Road to Commissioning... Mastering Motivation
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
Okay, so I won’t claim to be an expert on this topic. In fact, I am a multi-award winning olympic level procrastinator if you ever met one. I have turned wasting time into an art-form in my short life. I still have days where I have every intention of being productive, only to watch the sun set around me after having achieved exactly… nothing.
It’s a sad fact that the vast majority of us are not David Goggins level self-motivators. We all put our elastic-waist procrastination pants on one leg at a time and park ourselves in front of our favourite ‘insert time-wasting activity here’. So, yes, while I am no expert on the art of self-motivation, I have made a marked improvement over the years, and will share with you my best anecdotal experience.
Here are 6 tips on how you can trick yourself into being productive:
1. Be kind to yourself
We all have our inner critic telling us we’re a lazy sack of shit, or that niggling imposter syndrome harping on about all the reasons we’ll fail and why it’s pointless to even start. There’s this idea that writers see themselves as both the best and worst at the craft, with an angel and devil simultaneously gassing you up while fanning the flames of your self-destruction.
Compounding this is the fact that almost all writers, particularly newbies, don’t actually have to write at all. There’s no boss standing over you cracking the whip, or a coach giving you words of support, in fact, you will overwhelmingly find yourself fending off naysayers and negative self-talk telling you to just give it up. None of which adds up to rock solid self-motivation.
A good writing day can be the best feeling in the world, however, the majority of your days may be filled with head-scratching, frustration and staring at a blank page. You have to really love the craft and feel compelled to put the work in - otherwise you’ll never get past the starting line.
The biggest thing to remember is that writing is WORK. Hard work. You will have good days and bad days. Everyone works at different speeds. Some people just aren’t as productive as others. Some people take longer to hone the craft than others. Finding the process hard does’t make you a failure - so just be kind to yourself and accepts it’s all part of the package.
A mindset of self-hatred and comparison will destroy your passion, and your motivation with it. All you need to do is focus on the wins and try to learn from the losses.
2. Start slowly to build the habit
I will admit that I was the ultimate yo-yo procrastinator. I would spend weeks doing nothing then punish myself by forcing myself to write for 4-5 hours every night. There’s absolutely no points for guessing that after a week or two of doing this I would burn out and go back to watching Netflix.
A lot of this LEVEL UP!, be a beast, become X in Y self-help rhetoric will say things like ‘You have the same 24 hours a day as Beyoncé, so stop wasting time!!!’, which is true, but you can’t go from 0-100 overnight, your mind and body will resist.
Writing is mentally and emotionally taxing, and overwhelming yourself is not a sustainable model for most people. Even billionaires start small and work their way up. It’s also worth noting that high-flyers like Queen Bey have huge support networks, you’re just one person. Give yourself the time and space to adjust to the workload.
It might be a cliche but slow and steady really does win the race. If you do something consistently, it will develop into a habit. Set yourself a writing schedule, that you know is manageable, and then stick to it come hell or high-water. My current goal is that I have to write for one hour every night. That’s it. Even if I don’t feel like it I have to sit at my computer ready to write between 8-9pm every single night.
If I don’t manage to do anything other than stare at the page, at least I showed up. If I do this consistently enough, it will become habit. Once I have mastered this, I could increase my goal or leave it the same as it is. The point is it’s entirely up to me.
I chose this goal because I know it’s something I can achieve, but yours can be whatever you want - 30 minutes a day, 500 words a week - whatever gets your butt in that seat working is a suitable goal. To add an extra layer of fun to this, I created a league with my writing group where we each gain a point for how many times a week we achieve our goal. It’s fun, makes us accountable and adds a little friendly competition.
So, find the time, break it into manageable chunks and build the habit.
3. Stop being a perfectionist!
This, by far, has been my worst habit to break. Perfectionism is great for editing but an absolute productivity killer for the early drafting stages. For years I would have the tendency to write in a linear fashion then, when I got to a scene that wasn’t quite panning out how I intended, I would spend weeks rewriting the same scene until I lost all motivation and dropped the project in favour of a different one.
Some of the best advice I have ever heard is to just let yourself write crap. Accept that your first draft will most likely be absolute unrelenting garbage. Just lean into that fact and GET IT WRITTEN. Writing is rewriting. You will not get it right on the first try, so stop putting pressure on yourself to be perfect. There is a reason that beta readers and editors exist - stop worrying and just WRITE!
A great tip I got from my writing group friend is, if you don’t know how to handle a scene after 5 minutes, then move on to the next one. Don’t sit and stare at a blank page while you think of the exact right thing to say - just move on and come back to it later. If you find yourself really struggling with this, it might mean you need to do a little more work on your treatment, so talk it through with other people until you figure things out.
