We’ve talked about motivation before, but it is always worth discussing again. More than subject matter, style, form, anything, motivation is really the number one factor in a writer’s success. If you’re not motivated, you’re not going to write, and if you’re not writing, you’ll have written nothing. Obvious? Yes. Simple? Not so much.
I think there are two kinds of motivation for writers: short-term and long-term. The short-term kind of motivation responds to the questions:
- Why am I going to sit down to write right now?
- What will I achieve by the end of this session, and what’s so good about it?
- Why is writing right now more important than [fill in the blank with anything else you could be doing—going to dinner with friends, watching the Netflix DVD that arrived today, sleeping, working out, vacuuming the cat]?
Short-term motivation is what gets you to sit down right now and work on your writing (or leave the house to attend a Writers Block write-in). This was my short-term motivation last night:
- Yes, I’m tired, but I’m almost always tired on Tuesdays after work. If I allow myself to make excuses tonight, those excuses will become valid and I’ll be able to use them forever. If I don’t go tonight, when will I ever go?
- No one else is coming. So what? No one else is writing my book. I’m the one writing my book. If I don’t work on it tonight, no one will. I am my own responsibility.
- How will I really feel about myself if, instead of writing my book, I lay on the couch and read someone else’s book—someone who is published eight times over, with almost as many movie deals, and is a billionaire (yes *ahem* I am reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)? If I don’t write tonight, how will I finish my book? If I don’t finish my book, how will I get it published? If I don’t get it published, how will I get a movie deal? If I don’t get a movie deal, how will I ever become a billionaire?? (Okay, so those aren’t actually my goals, but you know what I mean).
- I did my yoga and I ate my whole grains and lean protein for dinner and I feel really good about doing myself good. I will feel even better if I can do myself good in my writing life, too.
Long-term motivation, on the other hand, responds to bigger, longer-term, and more philosophical questions:
- Why I am going to sit down to write tomorrow? And next week? And in a month, a year? Why is it important to make writing a habit?
- Do I ever plan to stop writing? What if I am forced to stop writing (because I die, because I have kids and am too busy, because I go lose my hands in a horrible accident and am too depressed to do anything but watch Oprah)? What do I want to achieve before I stop writing?
- What are the things I want to do before I die? Is writing going to help me achieve any of those goals?
- If I found out I had six months to live, how would I feel about my achievements as a writer? If the answer is “not that good,” what can I do to the change that?
Long-term motivation is what gets you to sit down to write again and again. It helps you answer the questions of short-term motivation. These are some of my long-term motivations:
- One of the top three things I want to do before I die is to publish a novel. The other two things on the list top three things to do before I die do not include watch more television, get rock hard abs, have a really super-clean apartment, spend more time at work, or sleep more. On a day-to-day basis, do I choose sleeping over writing? Yes. Do I choose watching movies over writing? Yes. Do I need to stop that? Yes.
- I might not die when I’m 100. I might die when I’m 56. I might die tomorrow. What then?
- I would like to finish a book before I have children, because I imagine that kind of life-changing event will really derail my writing. If I can’t write regularly now, how will I do it with small children? Same thing if I decide to go back to school. It’s now or never.
- I want to make my parents proud. I want to give my mother a manuscript that she’ll enjoy reading more than James effing Patterson. I don’t have forever to do that. (Not to mention that James Patterson has probably put out 37 books since I started my 2008 NaNoWriMo…)
- I want to make my grandmother proud. I want to finish something and give it to her to read before she’s not with us anymore. I don’t want to regret missing my chance.
- I want to impress my hard-to-impress boyfriend. There, I said it.
- I want someday to be today.
So, I’ve posed the question. What motivates you? You answer it.