How do you stay motivated when writing a novel?

Deadlines help when writing a novel

With Camp NaNoWriMo in full swing – and with any writing endeavor – staying motivated when writing a novel is one key to success.

Stay motivated when writing a novel
This post originally appeared on Cara Lockwood’s blog. Reposted with permission.

Whether you’re writing a novel in a month for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), or you’re simply trying to finish that gripping fantasy novel you’ve been working on for ten years, it can be hard to stay motivated while writing.

As a novelist, I find that there are days when the words flow easily, and others when even writing the first sentence feels about as easy as climbing Mount Everest in flip-flops.

While I love writing, and I can’t imagine not doing it for a living, I also know that there are days when I’d rather do almost anything other than face the pages I have to write. Every distraction, even laundry or the gym, looks like a more fun way to spend my afternoon. Here are some tips for getting and staying motivated while you write your novel:

Write something every day even if it’s terrible.
When I’m facing down a deadline, I don’t take a day off. I try to live with my characters as much as possible so that any time I open up my computer file, I don’t have to waste time bringing myself up to speed by figuring out what I wrote a week ago and where I am in the story. Writing every day helps keep your characters fresh. It also will help the words flow.

Tell your inner critic to take a hike.
At one time or another, all authors have a crisis of confidence in their writing abilities, but when you’re trying to hit a tight deadline, the fact is you just don’t have time to worry about whether you have enough talent to even be doing this. Get words down on paper and then worry later if they’re any good. It is far easier to edit a bad manuscript than to write one from scratch.

Make reasonable goals for yourself and stick to them.
The key here is to be reasonable in your daily page-count goal. I think of daily page goals as minimums and I always try to exceed them. I don’t always succeed, but when I do, it feels really good.

Find a place to write that will ensure you won’t get distracted.
For me, this happens to be at the local Starbucks with my headphones on and my WiFi turned off. I refuse to let myself check email or Facebook or Twitter until I finish the pages I plan to do that day.

Don’t think about how much more you have to do.
Concentrate on what you’ve done already. This is the writer’s equivalent of “Don’t look down.” If you start worrying about how many pages or words you have left to write, you might find yourself with a pretty hefty case of vertigo and get stuck from sheer fright. For me, after writing every day, I print my pages out. I like to read over them on the train on the way home or before I go to bed. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment. As I hold the papers in my hand, I can really see how much writing I am doing every day. As my stack of pages grows, so does my confidence.

Remember that deadlines are the world’s greatest motivator.
Even as you’re cursing the fact that you signed on to make what seems like an impossible deadline, remember that this is just the universe’s way of inspiring you to finish.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and write!

Looking for a way to get motivated and set some deadlines? Camp NaNoWriMo is happening NOW! Camp NaNoWriMo, which occurs in April and July, follows the same concept as NaNoWriMo, but welcomes shorter word counts and a variety of projects, including novels, plays, scripts, and screenplays.

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  1. On the thought of writing something everyday even if it is terrible, it can help to write as if you are going to throw your work in the bin after you have finished. Then there is not such a great need for motivation.

    Of course, once you have started, and are flowing, you realise that you don’t need to delete your work, but rather you want to use it.

    • I never delete anything! I save it as a separate draft every day, with that day’s date in the file name. If the change is significant, I’ll include a word or two to clue myself into what that change was. If I want to go back and review material that is no longer in my current draft, I can cruise back to that time and see what it is I’m interested in, and maybe bring some of it back.

      I’m good at procrastinating on scenes that I don’t know how to write, but I’ve learned just to start writing – stream-of-consciousness style. As mentioned in this post, it’s easier to edit a bad draft than come up with any draft in the first place. I’m a firm believer in throwing everything on the page, especially if I am in brainstorming mode to solve a problem, and separate the wheat from the tares later. One cannot edit or polish what one does not have. I have often surprised myself with my results, and my beta readers have affirmed that they like what I’ve done on these sticky scenes. I usually start out with, “I wonder what it will be like if I try it this way…” What have I got to lose? Even if it’s garbage (or “varbage” as a friend once coined), I always learn something from the exercise.

  2. I find reading about writings good for getting my “get up and go” back again after a bout of “I don’t wanna do this.”

    And I read somewhere in some “write every day” advice that if you didn’t know what to write, the write “I don’t know what to write” over and over again until something more interesting started coming out. I have a slightly more original version of that: I take an anime I like and start writing an autobiography of one of the characters. This takes out the burden of plot/”where’s the story going?”, but still exercises my dialogue/action/description balancing. Makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something more than writer’s cramp–I can always put it on FanFiction.

  3. Thanks Cara! One thing that has helped me is to keep a Q/A notebook. I ask myself questions about my characters, what they will do next, then try to answer what the outcomes might be. When I’m ready to write I feel like I’ve already worked out some of the details or sticking points.


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