by André Klein
A good friend of mine once said: “Every day I write is a good day.”
And after more than ten years of writing I still agree with this statement.
Writing is great. But it’s also hard work.
According to Malcom Gladwell, to become an expert in anything you need to invest at least 10,000 hours. While that is somewhat an arbitrary number and implies that genius or expertise can be manufactured according to a formula, there is a certain truth in it, nevertheless:
In order to become good at anything, not just satisfactory but really good you need to invest a lot of time and effort.
"Fiction Writer’s Cheat Sheet."
Writing Fiction For Dummies
Okay, let’s cut to the chase - motivation. I’d say a good most of our questions are related to it, and there’s only so many times you can direct them toward our many many tags about it. Let’s face it, the subject of motivation produces as many words as the lack of it keeps them away. There’s lots of reasons for being unmotivated. If you’re dealing with things out of your control, like depression, you shouldn’t feel bad for not writing. Even if you’re not depressed, don’t feel bad for not writing. I’m going to talk about what I call The Blahs in terms of motivation, but if this advice doesn’t work for you, don’t feel bad. Keep trying, and take care of yourself.
Why are people unmotivated to write? Like I said, there’s lots of reasons for being unmotivated. It could be nerves, it could be stress, it could be the good ol’ Blahs. For me, The Blahs are the worst. I know why I have them - work concerns, I think I’m becoming a hypochondriac, the fucking air - but there’s no magic button to get out of them. The Blahs delayed this post by a week, they’ve been keeping me from writing a story I’m really passionate about, they make me irritated at tiny things. The Blahs are here to ruin my shit, basically.
What are the Blahs, exactly? For me, I know the Blahs is some form of mental suckage that knows, no matter how hard I try to fool it, that writing is hard work that will undoubtedly have to be done over and over again. The Blahs is irritation at no instant reward, no button that will light up in my head once I complete a task, because writing is never really done.
That lack of reward, tangible or mental, turns your brain into a jerky jerk that doesn’t want to work with you. It becomes a four-year-old, constantly screaming for some sort of distraction, insisting that if you scroll through tumblr one more time, it’ll let you go back to writing peacefully. This is a lie, because your brain is a jerk.
Okay, so how do I fix the Blahs? Alright, here’s the bad news: fixing the Blahs is not only hard, it’s very personal, meaning your solutions have to be tailored to you. The Blahs are why I draft with pen and paper, because having pages afterwards to scribble on is very satisfying. But drafting on paper is not enough, because it’s easy to ignore or shove aside, no matter how many notes I leave myself not to do that. So while fixing the Blahs is hard to do, here’s some things you can work on for yourself:
- Deadlines. Deadlines with no teeth do nothing for me. Haha, arbitrary date on my calender, there’s not punishment for not finishing by now, so fuck you. Make your deadlines real. Enlist friends to keep you to task, dole out punishments and rewards for making it. If you have no outer force to keep you to task, make one. This is why NaNoWriMo works for so many people, and you can make it work for you. Get that deadline and find ways to make your jerk brain stick to it.
- Chunk Your Work. Break big projects down to little goals - the more goals you hit, the more that reward lights up in your brain. This takes some figuring out - a little goal for one person is three pages, another a paragraph - but your huge projects needs those goalposts to keep you going.
- Rewards, Baby. Your brain runs on rewards, the more instant the better. Big rewards - that paycheck at the end of the month, a finished novel - are vague concepts to your brain until you actually have them, so make your rewards more immediate. Finishing that chapter wins you your favorite snack. Editing that page earns you a cup of coffee. The rewards don’t have to be tangible - checking tumblr or playing a quick game on your phone lights up that reward part of your brain just as much other rewards. Rewards are great, but don’t let them become distractions. If they get you too off the writing page, find another reward.
- Kill Your
TVDistractions, Man. If the internet is your siren song, check out blocking programs that can help your productivity. Chuck your mobile devices in a bag or other room, find music that can help you focus. Bury those shows you want to watch in a few dozen folders, consider trying new locations. Your brain wants distractions because they are instantly satisfying; don’t give them to it.
- Try Progress Trackers. A writing calender where you cross off the days you write works but keep that damn thing on hand or your jerk brain will ignore it. A writing journal of progress is the same. They’re helpful, but only if you use them, so keep them somewhere you will always find them. Put them on top of your laptop or in your bag at all times.
You’re working toward the goal of forming writing habits that won’t sway to the Blahs so easily. This takes time, and it’s not easy. Don’t be hard on yourself if you fail. All of these things I’m still struggling with, and it’s okay to do the same.
To Do: I hate writing assignments like a passion, and hey, I’m not your teacher (unless I am, in that case go do your homework >:|), but last time I mentioned making a list of your main goals, and if you want, now’s the time to break out that list, find your most important goals, and chunk them down into manageable jobs. Your goal is to create steps that you can reach, all the way from start to being done. If it’s too much, focus on it in parts - part one of your first draft, part two, etc. If you’re working on it now, great! You can still try this technique.
I’d also really recommend giving yourself deadlines with teeth, so you feel like you have to make them. If doing the dishes on a failed deadline isn’t threat enough, maybe cleaning from top to bottom is. If you need help, recruit people. You can even loop in family members (‘I really need to make this goal, can you get on me around this time?’), or be vague about what you’re doing (because shit do I hate explaining what I’m writing), but you have to make those deadlines real.
Good luck, see you on the other side of the Blahs.
Breaking a novel up into manageable tasks
by Now Novel
One of the difficult aspects of finishing a novel is that the project can seem so overwhelming you may not know where to begin. However, using the tips below, you can break your novel down into tasks that are manageable.
First, decide when you want to finish your first draft. Next, break your novel down by word count, pages or chapters depending on which unit you find easiest to track and most motivating. How many word, pages or chapters do you need to write each week and each day of that week to reach your deadline?
You can also break the planning of your novel into manageable chunks. How detailed you want to be will depend on how much of a planner you are. Even if you prefer to avoid outlining and want to discover your story as you are writing it, it can be helpful to know how you want your story to end. Your next step in breaking your book into manageable chunks might be writing a beginning and an end.
At this stage, if you want to outline more, you can do so chapter by chapter or in another way that makes sense to you for breaking your book down into units. You may want to write just a sentence or two for each chapter, or you may want to break each chapter down into scenes.
Writing this was hard. I was very lucky to be edited by Chad Harbach, who spent many months (6? I forget. Possibly more) working on it with me. My writing group — Bennett, Anya and Lukas — also read several drafts and helped a lot. I would like to dedicate its appearance on the internet to the memory of Raffles, who cost me a lot of money but was worth every penny. I still miss you, buddy.
Brush up on your chemistry.