Writing Motivation Comes From A Sense of Control
by Charlotte Rains Dixon
I’ve just started reading the latest book from Charles Duhigg, called Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. I found Duhigg’s book on habits really helpful and I love the way he combines solid research and reporting with great stories to carry the narrative. I’m sort of a sucker for books promising to tell me how to do things faster and better. I’m only a little way in and already I’ve learned a lot. For instance, studies show that motivated people have a strong locus of internal control and this internal locus comes, at least partially, from feeling they have meaningful choices.
As I read about this, I thought about how it applies to writing (because I think about how everything applies to writing, as one does when one is a writer). And I realized that I have no motivation to write when I feel out of control, whether that feeling stems from being overloaded or not in control of my project. When I’m writing regularly, I’m in control and I’m motivated. When I’m not writing regularly, I’m out of control, and when I think of my WIP, my mind goes blank. So Duhigg’s research resonated with me. Here are some ways to apply it to your writing:
- Know Where You’re Going on a Macro Level. I almost title this one “no pantsing” but I didn’t want to have to duck when certain people threw tomatoes at me. I’m a great believer in doing what works for you and if that is pantsing, then go for it. But you might want to ponder how it works for you, truly. Does writing without benefit of outlining keep you returning to the page and motivated? Because I know it doesn’t for me. When I don’t have at least a loose outline (it can be a list) of the story, I meander. And when I meander, I get lost. And when I get lost, I get unmotivated.
- Know Where You’re Going on a Micro Level. And by this, I mean on a day to day basis. If I know, say, that I’m going to work on character dossiers and a scene list at my next writing session I rise motivated and excited to begin. If I entertain the vague notion that I’m going to write at my next session, I’m likely to read emails, even the stupid ones I never get around to unsubscribing from.
- Ask Why? This is one of Duhigg’s recommendations. By asking why, you connect your daily motivation to the bigger picture. Why do you want to write a novel? Because I have stories inside me dying to get out. Because I want to become a bestselling author and quit my day job. Because I promised my dying father I’d tell his story. Because it’s what I love to do best in the world. Remind yourself of your reasons often.
- Follow the Writing Process. And by the writing process, I mean start with a rough draft and let it rip from start to finish. Then go back through and rewrite as many times as it takes. How does this help motivation when it can seem so daunting? Because when you let yourself get the story on the page without editing, you will feel in control (because you are). Rather than worrying about writing for the eyes of an editor or agent, you’ll be writing for yourself. Plus, as each successive draft gets better and better, you’ll enjoy the feeling of being able to control the story, like the god or goddess that you are.
- Consider Self-Publishing. Or act as if you are going to. The legacy publishing world is great, but speed is not one of its strong suits. How in control are you going to feel if you are waiting months to hear back from an editor (as I am)? How in control are you going to feel if the project you submitted that absolutely, positively had to be finished by a certain date is still sitting on the editor’s desk a year later (as happened to a friend)? Sitting around waiting for the publishing world to anoint you can be drain any ounce of motivation you once had.
How do you motivate yourself? Please comment. And do pick up Duhigg’s book.