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On motivation


Sometimes going onwards can be a trial. Sometimes getting started can be difficult. Sometimes editing can be a grind. I see so many writers who can’t finish a project. They can start things, over and over. They might even be able to get to the end of the first draft. But keeping going to the end of a polished piece of work can be a nightmare.

1.       Get into the habit of writing. I know, I know, I know. Everyone says it. But, actually, until you have that habit where you think, right, now’s my writing time, it’s always too easy to weasel out. To say, ‘well, I wasn’t planning to write anyway, so where’s the harm?’ The next thing you know, it’s a week down the line and you’ve nothing written.

For the first three years as a writer, I wrote something every day, except on Christmas. Every single day. Out with the computer, type something, close it down. I don’t do that now. I don’t need to – after a couple of days not writing, my fingers are twitching and my brain imploding with what it needs to do next.

It’s actually surprising how quickly those daily words add up. Let’s say you do 500 words (and that’s really not a lot – about 2 file pages, 3 if you write big- every day. That’s 3500 a week. At the end of a month, that’s around 14,000. At the end of six months, you’re at 84,000. Most books aren’t much longer than that (and even if you’re writing Epic Fantasy or Space Opera, a year takes you to 170,000).

2.       Try to figure out where you’re blocked. If it’s that you don’t know the plot, go and plan. If it’s that you don’t know the character’s voice, switch to first person for a while (if you’re not already in it), forget about the story and just write a stream of consciousness as them. Go for a walk and, while you pound the pavements, plan out where you are now. Talking to yourself is optional. You’re the local writer. You’re supposed to be a bit weird. Draw mind maps. Plan out your structure. Do whatever you need to see the next bit of the story, and then write it (see point 1)

3.       Don’t look at the big picture. When you say, ‘Oh, I’m going to sit down and write 100,000 words’ it’s scary. I’d have run a mile if anyone had told me it would take a quarter of a million words to tell the story I had in mind. I would have stopped writing at the first block (normally around 15-20k for me) and decided the path was too hard, too long, and I wasn’t able for it.

Break it down. Write the next chapter today. If you’re someone who likes to write in scenes, write it. If you like to write character profiles, do want of those. Make it small steps and then, suddenly, when you join them together, it’ll look much more than you thought it might.

4.       See it as a project. I know I’m saying about not to look at the big picture, but that’s the words going down. That’s only one component of bringing a book out. Editorial always takes me longer than I expect. I have to get the editor’s comments, think about them, resolve them, get it checked and then redo what still isn’t there. Then it goes to the copy editor and I have to get their revisions back, check them and accept all I’m happy with (and then fight over those I’m not…) Also, agents might need to be found, or publishers, or cover art and formatting and loading onto kindle. There’s plenty in that to keep a writer busy and focused on the bigger outcome.

5.       Choose something  you love, and that you’ll stay in love with. Really. Books can take ages. Even books that come out quickly have a lot of revisions and tidying. First books tend to take the longest (it’s your learning ground, after all). Abendau’s Heir took me something like 18 rewrites. I truly never wanted to see that book again when I brought it out. (I’ve mellowed to it.)

I’m writing a sequel to Inish Carraig at the moment. Why? Because I enjoyed the world and the characters. I can’t bring myself to finish a YA I started primarily to please the agent, who then dropped me. Why? Because, frankly, I’m not passionate enough about it. At some point I might take the original premise and move it into my territory of that multi-generational story that I enjoy, and I suspect I’ll enjoy working on it then.

Lastly - consider what tools you could use. What software allows you to switch between devices? Which software matches your work processes? Would something like the Pomodoro technique help you, where you write for a set period, then take a break, then write again? 

That’s it, really. And write. Did I mention write? Everyday, every word, every chapter adds up. And that’s really the only thing you can do. Write.