5 Ways To Motivate Yourself to Write

7 Oct

It seems like I can’t turn around on the internet without running into a hilarious web comic that combines really bad illustrations with ridiculously ironic and over the top copy. Oh, and numbered lists that parody the “How To” articles that are all over the web. I could’t resist giving it a go, so here’s a hilarious-completely-out-of-character-for-my-blog post on 5 ironic tips to being a better writer complete with swearing and terrible illustrations.

I’ve pretty much always called myself a writer (I write this blog, don’t I?), and in high school I wrote all kinds of angsty poetry and short works about sad relationships.

But one might say that in college I hit my writing prime. Even though I stopped writing creative fiction, in between a very vibrant social life and hours spent reading I still found time to write hundreds of pages of academic essays about literature. While I doing so, I felt pretty comfortable calling myself a writer and an English major.

But now I’m in that awkward phase in my life where I can no longer call myself a writer if I don’t actually write something. I lost the drama filled perspective that motivated me to write in high school and I am no longer rewarded with the praise from professors that I sycophantically sought in college.

The uncomfortable realization that I wasn’t “A Writer”  anymore hit me shortly after graduation, and I decided it was time to DO something. That meant I needed to find some way to motivate myself into picking up a pen.

I read tons of “helpful” lists on the “internet” about finding the motivation to write. There were websites that email bombed me harder than Goodreads.com after I signed up for a virtual book club. (I’m still ignoring those emails.) Some people advised keeping calendars and awarding gold starts for good writing days. Others just write for the love of writing (I know, right?? Those jerks!)

But I found all of this advice didn’t work for ME, a completely under-motivated, idea-lacking, busy-with-other-things-like-TV-watching, wanna-be writer. So I’ve decided to compile my own list of motivational tips for my brethren:  people who identify as writers and are desperately looking for the motivation to write.

1. Don’t tell ANYONE when you start a new blog/novel/chapbook/comedy skit/screenplay/ webcast

There’s no better motivator than embarrassment, and trust me you WILL feel embarrassed if you tell your friends you’ve started a new project and then never finish it. Every couple weeks each and every person you’ve told will ask you, “So how’s that stream of consciousness novel from the perspective of an ant inside the anthill on your dresser coming?”

Rather than telling them you’re a LIAR or just a lazy promise breaker who overestimated your ability to complete a goal, you’ll simply nod feebly and mutter stuff about how the ant is about to find true love. Your friends will know you’re lying, but will be too polite to call you out.

You know what they’re really thinking, though. So before hanging with Curious Casey on Wednesday, you’ll spend hours Tuesday outlining your novel and getting some new pages down so you don’t sound like a complete douche.

Avoid this predicament by not letting anyone know when you’ve started a new project. In fact, why don’t you just stay inside your bedroom when you write so no one will even SUSPECT that you’ve started something new. You’ll avoid receiving any encouragement AND all that embarrassment that comes from picking up and dropping a new project, plus when you quit, no one else will know you’ve failed, allowing you to nurse that pathological fear of failure your ex-girlfriend always complained about.

2. Make goals you don’t intend to keep

This is an absolute must. If you’re like me, you need some external deadline to motivate you to write. So in a sad attempt to mimic a pressing deadline, make up an imaginary deadline for yourself. Some of my previous “deadlines:”

  1. Write one blog post every Tuesday
  2. Write one novel page a day
  3. Finish poetry book by end of August
  4. Start revising writing project by beginning of fall

Guess how many of these deadlines I managed to keep for longer than a month? If you answered none of them, you are correct, Sir.

Of course, you can’t really trick yourself into believing in a hard deadline since you know the only one who knows about the deadline is you—and you’re already very comfortable lying to yourself.

But that’s okay! Overcompensate by making these goals as lofty as possible! The constant shame of never meeting any of your exceptionally high goals will eventually make you so comfortable with failure that even your smaller milestones will be abandoned. Good luck with that!

3. Berate yourself for your failure to keep writing goals

My favorite motivator is internally humiliating myself for my failure to meet my writing goals. In graduate school, I experimented with escalating threat levels in order to get my pen moving:

Green: You can do it! Only five pages in eight hours!

Yellow: Okayyy so you’ve only written one page in six hours. The first page is the hardest! You can still do it!!

Orangey red: Okay okay okay. You don’t need to shower tonight. You can have one extra hour just DO IT.

Red: Listen B*tch, write three more pages NOW or you can’t go out with your friends Friday night

Maroon: If you don’t write this paper everyone will be disappointed in you. Your parents will stop loving you. Everyone will know that your highly organized façade was JUST THAT—A FANCY FRENCH WORD!

THREAT LEVEL MIDNIGHT: If you don’t write this paper they will kick you out of grad school and you will be a failure and everyone will feel bad for you. You will couch surf at your parents until you become so ashamed that you lie about having a job and end up traveling the streets and sleeping at Starbucks. This is where your life falls apart: With the failure to write this ONE PAPER.

At one point, the only way I could actually motivate myself to get shit done was by telling myself I would fail out of grad school and die if I didn’t. My feeble brain was too depressed by all the other vitriol to know that I was lying, so this is clearly the way to go for self-motivation.

4. Go to a coffee shop with free WiFi so you can “focus”

Coffee shops are filled with fancy hipsters and their old fashioned writing implements, so this must be the trick to good writing! Here’s the tip: set up shop in a local coffee mecca and buy yourself a cup of bottomless coffee. After 3 hours you’ll be tweaking harder than that creepy blonde kid from South Park. All that caffeine’s gotta kick your muse in gear, right?

