This week in his column, Bryan Fagan is telling us his best ways to stay motivated when you’re writing your first novel (or any novel, for that matter!), to help you become a better writer and make it all the way to your last chapter. If you’re struggling with motivation for your current WIP, this article is for you.
Staying Motivated During Your First Draft
It’s common if you’re just getting started writing your novel to have the disbelief that you will never finish your first book.
Writing a book is hard. To all of you who are going through this, you know exactly what I mean. It’s a grind, it’s scary, it’s a 100 pages falling flat and starting all over again. But, in the back of my mind, I remind myself of the excitement I felt on the day I decided to write about an idea I couldn’t get out of my head. Maybe my book will make someone feel better. Maybe it’ll take them out of a bad day or help them remember a faded memory.
Writing a book is powerful and has the potential to do amazing things.
For me, the motivation comes down to the love of the story and the people I am trying to create. There’s an old saying: if you want to read a book nobody has written, write it yourself.
Most of all, it was the belief in what I was trying to do that kept me motivated. I was sold on the characters and their journey and I was excited to see how it ended.
A note on Writer’s Block
I have an opinion on writer’s block. To me it is created from a wrinkle in the story that hasn’t been ironed out yet.
I went through a period of writer’s block a few months ago when I couldn’t complete 100 words if my life depended on it. So I took a break and reread my book. It didn’t take long to discover the culprit. Chapter 3 and 12 did not match up. I made a big deal in chapter 3 that the main character could only use their left hand but in chapter 12 there he was, doing his thing right handed. Somehow my mind focused on that mistake and wouldn’t budge. And that, to me, is writer’s block.
When you feel yourself staring at a blank page, give your draft a read and look for things that don’t match. Once you iron out the mistakes you’ll be surprised how fast writer’s block disappears.
Staying Motivated Through the Rest of the Writing Process
Fighting Your Inner Critic Whilst Editing
It’s easy for me to say that my work is shit. It takes little effort to toss it in the trash. But if I give in, my inner critic wins and my dream of writing a book is over.
We will always have a little whisper in our ears telling us we’re not good enough. Sometimes it’s more than a whisper, other times it’s barely heard, but it’s there telling us to delete the whole damn thing. So what’s the best way to deal with the inner critic? Here’s how I do it:
When it gets too loud I step away. This will happen after draft 1 or 2 and when it does I walk away for a day or two. Sometimes a week if the voices are too loud. When I return my ears are fresh, my excitement grows, but most of all my inner critic backs away with an understanding that my work isn’t going anywhere.
Should You Get Support or a Writing Coach?
We’re all different, and when it comes to support or a writing coach it is up to you.
Most of the time when we’re writing our book we are on our own. It’s a tightrope with no net. It’s intimidating and sort of crazy when we stop and think about it. But if you decide you can’t do it alone remember this: Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed. We live in a great time full of tremendous support through social media and nearby friends. You will find respect, you’ll never be judged. I encourage you to find the support you need. Writing a novel will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. If going at it alone is too much, find the support you need to continue.
How to Keep Your Creative Juices Flowing
Writing a novel is not a sprint. It’s a marathon full of hills and rocks and volcanoes oozing deadly things.
During this journey, our creativity will hit all kinds of twists and turns. We’ll come to a complete stop one second and cruise the autobahn the next. Sometimes our doubts are too much. Negative thoughts, writer’s block or our phone when it won’t shut up soaks up every ounce of our creative juices. When this happens I take a deserving break. I give myself a few days and force myself to forget it all.
Side Note: Be careful with breaks. The longer you stay away, the harder it is to return.
Should You Read Books About Writing? (Non-Fiction Books)
For me, I don’t. But this is my answer, not yours. I would rather read a fictional novel than a how-to-write-a-novel book.
I like to study how an author creates a scene. I’ll read an amazing chapter and ask what they did to draw me in? I’ll analyze their style and read how they worked their way out of a difficult scene in ways I couldn’t do. I’ll take notes on how they used dialog and how they described settings.
