Wednesday, September 24, 2014

3: Motivation ~ How to Get It and Keep It

Remember, this is my story. What works for me may not be your answer. If one person loses 10 pounds in a week on Atkins, another might gain five pounds in one night after eating only bacon, eggs, and almonds for 10-hours straight.

Whether the following rings true to you depends on if it resonates with you. Basically, it comes down to how similar your personality is to mine. 

At the very least, I hope that my story may inspire you to create your own story in which you do things YOUR way, inspired by my way.

So anyway. Let's talk motivation! 

I have two theories regarding my own self-motivation (which you need to have as a writer creating a finished, multiply revised book that, in my case, is 30,000-70,000 words long).

Theory 1: You must have had experiences in your life that have shown you The Other Path will suck.

Theory 2: You must have had a moment in your life where you hit that rock and hard place and your only way out is to finally take the steps you've always known you've needed to take but were too afraid or sluggish to take.

To discuss any of this with perspective, let's rewind. Let's start back when I was a kid.

I came from a household where my mom and dad were public school teachers. As such, they questioned me when I came home with an A-. (I was capable of A's.) I was taught to be careful with my work and proofread, proofread, proofread!

(Do you think that helps me in writing? Maybe just the teeniest, tiniest bit.)

I grew up with a dad who would take me at 5 a.m. to the high school track to run a mile. It was dark and cold and awful. And I was age five or six.

But I got through it. And I still run to this day.

I grew up with a mom who had me work on my homework and my hobbies (reading and writing) immediately after school.

Does this sound like you at all? Keep reading. Does this not sound like you at all? Keep reading.

All of this helped me become the person I am today, but this wasn't motivation, in my opinion. Instead, I had learned to be someone who could put her head down and plow ahead.

I plowed through decades of straight As.

I plowed through a year of Sweden at 16.

I plowed and graduated with my bachelor's at 20.

I plowed and went back to graduate school at 22.

I plowed and got an internship in New York at 23.

By the time I was 24 and working my first full-time writing job (where I actually wrote a for a yearly salary with health benefits and a 401k!), I was burnt out.

I would go home and watch television in the dark. I didn't go out on the weekends. Was this depression? I think it was just me being tired. It was me needing, at some cellular level, the time to be lazy.

As I was being lazy, I was very cognizant that I was in the "Crash and Burn" stage of an overachiever's life. My life essentially consisted of:
  • working
  • vegging out
  • working out (off and on)
  • existing
After about three years of "existing," I started to get an itch for more. I was 27 and realized that I wasn't where I wanted to be. I was writing 50,000 words of nonfiction health stories every month, and that isn't even counting revision or editing or peer-editing. I would sometimes get so bored, I would go into the women's restroom, creep into a stall, and close my eyes for a bit. Or, I would play eight hours of an addicting game called Alchemy. For a week straight, I would play this game, getting no work done.

This is how bored I was with what I was doing.

So I signed up for a community college class located half a mile from my skyscraper: Romance Writing 101. Literally. That was literally the name of it.

I started getting my feet wet with fiction writing, something I had never once explored in my two degrees.

At this point in my life, I had gained experience. The experience of parents who expected more from me. The experience of putting my head down and plowing through stressful, no-fun situations (did I mention how I was always broke in NYC, so broke I sometimes couldn't afford the subway and I would walk from 57th Street to 23rd Street at midnight?). 

Shh. Don't tell my folks.

Proving Theory 1: I had experiences that showed me how much life could suck if I didn't change paths. How bored I could be. How much I hated waking up at 6 a.m. every Monday through Friday to drive for an hour to and an hour from work in Phoenix rush hour to a job that included a buzzing  florescent light and a desk that sat on the very well-used path between the bathroom and the breakroom.

So many wannabe writers think they need to get MFAs from a fancy writing school. Nope. Take on work that eats at you until you decide you are done with it, until you're done settling for a job that pays the bills but doesn't feel your soul.

Look at lawyers-turned-writers. Emily Griffin, John Grisham, Lisa Scottoline, Scott Turow. At doctors-turned-writers: Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Tess Gerritsen, Zane Grey.

None of these souls have MFAs. But they did have the job that started to eat at their souls.

(Note: DO NOT QUIT THIS JOB. You still need to pay the bills, and a job that feeds the soul but pays poorly? It will give you a different kind of gut-wrenching stress.)

I didn't quit working at Jobs-That-Brought-In-A-Steady-Income, even when I got my first contract for my first Young Adult book from the company now known as Penguin Random.

I didn't quit when I got my second contract.

I still haven't quit. But that is the goal. (Read My Confession here.)

Did I have motivation yet? Well, I did. The excitement of learning how to write fiction propelled me forward. Did it propel me to write a book?

No. I got that first contract based on three chapters and a synopsis.Yes, I was lucky, considering I was an unpublished fiction writer.

In all, I published two young adult books with Dutton, a division at Penguin Random. Neither did well. Neither, as they say in publishing, earned out their advances. Could they have been better books? Of course. Almost any author will tell you their book could have been better. (Minus JK Rowling. She probably feels pretty confident in her books.)