While you’re busy suffering heart palpitations, try to listen in on the weird conversations around you. Not only will you soon garner the reputation of Weird Coffee Shop Eavesdropper, you’ll also waste hours of time that could be spent writing. Don’t worry though– you can pretend its research for “authentic dialogue”– because you haven’t been dialoging your whole life or anything.

Of course, make sure to sit in a prominent location so friends and acquaintances will come by and greet you. They may even sit down and chat, and you’ll get to feel productive and superior when you drop that you’re working on your novel.

All joking aside, going to coffee shops IS a great way to focus. It gets you away from all of those apartment distractions like free food and Internet. That’s why you should go to a cafe with free WiFi– if it was hard to avoid watching endless videos of adorable kittens on YouTube at home, you DEFINITELY won’t be distracted here.

5. Spend hours worrying about the formatting and projected page output for your blog/novel/chapbook/comedy skit/screenplay/ webcast

Everyone knows that the most important thing about writing is the number of pages in each chapter. Why else do people love The life of Pi? Clearly it’s because Yann Martel nailed the perfect formula for attaining the O list.

The only way you’ll be a famous writer is if you also learn the exact number of pages a young adult novel should be, and whether or not those pages are double spaced.

In fact, instead of writing you should probably spend hours researching page length on the Internet. All of those answers on Yahoo Questions that tell you page length doesn’t matter must be posted by stupid people, not experienced writers. So keep looking past page 12 of your Google search for the one answer written by Bob Nobody that says otherwise!

And there you have it, folks! Five awesome tips to get you on your writing journey. So what are you waiting for? Head to that coffee shop and get started on all of your writing goals!


8 Responses to “5 Ways To Motivate Yourself to Write”

  1. dste October 7, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    I like the picture of the Youtube cat!

    • algebra65 October 7, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

      Very clever, you obviously took your own advice. So whats your novel about. lol
      Since I am a math major, the perfect formula for a novel by the way is
      P X H^2 + W(S)= T ( Total length of novel) where
      P is the number of paragraphs,
      H is hours planned to write,
      W is the number of words per sentence as you approach P
      S is the of number of sentences
      hope that helps

      • Caitlin Garzi October 9, 2012 at 8:28 am #

        Yes, there’s nothing like a meta post. I always love it when people write blog posts about not being productive, but then produce awesome blog posts regularly (like the one I’m reading!).

        Thanks for the math formula– it’s perfect. Check out xkcd.com– a comic site for math majors who also love the humanities.

    • Caitlin Garzi October 9, 2012 at 8:25 am #

      Thank you– I like YouTube cats! No, seriously– one of my favorite pastimes is watching cute kittens snuggle with dogs, fall asleep, and make loud angry cat noises on YouTube. It’s so addicting!

  2. Herbie October 8, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    Great read. Three cents to toss in. The first penny goes to good writers also read a lot. Most take that aspect for granted. The second penny goes to finding a niche. Writing is much easier when it’s a subject you enjoy.

    For the final penny for if/when a person eventually makes the professional level, a former wise editor of mine and published author once shared with me years ago, “It’s one thing to love to write, but quite another loving to write under fire to meet a deadline.”

    No truer words apply when a person has a standard two hours after a game ends, but still has to wait for all postgame media pressers to conclude, get interviews, transcribe applicable quotes and insert all of it into stories before filing. It’s the pressure that separates those who are thinking about doing it to those who absolutely love the rush.

    • Caitlin Garzi October 9, 2012 at 8:32 am #

      That sounds impossible! I can’t imagine synthesizing all of that info, transcribing it, and then forming an opinion to write an article in what seems like way less than two hours. That must be why all the people on the Newsroom seem so busy and stressed out…

    • Jeremy May 24, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

      “It’s the pressure that separates those who are thinking about doing it to those who absolutely love the rush.”

      The latter being “writers” and the former being “thinkers,” I presume? Or some variance on that false dichotomy?

      The rush that is required from writing on deadline is a unique thing for sure, but it’s not always a GOOD thing. potentially valuable sources can be cut in the rush and there isn’t necessarily enough time to get the big picture and write an informed view.

      Of course, that’s the nature of the beast for journalism. But I would not necessarily consider journalists archetypal writers. There is plenty going on in the times between writing in your brain that is valuable and adds to the writing process. This is especially important when writing novels, and tends to create stronger documentaries and features.

      Herbie, you seem to suggest that the pressure to write on deadline is what separates mediocre writers from “true passionate writers.” Although I know you won’t say that, that is the vibe I’m picking up from you. I’m not suggesting that is necessarily what you are saying or thinking, just that I believe it is your underlying feeling.

      I would like to suggest that is not the case. Thinking about writing–working with concepts in your head–is just as important to writing as the actual process of doing it; perhaps not so much in journalism as novel writing, but as I mentioned above I would suggest that more thinking about writing makes for stronger journalism.

      Of course there are great journalists out there that are so seasoned that they don’t need to put too much effort into producing amazing high quality writing. But that’s the destination; not the journey. Great writing, in my opinion, is more about the journey than the destination; it’s about working with big concepts on a plane, constantly thinking outside the box, shifting concepts around that effect other concepts, etc. The creative process involves an ability to take nothing for granted, and constantly measure incoming information against already-known information to consider irregularities.

      Although I don’t disagree with your placing value on deadlines as an effective way of being productive as a writer, I would like to point out that it shouldn’t be the only reality of the writer.


  1. Happy 1.1 Blogversary! « Sustained Enthusiasm - February 20, 2013

    […] say I regret this decision, even if it is random and weird. My favorite post so far is definitely Five Ways to Motivate Yourself to Write. I laughed a ton while writing it, and obviously it was about the very real problems I was having […]

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