This is the final segment of my three-part series on tackling writer's block. Click on the links for Part I: Inspiration, or Part II: Motivation.
Perspiration may be the most difficult of the three phases of writer's block. Something inspired you and sparked a great idea. You were motivated enough to write it down right away. Now, the initial burst of creativity has burned out and your enthusiasm for the project is waning.
A lack of perspiration happens first to people who want to have a book published, but don't actually like the process of writing. If this is you, there are ghostwriters you could work with to help tell your story.
But flagging motivation and a desire to quit happens to nearly every writer. It happens to me every time I commit myself to a writing project (and happened three times when I was writing Always, Jessie). When I start losing motivation and think about giving up, I ask myself several questions:
1. Is This Project Any Good?
First, I ask whether the project is worth my time. Is the story a good one, or, is the plot riddled with clichés and the characters mere archetypes? Has someone else said the same thing in the same way? Do I already know the end point before I begin?
If the story is weak and the characters fall flat to the degree that I cannot save the story, I sometimes give it up. I do the same if the story has been told before, especially if the other book is amazing to the extent I can’t do better.
For example, I planned to write a young adult novel which was a contemporary retelling of Romeo and Juliet from Rosalind’s perspective. Doing research, I realized Lisa Fielder’s novel Romeo’s Ex and Rebecca Serle’s When You Were Mine were better books than I had planned, so I gave the project up, about 8,000 words in.
2. Should This Project Be Shorter?
If the project is worth my time, I next consider whether the story has to be told in book form. Sometimes I think people give up on their novels because their stories are a bit thin, but these stories could be adapted to short story form, condensing the tale without losing any of the twists and turns that make it interesting. And maybe that works for you! Maybe writing a 90,000 word adult novel or even a 30,000 word middle grade book isn’t for you. There are plenty of places looking for short fiction up to 10,000 words, and micro or flash fiction ranging anywhere from 50-1,200 words. Submission Grinder is a great place to start finding online publications and literary magazines looking for your brilliant shorter works!
I did this with an upcoming story for Bete Noire Magazine. I had a great idea for a mystery in which a wealthy family’s maid has been murdered. When I started writing, I got about 2,000 words in before I realized the killer was about to confess. I turned it into a short story of 3,000 words. The story was tightly written and the character much more intense than they would have been in a longer work, and I was able to finish a project in a day or two instead of the weeks and months involved in writing a novel.
On the other hand, you might have a great short story with more potential. Consider whether you can flesh out the characters, add detail to the setting, add backstories, use the story as the first of several adventures, or turn it into a flashback, if that works.
3. Do I Legitimately Need A Break?
If the project is worth my time and it needs to be told in book form, I ask why I’m stalling. Is there a problem that needs to be worked out before I can continue? I have this current issue with my rat’s nest of a historical novel. I know this will be the first, last, and only historical novel I ever write. The research process has been daunting and I am officially stuck, a third of the way in. The first third is probably some of the best work I’ve ever done, and I have no idea how to commence the next section. So, I’ve set it aside for a few months to focus on other projects.
My friends and family keep encouraging me to finish, but I know it’s not time yet. I haven’t worked out all the kinks and I don’t want to pressure myself and drain my creativity when there are other stories to work on. I considered working on this book for NaNoWriMo, but I wrote another book instead, one I was really passionate about. I’m so glad I did because the idea may have been lost if I waited and the subject matter is extremely timely, so I didn’t want to wait!
I have plans to continue the rat’s nest in another month or two. I have two short projects to complete and I think January may be a great time to start. By then, the last of the details will be fleshed out and my imagination will have time to rest and renew itself.
I think the most important question when stalling is this: Is there a reason I’m stalling, or am I just lazy. There’s a difference between being burnt out on a project and being lazy about it. When I feel fatigued by a project, I try to do a minimal word count each day. During NaNoWriMo, my goal was around 4,000-5,000 words a day. That’s a lot, but I was pushing to finish in time. When my brain felt fried, I aimed for 500-1,000 words. I barely made that minimum two days in a row. Then I went on a date with my lovely boyfriend who said, “No, seriously. You need to stop writing and come to a movie tonight,” got some rest, felt refreshed, and started back up the next morning.
Maybe your project is different. Maybe you’re aiming for 500 or even 1,000 words a day or maybe your goal is to write for an hour each morning. If you’re burned out, do a half hour. Cut your word count minimum in half. Go back to something that motivates or inspires you.
4. Am I Just Procrastinating & Being Lazy?
But, if you’re just being lazy, as I often find myself doing, push through it. Turn off the TV. Stephen King once said that TV is “really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.” The same goes for the Internet. When I write, unless I need to do research, I put my computer in airplane mode. It’s too much of a distraction.
Get off social media. Turn off the TV or YouTube or whatever is distracting you, and TURN YOUR PHONE OFF. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t mute it. Don’t put it on vibrate. Actually turn it off. The world will be okay without you checking your phone every three minutes for the next hour or two. Then, get yourself a snack, light a candle, play some music, do anything to get yourself sitting in that chair or on your couch to get down to work.