4. Kill your distractions
This one might seem obvious, if you’re trying to focus you need to not be distracted, but this is actually more about understanding your distractions. While a lot of our distractions can be attributed to habit, they can also be triggered by our emotional or physical state.
If I’m mentally or physically exhausted, the last thing I want to do is sit at my computer and write. Sometimes, you need to look after yourself, and lean into this and just give yourself some down time. However, if you find this happening a lot - it might be time to look into your lifestyle and see how you might be contributing to your lack of motivation.
For example, I am a chronic night owl and often find it difficult to go to sleep at a reasonable time (it’s currently midnight and I’m writing this post), however, I also have a day job, which means I have to wake up when normal people do. Similarly, I get very fatigued and foggy headed when I am dehydrated. Both of these things are within my control to manage if I just observe better habits. If you find you are more distracted under certain conditions, find ways to avoid those conditions.
Another way to break your distraction habits is to observe the 20 Second Rule. Us humans are naturally quite lazy, and we will generally take the path of least resistance, even if the difference is only marginal. Enter the 20 Second Rule. The idea being that, if you want to replace a bad habit with a good one, you make the good habit 20 seconds easier and the bad habit 20 seconds harder. This could be something as simple as locking your phone in a drawer and setting up you laptop in a way that is more accessible. For a more in-depth explanation of this concept, you can check out this helpful video from the YouTube channel - Better Than Yesterday.
If none of this helps you to break your unshakable desire to scroll through Instagram, then you can weaponise your distractions to your advantage by turning them into a reward system. Set yourself a small task, such as writing 200 words, and once you achieve that target you are rewarded with a short, guilt-free procrastination break.
5. Find where you work best
We all have places we like to work, whether it’s the office, a warm nook somewhere, or your favourite hipster coffee shop. Everyone has that special place where they know they can always get into a productive flow. This tends to be somewhere comfortable, with just the right amount of ambient noise. You don’t know why but it just feels right to work there.
Well, studies have shown that our brains become wired to anticipate certain activities in certain places. Therefore, if you consistently work in the same place, with the same tools and even the same playlist on repeat - you can trick your brain into focusing. This is why it can be so important to preserve your workplace for working and ensure to step away to do leisure activities. It will be much easier to achieve focus if your brain associates a certain space with writing.
Unfortunately, this does not always work. I don’t know why but sometimes my brain just wants to be an obstinate toddler and the idea of sitting at my computer gives me a brain fog the moors of Wuthering Heights would be jealous of. That’s when it can be good to have a plan B. On days my brain isn’t having it, I get a notepad and make notes while I watch TV (my distraction of choice). Usually after 30 minutes or so, I find my juices start flowing and I am able to turn off the TV and finish my writing.
It’s worth experimenting to find out which conditions you write best under.
6. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike
This concept blows most newbie writers’ minds, and is something I’ll admit took me a while to grasp. I know, I hear you - ’What do you mean!? Surely, I should only be writing when the Muse blesses me!?’ WRONG! This is by far one of the worst things you can tell yourself as a new writer and will hamper any progress you plan to make in this endeavour.
Sure, it’s great to feel inspired when you write, but the truth is that 99% of the time you won’t feel inspired, or even that motived. Sometimes you will sit at the computer and rather set yourself on fire than have to type a single word. Unfortunately, the only way out is through, my dear. You have to want to get it done.
I spent years telling myself that if I really loved writing I would just sit at my keyboard and words would pour out of me like a faucet. I thought, if only I could get inspired like Stephen King, then I could churn works out and all my problems would be solved. Thing is, there’s nothing that special or magical about any of the people who manage to write for a living - they just put the work in.
This really hit home for me when I read a comment about people who exercise - most people who work out don’t actually really like doing it, they just know the pay off is worth the effort. It’s exactly the same thing with writing. Not many people actually enjoy the drudgery or writing that 1st (or 15th) draft, but they understand that the pay off is worth it. Working hard to achieve your goals is worth it.
There is no magic pill, no guardian angel who will hold you hand and stroke your hair as you toil away at your magnum opus. You are responsible for motivating yourself, no-one else is going to do it. No one should care more about your writing journey than you do. If you’re not willing to get off your arse and go after what you want, you will have no one to blame but yourself.
To quote the wise words of Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids - ‘You are your problem, Annie, but you’re also your solution’.
It’s time to take a hard look at yourself and ask how you are contributing to your lack of motivation.
Solving that is most of the battle, then all you need to do is write…