Thursday, April 16, 2009

Jumping In

So I've made no secret on this blog of the fact that I really do struggle with motivation (and procrastination) when it comes to my manuscript. It's not that I don't love my job, I do! But mentally, looking on the outside in, I don't always love writing. I know, I know, this makes so little sense that it sounds inane even as I write it.

Let's back up: once I've jumped-started my work for the day, I find that the time goes by a lot faster than I realize, and I do, really, get completely wrapped up in the scene I'm working on. I love re-reading what I've written. :) I love considering the characters and their various entanglements when I'm not writing. But getting started, typing out those first few sentences just...well, they suck for me.

So, the best trick that I've devised for myself to get around this is to stop my writing the previous day mid-scene. If I end on a chapter break or a section break, I sit there and stare at that looming on set of another scene, which requires yet another creative idea, which just seems so freaking exhausting, that it's almost enough for me to skip the writing for the day altogether. Since I've realized this about myself, I deceive myself into making things a little easier. I think the part I dread most about writing - since I'm a pantser - is coming up with the next twist and turn, and fitting all of those various plot lines into something cohesive, something interesting, something page-turning, and since this is the hardest part for me, I try to get ahead of myself.

Rather than close down for the day in a logical place, I'll push myself to keep going. Even if it's only three sentences into the next scene. It's SO much easier for me to open up that doc the next day and see, WOW, I've already done the heavy lifting as to what comes next! Now, I just have to keep that momentum going.

I'm serious - try it. It's really, really helped my motivation and my urge to write (or not to write). But I'd also LOVE to hear - what jump starts YOU in the morning? How to overcome that urge NOT to open your doc and go about your day without getting anything done at all?


Anonymous said...

Yours is an interesting trick. I do tend to stop at the end of a scene. Right now I'm thinking of where to open the next scene. If I would have written SOMETHING before I stopped, I might have had a launching pad. Or, if I didn't like the direction, I could have deleted. I would have had some words there instead of "Chapter X" staring me in the face right now.

Lisa Cohen said...

Even though I'm not a 'pantser' I have to do the *same* thing to get motivated for the day's writing. And yes, I totally understand the love/hate relationship with the work. Really, it's like Sisyphus rolling that ball uphill every day. I just can't imagine not doing it, no matter how heavy.


Kristan said...

Re: your first and second paragraphs-
No no, not weird at all. I feel exactly the same way!

And your stopping mid-scene trick is precisely what my creative writing professor/mentor advised me when I was in school.

Another thing - not so much a trick as just a nice thing to do for yourself - is to not beat yourself up. No matter how much or how little you get done, if you beat yourself up about it, you turn writing into a chore, into something that lowers your self-esteem, and that just feeds into the dread.

Also, I like to remind myself at 2 pm or 5 pm or 7 pm or even 9 pm, there are still several usable minutes of my day left - it doesn't HAVE to be a waste!

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Tara- yup, that's the problem exactly. When I'm staring at that blank header or page break - eek - it's like looking starting down the barrel of a gun.

Kristan - funny, just after I wrote this blog post, inspiration struck, even though it was late night and I never write then. So I seized the moment and cranked out 500 words. So that's definitely true: grab those moments where you can find them!

LJ - glad to hear I'm not alone!

Jolie said...

This is EXACTLY the kind of self-manipulative trick I need! It can be so hard to get back that high once you've set it aside for the day.

Jeffrey Duckworth said...

What a wonderful idea! This could be applied to other aspects in life. Need motivation to get out of bed and get dressed? Go to bed with one pants leg on and one off. You will wake up in the morning and say "Wow, I've already started to dress myself. Lets get up and finish."

In all honesty, this is a wonderful idea. Never thought of it this way. I will give it a try. What jumps starts me in the morning is motivation to be more for my family and myself.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Ha! But seriously, I've read before that some people suggest sleeping in your gym clothes so you just wake up and motivate...sort of the same idea. :)

(Btw, thanks for the retweet!)

Emma Newman said...

