I once had an alternative life as a dancer.
As a dancer, when you move and watch yourself in the mirror in the studio, you can see straight away where you are going wrong. You can see what doesn’t quite look right, what’s not conveying what you want to say and so on.
And then you can fix it immediately.
But that’s the beauty of dance as an art form – results are more immediate and it is far easier to get immersed into the process of movement, tweaking and fine tuning. And then the costume goes on, the lights come up, the bells ring, the crowd hushes, the curtain is drawn and you move out onto the stage…
Not so with writing. With writing, you try your best to write the coherent story. You write the bits that leap out at you the most in your head to get the out of the way. Then you find the gaps and keep tossing stuff in, hoping to fill it.
You do all this in isolation. If you are a social person, this is exceedingly tough and is the worst damn part but also the best damn part of the entire process.
And it isn’t until you send it off to beta readers to glance through what you have so far that you start getting feedback. You’ve known what the story is all along so it’s been hard for you to see what you need to do – your brain has automatically filled in any gaps.
So then you get the draft back and freak out at how much more there is to be done…
… and of course, you would have done something daft and set yourself a fast approaching deadline, right?
So how do you get it done?
“You told me you could write 10,000 words in one day.”
Cue me looking at my friend in much confusion… now when the hell would I have claimed such a thing? “Er -”
“You did, we were discussing this before so you have two weeks and you can do it.”
It’s only now, hours later, that I realised that I had referred to a different story regarding the 10,000 words a day output – a story that wrote itself because the characters were ones that had been around for 18 years. My friend thinks I can duplicate this rate easily for other stories. It doesn’t work that way with this book…
… but what if it could? Worth a shot right?
So how do you stay motivated?
How do I stay motivated? Well, I don’t – I fall off the wagon quite regularly. But that’s normal. I have to accept that it is normal and that what I am doing seems quite straightforward and obvious to me but is actually quite a mad thing. A very mad thing.
1) Expect to fall off the motivation wagon.
Expect to have to make yourself climb back on. If you sit around waiting for motivation to strike you, it won’t happen. Make it happen. Sit down with the computer or pen and paper and start writing so you can feel motivated to start writing again.
2) Create a routine.
This nonsense about creative people needing physical and temporal chaos around them, needing to be disorganised so that their creativity isn’t stifled? It’s nonsense. If the house is clean, I am warm, fed, bills are paid and nobody is bothering me, then there is nothing to distract me. So create a routine that works for you, try it for a month and then keep changing it to suit you. And stick to it but expect to occasionally fall off the scheduling wagon too.
3) Believe in this.
The only reason I am mad enough to forgo cash, run the risk of not working enough etc is because I believe so bloody madly in this damn book. Because I want it done. Because there are other books. The belief is part of the motivation.
4) Embrace others believing in it and you as well.
Nothing motivates me more than my mother saying “Finish it because I want to read it, I want to know what happens to the people you introduce on page one.”
Or my friend saying: “You need to do this. You’re the only person I know brave enough to take this on because it is so damn bloody hard but you are doing it.”
Or another friend saying: “Two weeks, Marisa. You ARE finishing it by then.”
Or the third friend saying: “Please hurry up and finish this great Sri Lankan-Australian masterpiece!”
Or someone else saying (on Twitter no less so the Library of Congress has it archived): “Mari is only one draft away from the Man-Booker Prize.”
And ok, maybe they are all mad to believe it will be any good when done but still it is nice…
… talk about pressure.
5) Set the deadline and try to stick to it.
31st May, two weeks time. How am I going to face my friend if it isn’t done? I shudder to think.
6) Accept the help you get and ask for it.
It’s amazing. My family is reading as I write and telling me what I am not seeing. One of my friends has actually volunteered not just her spare bedroom as a second office so I am not distracted while I write but also her services as assistant which basically means that she supplies me with Coke, chocolate and regulates the temperature to stay at 28 degrees.
7) Focus on possibility.
Can I beat my current writing rate for this book? Can I do better? Can I make my words sing, dance and leap off the page? When I was a dancer, I always had an inner competition to beat the beat – could I go faster and still do all the moves with no shortcuts? How fast could I go before I had to resort to shortcuts?
When I started tapdancing, I practiced at home. Not to jazz or showtunes but to techno. To techno. And I had double taps which meant I had to exert more control over my movements to make sure I sounded right while dancing. And here I was trying to tapdance to fast paced techno beats so I could get better. I did. I won the national championship, dancing much slower and to a horrible showtune in a horrible outfit but I got on that stage knowing that if I could tapdance for six minutes to a techno beat, then I really didn’t have to concentrate much to even do my piece.
So how awesome would it be if I could do something similar with my book? Like beat my current writing rate – try to reach 10,000 words per day? Try to get it all done by the 31st of May?
Is it possible?
Like all things, you don’t know till you try.
And if you have tried, let us know. What motivates you? Comments, cries for help, questions go below.