But I also didn't have advocates pushing me be a better writer or even a career writer. I didn't even have my books on the shelves at Barnes and Noble or Borders. They were only available online.

(Part of the reason as to why I'm okay with self-publishing for the moment. My books are only available online, but that was true even when I was a traditionally published author.)

After the two lack-luster books and after partaking in brainstorming sessions with my editor and my agent about another book or even another genre, my fiction career petered out. I also had a new baby I was getting to know.

That was 2009. Followed by another baby, in 2012.

Things changed in 2013. At this point, Baby #1 was six and Baby #2 was just turning one.

Listen up: This is where I finally knew what it meant to have True Motivation.

Proving Theory #2: I was at my rock, and it was squishing me into my hard place.

I was tired of being tired. I was tired of working a job that paid the bills but didn't feed my soul. The real turning point, though, was when I realized that I was embarrassed to mention what I did. The rub? It's not an embarrassing job! (I'm also an online college English teacher.)

But I realized that by feeling embarrassed, my conscience was actually telling me that I didn't feel that I was doing what I should be doing.

And what I should be doing was writing books and becoming a career author. (Career author: One who can pay the bills based on authoring alone.)

This was rock bottom for me: realizing that I was oddly embarrassed over a career that shouldn't have been. That leads me to:

Theory 3, Already Proved Above: You must have gone through a moment of intense introspection as to why you're not satisfied with the life you're living.

This made me think about what would make me satisfied. The answer, of course, was fiction writing.

In July of 2013, my old critique partners that I hadn't seen in seven years--since I had left Phoenix--came out East and we spent a weak at yet another writer friend's cabin in Northern Maine. It was there that the four of us discussed business plans. Career goals. Story ideas. This is where we kept each other honest about our biggest weaknesses (my inability to finish a story) and realistic goals (no, I couldn't write an entire trilogy in the next six months--at least not a good one).

I came back from that retreat energized. Did I have a couple of false starts? Yes. But I eventually figured out my patterns for writing, revising, and all the rest that comes with being an independent publisher. (Book covers! Promotions! Social media!)

And in December, I launched my first book.

In February, my second.

In May, my third.

In September, my fourth.

And that's how I got motivated for real.

Now That I Have It, How Do I Keep It?

How do I keep motivated? Again, what works for me may not work for you, but here they are:

ONE: Psychological Warfare

When I save my work, I put not only the title and word count, but also the date and the time and my current state. And I save with a Save As every 500 words. (I constantly Save, just not Save As.) So my file list looks like this for one night:


This helps me see my progress and also map out my good times and bad if I need to look back a month later to see how I kept keeping on and what I still need to do. (Surprisingly, you forget when you're in the thick of it--so write it down!)

TWO: Self Competition

I find that I do best if I give myself mini-challenges. I used to do this in track. I'm not a natural runner. Running hurts! But I know it's healthy and I'm glad for having run. So when I run outside, I'm like "To the fire hydrant!" "Now to the blue mailbox!" "Now to the blue trash barrel!"

I still have this mindset. When I work, I know the following:

-I can manage one straight-through sit down. I aim for one hour and fifteen minutes and 2500 words (500 words per 15 minutes) when I write.

-I can manage one chapter of revisions at a time. But at a desk, not on the couch. On the couch, I get tired and distracted. At the desk, I'm uncomfortable, focused, and awake.

THREE: Peer Cheer

I go onto Twitter with fellow writers who are following Each month we have a different hashtag: #AugWritingChallenge #SeptWritingChallenge. You need to check in with 500 words for the day or an hour of revision. I use this group when speed-writing, posting every 500 words, and pushing myself to hit 500 words every 15 minutes. I might write posts like this:

Starting a #1k30min if anyone wants to join! #SeptWritingChallenge

Just hit 500 words in 13 minutes. #WooToTheHoo #SeptWritingChallenge

Oy. Had to change laundry. 500 words in 28 minutes. #StillGood #SeptWritingChallenge

FOUR: Time to Put My Butt in the Fire

When I get to Draft 6 (I have 8 in all), I put my books on Goodreads for a giveaway. When the giveaway is complete, I have six weeks to get the finished paperback to the winners. That means I have to finish the book THEN format it for print THEN wait three weeks for the finished books to come. Which means that after I put my Goodreads Giveaway up, I have three more weeks to get through Drafts 6 and 7, format for Createspace, and finalize the cover flat design. Whew!

And there you have it. How I got motivated and how I keep the motivation.

There's this great saying: The way you spend this day is the way you spend your life.

I learned all the ways I didn't want to spend my life based on the level of boredom or embarrassment I was feeling.

And when I write? I never have a moment of either. And when I look back on the day, from a professional standpoint, I am very satisfied with how I've spent my day.

And, in turn, how I'm spending my life.

Are you happy with how you're spending your days?

1 comment:

  1. We all need strong motivation to develop our confidence skills and ability. Without proper motivation skills, we are unable to perform well. Most probably, we are looking for positive motivation from different sources which helps to develop our thoughts, positive attitude, personality, and performance. Thanks for such a wonderful story from which we learn some positive things.
    Motivation Tips


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