Hello and happy Wednesday!
Today’s topic is one that I believe every writer deals with, at least from time to time. In my case, it’s an often daily struggle. Finding the motivation to sit down and work on our stories or blog posts, even when they’re the last things we want to focus on, can be challenging.
When we’re feeling inspired and energized, cranking out material can be a breeze. Other times…when we’re tired, feeling uninspired or sick, or just can’t seem to calm our minds, well, the wind doesn’t blow in our favor.
And it’s those days, when we don’t feel like writing but should anyway, that it’s helpful to have tips and tricks in mind to rekindle our inspiration and encourage us to reach our goals. Today, I’m excited to share such advice from talented indie author and editor, Jordyn Hadden – of Indie Edits By J. 1
I’ve had the privilege of working with Jordyn as she’s been one of the primary editors for my novel, Cabin Girl, and during the process, I’ve marveled at her productivity! She’s one of the most prolific writers I know, with a consistent and impressive output of novels, short stories, drabbles, and other services – such as editing. Her discipline has been very inspiring to me, and great motivation for me to reach my own writing goals.
Today, Jordyn has some advice on just how to do that…
Hi, I’m Jordyn, and I’m excited to be a guest on E. G. Bella’s blog! I run an online editing business, Indie Edits By J, where I offer editing services for authors who hope to self-publish their novel or nonfiction work. Bella and I met on a writing forum, and a few months ago, I had the privilege to edit her novel, Cabin Girl.
With that said, today I’m going to discuss some ways to stay motivated in writing. As a self-published author, I know it can be difficult to keep up a consistent writing schedule. Many writers are free-spirited and spontaneous, preferring to work in short bursts rather than organized efforts. But productivity is a crucial part of writing. After all, you can have the most amazing story idea in history, but if you can’t buckle down and write the book, the novel won’t ever reach the world. I once found a quote that said, “The messiest first draft is better than the most brilliant unwritten novel.”
But how exactly can we overcome the inevitable challenge of staying motivated? I’ve gathered a few tips that will be useful if you ever find yourself in a storytelling rut.
1. Is the story itself boring to you?
To fix this, open up a new document and write down all the problems you currently see with your novel. This will help you get your thoughts on paper. You may realize that what you thought was a problem isn’t one at all, and the real problem is something completely unrelated.
Once you’ve done that, you may realize that you have one of the following problems:
~ If the problem is a weak story goal, change story goals before it’s too late—or find a way to raise the stakes of your current goal. Give the characters more to lose if they don’t achieve the goal. Alternatively, maybe the story goal doesn’t fit your characters, or your characters don’t fit the goal. Adjust one or both to meet your needs.
~ If the problem is flat or unlikeable characters, do some character development for them. Yes, this can take a long time, but thankfully, there is a quick solution. At a writing conference last summer, I met the author Stephanie Morrill, who suggested doing a “character journal entry.” This is where you ask a rambly question, such as, “What was your family like?” Then you write your character’s answer in first person from his or her point of view. This is a fast, easy, and fun way to get excited about your characters, even the secondary and minor ones. Your characters may reveal unexpected details to you, which keeps them exciting and unpredictable.
~ If the problem is worrying that the story sounds forced, just keep writing and let the story flow naturally, as a logical consequence of what came earlier. Chances are, it’s not nearly as big a deal as you thought.
~ If the problem is a vague plot, do a brief outline. Write down 1-3 sentences about what happens in each chapter. For example:
On their way to swordfighting practice, Joshua and his sister get into an argument about whether Joshua should accept the king’s offer to become a member of the royal guard. After hurling a few insults, Joshua wins the argument, but his sister is hurt. Joshua takes out his frustration with himself by throwing all his energy into swordfighting practice.
The practice of doing a loose outline will help you see exactly where the chapter is headed, so you don’t run into a corner and get stuck.
~ On the other hand, if the problem is an overly detailed outline, throw in a new plot twist that shocks you. After all, if it surprises you, it’ll most likely catch your readers off guard, too. (Just make sure to add the necessary foreshadowing later on.)
2. Do you have “writer’s block”? Is the story interesting but you just “can’t write”?
Ah, yes. The nightmare of every writer. However, anyone can overcome “the block” if they put their mind to it. Here are some possible fixes:
~ Vague scenes: You may get stuck if you have a very vague idea for the scene you have to write next. To fix this, you may want to scroll down to the bottom of your document and write down a few sentences about the next scene. This will allow you to see where you’re going, and it helps you understand what you want to happen by the end of the scene.
Referencing the earlier point about brief outlines, I often write with a brief chapter outline at the bottom of the page, and I delete points from the outline as I write them out in story form. Once I finish the chapter, the complete outline should be deleted. This keeps me motivated, and it also helps me know where the chapter ends.
On the other hand, if you don’t know what scene you have to write next, you can do one of two things:
(1) Go to your plotting document and figure out what scene you have to write next.
(2) Alternatively, you can skip ahead to the next scene you have figured out. After that, you may have a clearer idea of what needs to happen in the scene(s) you skipped.
~ Physical or mental fatigue: Sometimes mental fatigue is brought on by producing thousands and thousands of words in a short amount of time. In that case, take a short break, because you’ve earned it. Draw, play an instrument, go for a walk, or do something else creative that doesn’t require writing. But don’t forget to go right back to writing once you’re recharged.
~ Pressure: If you’re under too much pressure to work on your novel, try writing a short scene that has nothing to do with your novel. This may help clear your head and help you realize that you do, in fact, enjoy writing. Alternatively, if you like a certain character enough, you could write a short snippet of their backstory. While you get your mind off your official novel for a little while, you’ll be doing character development. That way, you’ll be more prepared to write your novel when you’re ready!
