I’m back again with another topic I see frequently online, which I like to call inspiration vs discipline. I can’t tell you how often I see novice writers complaining that they can’t write unless they feel inspired or motivated, and it’s time for a little tough love.
Some of you don’t want to hear this, but I’m saying it anyway. If you can’t teach yourself how to write without that burst of inspiration or motivation, you might never finish your novel. I can hear somebody out there protesting, “But I only write garbage if I’m not motivated.” So what? Write the garbage. Get it out of your system. If you’re not open to trying new things and improving your craft, how do you expect to learn anything or get anywhere? Writing is all about growth–and if you want to grow, you need to be willing to experiment with your process. Figuring out how you can balance inspiration vs discipline is going to help you a lot.
A little about me
This motivation/inspiration vs discipline thing has never been a huge issue for me, and I think that’s because I started a foundation for my writing back when I was in school and then continued building on that in college. I didn’t have the luxury of only writing when I felt like it because I had deadlines. In my high school writing classes, assignments were due weekly. I could put one off for a little while, but I was so busy with other classes and extracurricular activities that I really didn’t have much spare time.
In college….Oh boy. In addition to a full load of classes, I also worked for the campus newspaper. The editors treated me like a pinch hitter, and I’d often get called at the very last minute to fill in for someone or complete an assignment. Sometimes I only had about 30 minutes to track someone down for an interview, get the story written, and submit it before it had to go to press. By the end of my senior year, I was almost glad the recession had dried up my job prospects–I needed a break. I never was able to find a career in journalism, and I don’t want one now, but that experience definitely shaped who I am as a writer.
Here are some actual tips
Okay, enough bragging. Let’s talk about what you can do if you’re struggling to stay motivated. I will admit that I have a hard time with this sometimes, too, now that I’m not writing on tight deadlines and fueled by caffeine and the sleep-deprived mania that set in after playing World of Warcraft until five in the morning when I had to be in class at eight. (Oh, college. I do not miss you.)
Create a routine
I know, I know, I keep telling you to do this. But no, really, it helps. If your brain expects to do something at a certain time and at regular intervals, it helps you get into the mood to work on that task. Please check out this post if you need some tips on creating your routine.
If you find yourself staring at a blank page, unsure what to write, try starting out with a simple exercise to warm yourself up and get the words flowing. Describe something–a pencil, your pet, whatever you see out the window, the shirt you’re wearing, one of your characters. Write about a situation–the last conversation you had, a meet-cute, what you ate for dinner last night. Just something short and easy. You could also try just brainstorming a little about whatever you’re planning on writing. Once you finish that, try to transition that creative energy into whatever project you’re working on.
Set a timer for five minutes and write as much as you can before it goes off. Take a break. Have a glass of water, do some simple stretches, maybe spend five minutes checking your social media. Then set another five minute timer and write some more. I’d start with one or two sprints, and try to work up to maybe 20 or 30 minutes worth. Then make the sprints longer–seven minutes. Ten minutes. Etc. Eventually, you should be able to transition this into a word count goal. When I first started on my current novel, I was doing 30 minute sprints two or three times a week. Now I’m averaging somewhere between 2,000-3,000 words per session.
Set goals and deadlines for yourself
This is not going to work for some people. Like…I’ll stick to a deadline if it’s a project for someone else, but self-imposed deadlines don’t always work for me. You can use contest entry dates, submission windows, or things like #pitmad to create deadlines, though. Right now, I’m trying to get my novel finished in time for Author Mentor Match 2021. Will I succeed? I have no idea…I’m flying through this thing as fast as I can, but I still have a ton of work to do. But that’s the thing–the deadline creates motivation. The closer I get to that submission window closing, the harder I’ll want to work. Submissions open in January and it’s already almost November. Tick-tock.
If deadlines don’t work for you, try giving yourself goals. Break your project up into actionable segments (finish outline–if you’re outlining–write (x) words/day of rough draft, self-edit (x) amount per day, get critiques, revise, get beta reads, revise, etc), and reward yourself whenever you complete each of those segments. Milestone goals should get bigger rewards.
Once again, you’ll have to sort some of this out for yourself
Like so many aspects of writing, figuring out a balance of inspiration vs discipline is something you’re going to have to do on your own. I can offer all the advice in the world, but it’s up to you to come up with a system you can work with. If you want to be a professional writer someday, it’s definitely worth the effort to train yourself to write without needing to feel inspired, though.
I hope this has been helpful for you. If you have any questions, or anything you’d like to add, please leave a comment below. As always, if you found this interesting or informative, please be sure to share it with your writer friends!