVD or dress or go out for a nice meal. All good things to promise yourself, and I'm sure all good motivators to keep going when the brain starts to judder and creak, and your two typing fingers are numb from endless stabbing at the keyboard.

But it doesn't work with me. I can't tell myself 'if you finish this book by the end of the month, then you can have a new starter motor for JulieD,' neither does the promise of being able to read a new book, or watch a new DVD work for me. These may be things that I want, but not so much that I can't live without them. The things that would truly motivate me are beyond my power to deliver.

As it happens, I do need a new starter motor for JulieD - she sounded like she'd got a bad case of bronchitis when I tried to start her at the weekend - but I can't afford one unless the company comes up with a little more than the two or three days a month of work it's been giving me of late. I've a large pile of books waiting to be read, it's true, but I make time to read every day anyway as that's part of honing my writing craft. As for movies, I've a huge pile of them waiting to be watched, but I've not been denying myself the pleasure so much as never quite getting around to it. There's so much else I'd rather be doing. Like writing, for instance.

And that's perhaps why the promised reward approach doesn't work for me. In the end, I'm easy. If I have to go through a certain amount of hardship for something, it had better be worth that hardship. Otherwise I'll happily go without.

Benfro book three was hard work to write. Towards the end, when my original deadline had disappeared into the dim and distant, I sometimes struggled to get anything much done at all. There were times, particularly then the word count crept up to, and then over, the 200k mark, that I wondered if it wasn't getting out of control. But that inflated word count in itself explained why I was constantly missing my deadlines - I'd set them for a much shorter novel. I never for once thought I wouldn't finish it, even if it took all year. So how did I motivate myself through those difficult times?

I am a truly lazy person. That's not to say that I slob around all day eating junk food and staring brain-dead at the telly. My laziness is more thoughtful than that. I consider my every action, assessing its probable success and the effort required to gain that success. I devise complicated strategies to avoid unnecessary effort in the future, and if a projected outcome looks unfavourable, then I won't start at all. The corollary of this is that
the idea of starting something and not finishing it is anathema to me. To do so would be to have wasted all the effort so far expended. And so having decided to write a book, there's no way I'm not going to finish it.

I am also incredibly stubborn. Not a pretty trait, I'll admit. But it means that once I've said I'll do something, if even only to myself, there's no way I'm going to lose face by not doing it. Even if the only person who would know I'd lost face was me. That's how I get to the end of a novel by sheer bloody-mindedness. And take fifteen years to restore a classic car.

And of course, I love writing. Even a bad day's storytelling beats a good day at the office. And the good days, when it's flying and you're lost in the world of your imagination; when you look up and see it's gone dark outside and you've no idea where the day went; when the dogs give up nudging to remind you they need a walk; those are the days that make it all worthwhile. They're all the motivation I need.

Oh my god. I'm an addict!


Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

"And the good days, when it's flying and you're lost in the world of your imagination; when you look up and see it's gone dark outside and you've no idea where the day went; when the dogs give up nudging to remind you they need a walk; those are the days that make it all worthwhile. They're all the motivation I need."

Much better than the reverse psychology incentive of threatening to whip yourself if you don't do your work.

November 28, 2006 12:37 am  
Blogger Dr. Lisa said...

Well, maybe if you are INTO whips that might work. It takes all types.

I am totally into rewards. Period. Maybe it's because my job, which I generally love, has unlovely parts. Like today, I sifted through about 32,000 data records looking for 2000 odd points. Or big big stacks of grading. I need motivators, so I use them. Of course I lose myself in the flow of work, too, but it's a lot harder to get me to START on the work without an external reward. Once I get going, it's fine--but many an exercise program has died because of my refusal to start (and fundamental lack of shame.)

November 28, 2006 4:07 am  
Blogger angie said...

I always think the rewards thingie will work. It never does - at least not for me. If I really want something, I'm going to do it, get it, read it, watch it anyway. Patience isn't my strong suit - either I do it or I figure it's not really worth it.

Writing is hard. I write because I'm a complete cranky bitch if I don't. Of course, I'm often a complete cranky bitch when I am writing, but at least I know I'm in there swinging. And while the good days are fab, I can never seem to remember exactly what they're like when I'm struggling. I keep going because...well, because writers write. Sounds kinda lame, but there it is.

November 28, 2006 5:03 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

Actually, the whips work. Thumbscrews too.

I'm not going to tell anyone what they should or shouldn't do to motivate themselves. I'm just too much of a cynical old bastard to fall for my own promises anymore;}#

November 28, 2006 5:47 pm  

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