Another option is to skip ahead to a scene that you’re really excited about—maybe the climax is super-clear in your mind, or you have an idea for a funny or cute character interaction. Write that scene—even if you don’t know whether you’ll use the scene in your book. It will help you get a better feel for your story, even if you don’t end up using it.
~ Fear: Sometimes the fear of messing up will stop authors from writing. When that happens, you need to just sit down and start writing—even if you don’t think it’s that good. It takes clay to make a flower vase. You can fix a bad page, but you can’t fix a blank page.
~ Trouble producing words: To get “into the groove,” put a book or paper over your screen and write like the wind. This technique forces you to stay focused on what you’re writing, since you need to keep your mind on the sentences you’re typing. It sounds crazy, but it works!
If you like dialogue, another option is to write down the scene like a movie script. Use characters’ names to signify who’s talking, and make notes about what gestures they make as they speak. For example:
Bob: (plays with his hands) Can… can I ask you a question?
Jane: (looks up from the book she’s reading) Sure.
Bob: (shrugs) (hesitantly) Would you want to go to the movie theater this weekend?
Jane: (nonchalantly) Depends on what movie’s playing.
Bob: (not expecting that) Oh.
Jane: (looks at Bob) Are you asking me on a date?
Bob: (embarrassed) No.
Then later on, you can go back, use the dialogue as a guideline, and write that scene as if it’s an actual novel, adding details and thoughts:
Bob played with his hands, scanning the park. A breeze ruffled his hair, and he glanced over at Jane. He swallowed. “Can… can I ask you a question?”
Jane glanced up from the book in her lap, her blond hair falling across her face. “Sure.”
Bob shrugged. Just ask. “Would you want to go to the movie theater this weekend?”
Jane turned a page in her book. “Depends on what movie’s playing.”
Bob’s shoulders slumped. Never mind. “Oh.”
Meeting his gaze, Jane set her book down. “Are you asking me on a date?”
Bob’s face flushed, and he turned away. “No.”
If you use this technique, you should be able to write scenes much quicker when you have the dialogue and action already written out.
3. Do you love your story but have difficulties finishing on time?
Imagine looking up at the summit of Mount Everest. You may be thinking, “How am I ever going to get up there? I can never do that!”
But now imagine looking at the first foothill at the base of the mountain. It’s not too high, maybe a hundred feet or so.
And now imagine walking over to the foothill and finding that there’s a twenty-foot wall you can scale in no time.
Just like mountain climbing, the goal of writing a 50,000-word-plus novel can seem daunting. But what about the goal of writing four scenes by the end of the week? And what about writing 1,000 words today? Not too bad, right?
Here are some foolproof ways to set and reach goals:
~ Break up your goal into smaller, more doable goals. As an extremely goal-oriented person, I love setting and reaching goals. For instance, I might say to myself, “I’ll try to write 1,000 words today, and I want to finish two chapters by the end of the week.” This concrete milestone gives me a tangible goal, and it helps me see how I need to divide my time each day in order to reach this goal.
And yes, this strategy also works for editing—whether you’re the type of person who edits while you write, or the type of person who finishes the whole first draft before editing. For example, if you edit while you write, you can set a daily goal to write 1,000 words of your current chapter and edit half of an earlier chapter.
~ Retype your novel. If you prefer to finish the whole first draft before editing, try this technique. For my self-published novel, I had the rough draft open on my iPad (where I wrote it), and I retyped it on my family’s laptop. I transcribed each word into the second draft, which helped in the following ways:
(1) It helped me see where I was being repetitive (which was often).
(2) It forced me to imagine the story again, which helped me see if any sections were confusing.
(3) Retyping an individual sentence helped me make it clearer. Sometimes it led me to decide that the sentence didn’t belong at all.
(4) It allowed me to edit everything all at once, rather than having to go over every chapter a million times.
~ Outside motivation works wonders. Last summer, I entered a novel contest. Before the deadline, I told myself that I could only get on the internet after I finished editing up to a certain point. You can also motivate yourself in other ways, such as by allowing yourself a cookie, drawing time, or another reward if you meet your goal that day.
~ Additionally, pacing yourself helps. See how many words you can realistically write in one sitting, and shoot for that goal. Sometimes you might have more time on weekends. Other times, your schedule might be fuller, so you might need to squeeze in extra writing time during the week. If this isn’t possible, try looking at your leisure time and seeing where you can devote free time to writing instead.
Lastly, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t reach your goal. Writing is supposed to be fun, not frustrating. Your value doesn’t depend on whether or not you reach a goal—rather, your value depends on the fact that God made you and loves you, and that He died for you. Therefore, reaching goals is a great thing, but—speaking from experience—don’t let the pressure of reaching a goal take all the fun out of writing.
I hope my tips increase your motivation and encourage you to be more productive. Comment below with any tips of your own!
Thank you, Jordyn!
And thank YOU for joining us today! I hope you’ll find the tips above as helpful as I do, and that you’re inspired to go work on your own materials. As Jordyn said, go ahead and share your thoughts below! I’d love to hear what you’re working on, or what productivity strategies work best for you!
Also, I’ve had the privilege of guest-posting on Jordyn’s site today, with five things I’ve learned in my self-publishing journey so far. You can head over and read that post, here!
1.Jordyn Hadden’s first novel The Time Travel Team: The Great Historic Mystery (which debuted in 2018), can be found here.