For me, I have to tackle the root cause of the avoidance. It's always fear. The best technique I have found in dealing with that is to remind myself - before I even start - that it is only a first draft, and that first drafts are allowed to be rubbish. If that doesn't work, I negotiate. I'll say to myself, "Ok, try it for ten minutes, see how you go." Usually, if I can make it through 5, I'm so caught up in the scene the fear fades and the noisy inner critique is safely locked away in the cupboard.

I still have to do this *every single time* however. One day, I wonder if I'll just be able to start without all of this. Who knows.

I tried the leaving it in the middle technique and it just didn't work well for me - I couldn't do anything else, it haunted me until it was done. My characters got grumpy (I am a tiny bit mad) and nagged me until I went back to them. Oh dear, maybe I shouldn't have told you about that - but it's true!

Philip Sington said...

Ernest Hemingway said he used to write a set number of words every day; and that, once he had reached that number, he stopped, even if he was in the middle of a sentence. The only limitation in the usefulness of this method is that most people tend to set their targets too high, so they never reach the sentence they are supposed to stop in the middle of... (or, if you are an English usage pedant: they never reach the sentence in the middle of which they are supposed to stop!)

Anonymous said...

I usually go in phases. I write what I need to and then if I have it in me try sum it up. Easier said than done though I find myself lacking for my revisions for my transition novel. Ah! Oh well I'm just goint to have to jump in and get to it!

Caryn Caldwell said...

I am EXACTLY like that (except I'm not a pantser). I love to daydream about my book and I love the breakthroughs when I figure out what will happen next - usually when I'm washing dishes or in the shower or just falling asleep. And I love re-reading what I've written - if I'm happy with what I wrote, at least! As for making myself write, though, I have a few tricks. The main one is knowing that getting started is the hardest part, and pushing myself through that. I will often set a timer and tell myself I must write until it goes off, no matter what. Or I'll tell myself that it doesn't have to be brilliant; it just has to be on the page. And, finally, I skip around a lot, which I suppose is one of the benefits of being a plotter. Then I can write whatever I do know and let my subconscious work on the rest.

Stephanie said...

What jump starts me? Caffeine. Seriously - without it I just sit and the page and dread writing. I don't drink a lot of caffeine (just green tea here and there) so when I do drink it, I'm off like a shotgun!

sarah pekkanen said...

Great trick -- I'm going to try it next week!

Lisa Katzenberger said...

I’ve heard of this approach before and never tried it. But reading your post today, something clicked for me. I just finished marking up the first draft of a novel, and I noticed a pattern: many scenes start out rather sluggish. My character walks into the office, gets something to drink, says hello to folks, lazily checks email, etc., etc., for way too many words before something actually happens.

I realize this is a result of me waking up, going directly to the laptop, and writing something, anything, just to get my fingers moving. I too allow for plenty of rubbish in my first drafts and it takes away tons of pressure. But as I’m revising, I see that I have an awful lot of muck to get rid of, and a lot of it is in those first few paragraphs of a new day of writing. I write to a specific word count (or as best I can) each day, but will now try your trick of getting down the first few sentences in the next scene or chapter while I have the momentum on my side. Maybe then each morning I’ll have something a little more lively to start with instead of something so groggy. Thanks for the tip!

Maureen Lipinski said...

Hey there! I just found your blog via Jen Lancaster's website and wanted to say I loved TIME OF MY LIFE--as did all of my friends!

Anyway, my best motivational writing tip is to "baby steps." Like, just open the document. Force myself to write at least ten words. I usually find by "tricking" myself into at least writing a couple of sentences, I can write a couple of scenes.

I fear what my writing would be if I stopped mid-scene. Like, a love scene would all of us sudden morph into stilted dialogue and bizarre behavior.

Andy Shackcloth said...

Neat thinking, I really like this idea. The unfinished thought would circle my subconscious as I slept, the whole time chewing away at the story line. By the next opportunity to sit before the keys my quieter half would be demanding that I add his thoughts to the story.

Like Caryn I am also a plotter and I could probably just write down notes on conflict points in the next scene(s) and my quieter half would have a banquet.