There are three main things about writing that make it lack the social proof people expect of professional activities.
- It’s intangible – Many people don’t seem to consider writing a proper job, maybe because often writers type away for days with apparently little to show for it. Yes, there may be the occasional article in a newspaper, possibly even a published book you can actually show people. But even then that small book, an object you can hold in one hand, isn’t a good indication of the many hours, months or possibly years of work that went in to actually writing it.
- It’s unpaid – This is true even of successful, established and published writers, people like Zen Habits and Write to Done founder Leo Babauta who still regularly give away his writing on his own blogs and elsewhere. Many writers have blogs they write unpaid and if you’re not paid for something then other people tend to see it as a hobby and an unnecessary indulgence when for most writers creating a blog is a carefully planned career move.
- It’s intellectual – People see hard work as being physical like laboring, or stressful like being a fighter pilot. They don’t realize the kind of mental determination that writing calls for, the inner motivation that’s required to get you writing and keep you going until you actually finish the work.
No wonder writers often struggle with motivation.
Writing is a common dream for people. Yet most people who dream about writing don’t actually do it. Some of them hardly even read. Meanwhile writers who do actually earn a living from their work still struggle to stay motivated and keep writing.
Faced with all this opposition, both external and internal, how can we motivate ourselves to get writing and keep at it?
Here are six ideas that work :
1. Get motivated
Accept responsibility for you own actions. Acknowledge that you’re the only person who can do this. That if you don’t glue your backside to the chair and first start, then finish writing your article or book, no one else is going to do it for you.
2. Create tight imaginary deadlines for yourself to spur you on.
Try pretending you only have one hour to write today and that can be a good incentive to get on with it. Or ask yourself what you’d start or finish writing if you only had a month to live.I motivated myself to write a 70,000 word manuscript by telling myself that if I didn’t write it that year I never would. These scare tactics do work and best of all no one has to die in the process.
3. Commit to your writing.
Work out how much time you can give to your writing and when. Schedule it in your diary it. Make it a part of your routine and keep at it until it becomes a true habit.Now stay focused. If it’s a book you need to be able to maintain your focus for months. For a shorter piece like a blog post or an article you need to focus for one or two hours.
4. Remove all distractions.
You know what they are. Unplug the phone, turn off your router, find a place where you can write away oblivious to the household duties which are being neglected.Try using a kitchen timer to keep you seated and writing. Set the timer for an hour and write away. When the time’s up have a five minute break then repeat until the piece is finished.
5. Use motivational tools.
Don’t dismiss Twitter as a waste of time waster or, at best, a simple networking tool. I’ve found it a powerful way to motivate myself and other people. It surprised me too but here’s how it happened.I followed a well known novelist and journalist called John Birmingham @johnbirmingham on Twitter.I noticed that he constantly tweeted how many words he’d written on a project and how many he was about to write. He’s prolific and his word count put me to shame so I decided to try his tactic and see if it helped me.First thing in the morning, I’d tweet:”Three jobs: edit chap two of fiction manuscript, finish short story for the competition, write blog post for Get In the Hot Spot.”Then I made updates on my progress via Twitter, as the day went on, such as:”Chapter two edited and looking good. About to update my blog now. Hope you’ve had a productive morning too.”I know this sounds ridiculously simple and unnecessary too, but if it works as a motivational tool, that has to be a good thing.
6. Try co-motivation
Sometimes on Twitter I’ve challenge other writers or bloggers to a word race if I know they’re in the same boat as me. As we both write more than we would have otherwise, we both end up winning. I’ve found that innocent bystanders who’ve seen my word count tweets are motivated and inspired by that just as I was by John Birmingham.This type of motivation even has a proper name. Appropriately enough for writers it’s called “bookmarking”.Basically, you tell someone your goal and then update them regularly on your progress. It may be a friend, but it can be anyone, and it can also be done on the phone, with a text message, face to face, or on Twitter where you don’t even need anyone specific to report too.One brilliant side-effect of this is that as well as John Birmingham motivating himself and me, my progress reports have motivated other people too.One man told me that my tweets about writing and my word count have inspired him to start writing again. Another Australian writer Peter Moore @travdude who’s published six travel books, emailed me saying”I’m impressed that you’re knocking out those kind of numbers in a family environment.”