Then, sit down and write. Remember this is a rough draft. You don’t have to be perfect, yet. You don’t have to worry about editing or censoring yourself. Just get something on paper, even if it’s nameless and formless and only part of an unstructured indication of the brilliance you might flesh out later.
You don’t have to eat the elephant, but to persist, you do need to keep eating one bite, one word, one letter at a time.
This is the second in a three piece series on writing. For the first entry on Inspiration, click HERE. Next time, I’ll be talking about perspiration, but for today, I’m focusing on motivation. You have an inspired idea. Now what? What motivates you to write?
I think that’s the key question because, like inspiration, what motivates one person will not necessarily motivate another. For example, some people might be internally motivated. They’re excited by the idea of creating a world, telling a story, or finishing a project. For other writers, that might not be enough. They want to share their work with others, have their work published, win rave reviews, or earn some money. There are places you can go to tap into these incentives!
1. Motivation: Learning a Skill and Honing Your Craft
If you want to write because you enjoy learning the skill of writing and becoming a better writer, I suggest you join or connect with a professional organization. There are writing associations for just about every genre. These associations have amazing resources you can tap into and hold conferences and writing workshops throughout the year.
Personally, I have learned a lot from the conferences I’ve attended and I’ve seen sessions on every stage of the writing process—developing strong main characters, tapping into an authentic narrative voice, searching for plot holes, querying agents, and starting publicity for a finished work. More than that, you get to meet, talk, and network with writers (and some illustrators) in all stages of their careers. You can learn tips from seasoned pros and share your woes with newbies who are just starting out.
Some groups require publication before you are able to join as a member, but most have resources and workshops available to non-members as well. If you’re unsure whether you want to join, you can always visit their websites for helpful links, or attend one day of a weekend conference they provide. Some of the groups are listed below:
2. Motivation: Sharing Your Work with Others
If you’re not yet ready for publication, but you still want to share your work with others, I recommend joining a writer’s group near you. www.meetup.com is one website which acts as a platform for many different types of groups, but that’s where I found my writing group. You can do a Google search for your town. Alternatively, you can check out your town library’s website or speak to your local librarian since many writing groups meet once or twice a month and libraries are a popular meeting place!
A writer’s group is typically a group of 3-10 people who share their work and provide feedback through a peer-review process. This is also a wonderful way to meet new friends while you continue learning how to hone your craft. If there’s not a writing group in your town, talk to a librarian to see if you can start a group there at the library.
Some people feel differently, but I think it’s helpful to be part of both a mixed-genre group and a focused-genre group if you can. A mixed genre group may have poets, memoirists, children’s writers, crime writers, science fiction writers, and bloggers, and more all in one room! A focused group will consist of writers only in one genre. I think it’s helpful to read and consider different types of writing and to learn from the conventions of a genre not your own. I also think it’s helpful to learn from others who are focused perfecting the art of whatever specific genre you’re writing in.
You can always start a blog to share thoughts, short, stories, poems, or articles as I've done here! Weebly and WordPress are both great platforms! I think Weebly is easier to use, but WordPress has a better online community.
Another option is finding a beta reader. A beta reader is someone who can read, consider, and respond to your work. I did this for my second novel. I wasn’t sure about the narrative voice and I wanted specific feedback, so I turned to a trusted friend who I knew could: 1. Read the work before a stated deadline of 2 weeks and 2. Give me more feedback than just “Good job” or “I didn’t like it.” These people might be rare, but if you’re really desperate, you can always do a shout-out on Facebook to see which of your friends might be willing to try.
3. Motivation: Money
If your only motivation is making money, you can always do freelance work. Sites like Upwork and Freelancer provide freelance and contract gigs such as writing blogs, ghostwriting, copyediting, and more. If you have a skill in design or coding, even better. You can earn money using those skills as well. A list of freelance sites can be found HERE
4. Motivation: Finishing a Project
We’re talking about perspiration next time, but if your goal is to finish a novel, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is in November. The NaNoWriMo website has fun tools to help motivate you and keep you on track. They’ve got word count helpers, word sprints, charts to mark your daily progress, forums where writers can discuss their challenges and triumphs, pep talks by published writers, and local regions to join. It’s fun, motivational, and it’s not too late to start! Visit the website HERE
I’m not the type of person who is motivated by simply sitting down and writing a certain word count every day, but that does work for a lot of people. So my last suggestion is this: If you’re motivated to finish a project, consider setting a goal every day. Many writers can write about 1,000 words in an hour, but that might not be you. You could set a goal of writing for at least a half hour, or a goal of writing at least 250, 500, 1,000, 2,000 or even 10,000 words. It all depends on what works for you. Just remember, it’s not fast and speedy or slow and steady that wins the race. It’s whatever pace you feel most comfortable.
5. Make It Fun!
Writing should be fun—not a chore. Think about kids who are given chores to do. The minute they have to start cleaning up, they pout, whine, even scream. Good parents are prepared for these protestations and use motivational tools like turning the chore into a game or giving allowance for things like dusting the furniture or cleaning the dishes. No one is motivated to do chores unless they have a serious incentive. It’s the same with writing. Give yourself an incentive. Find what motivates you and tap into it to give yourself encouragement while invigorating your project!