Reading a novel is on the job training for me. It’s hands on. I get to watch the master at work. Try it. Pick up your favorite novel and ask yourself why it’s your favorite? What did the author do to make it great? Study it. Learn their secrets.
Staying Motivated with a Writing Group
How to find a writers group with the right people for you
The choices for writers groups are unlimited. You’ll find groups in person or on-line. It amazes me how easy the world can be at times.
A writer’s group might be happening in your town or in a tiny place on-line at the end of the world. Two things to think about before you dive in: 1) Do you want to hang out with writers who write all kinds of things or 2) do you want to focus on a group that writes in your genre?
I like a variety. I’m more into the social side that a group provides. Whatever you decide, take your time. This is a huge decision.
Where to find a writers group
If you’re on-line it’s easy. Goodreads is a great place to start. Other than that, search around and take your time. Some places are private and some require a fee. Do a ton of research before making a decision. If your interest is up close and personal you will have to do some leg work. You may not find a writer’s group in your area or a group that matches your interest. Look for organisations if there are any or see if there are local writers or published authors you can contact.
Remember: Personalities are so important. You may find the perfect match only to realise the group is full of jerks. Make sure you are comfortable with the people you meet.
How writers groups help with a lack of motivation
I am a people person. I’m motivated when I’m around others. So much of my motivation comes from the surroundings of others. You may not be like me but if you are you will enjoy the company and the motivations that come with it.
At which stage of the writing journey should you join a writers group?
Most writer’s groups will request a sample of your work before you join. They will want to know your genre, your style and if you are published. Before you join I suggest at most a first draft. If I were you I would be on my second or third draft before I joined. You want to present to them the best you have.
Also: You want to have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish with your writing. This will increase confidence and lower anxiety.
Using Social Media to Hold Yourself Accountable
A reminder: Be careful with social media. It can become a time consuming magnet, robbing you of valuable writing hours.
Hold yourself to writing goals by sharing on social media
By finding the right group of people they can challenge you to reach your goals. Every platform is rich with creative artists who will push you to your limits. You need to find those who match your needs, but most of all you need to find the ones you are most comfortable with.
Using social media to find writing prompts for new ideas
They are fun and valuable. Do your homework to see what’s out there.
Using social media to find blog posts (like this one!) to keep going
I can’t thank Isabella enough. This is such a fun place to work but most of all, it challenges me and that’s what we all need. We need someone to push us, to make us think but most of all, to feel less alone. Writing is a lonely business but if we can find a place that takes that away we are grateful for it.
Should You Stick to a Writing Schedule?
How long should a writing session be?
We’re all different. I work better when I create a short window of time. I like to feel rushed and hurried. With this frame of mind I’ve discovered less distractions, a better sense of focus and at the end, positive results. You might have other plans but whatever it is make sure your writing schedule is consistent.
Should you write every single day?
No. But you need to be careful with the gaps in between. The trick is to create a habit. On average it takes about a month to create a habit. If that is true, stick with a time and schedule. You’ll discover your mind reminding you it’s time to get to work.
Should you have daily word counts?
I can do around 3000 a day. Some days more, some less, but overall I don’t worry about it and neither should you. As long as your story is moving forward, word count should never be a priority. Your priority is consistency not the number of words you place in your work.
How to set a writing routine
Time is important. All of us have a full day. I am a morning person. I set up a time every day and I stick to it. My mind is locked into that time and there is no way anything will get in my way. Find your time and stick to it.
How writing sprints can they help you get to the finish line
Think running. Think running fast. Think running fast and not falling on your face. Now you have an idea what a writing sprint is all about.
Some last 10 minutes while others can last 60. There is no editing or pausing and thinking. You do the work and you do it fast. I do sprints all the time and I love it. Writing sprints throws me into the story. I can feel it and taste it. I am in the centre of everything.
Writing sprints removes you from the real world and places you in the world you created. It is a wonderful, amazing experience. The ultimate rush.
If your goal is to finish your novel, a writing sprint will get you there. You will experience a greater feel and understanding of your story but most of all, you’ll finish it.