During my recent debate with participants from the write a book in a month competition NaNoWriMo, one of the good reasons given by lots of writers for taking part in the event was that it gave them motivation to get the work done.
All writers are different and I’m not going to say someone is wrong if they are doing what works to motivate them but it struck me as surprising that some require a deadline to make them write.
I know the power of deadlines, I was a newspaper journalist for 20 years – I understand the way they concentrate your mind – miss too many as a journalist and you get canned.
But for me writing fiction has always been something where motivation has been the least of my problems. The urge to do it has always been there inside me and that urge doesn’t come in a short burst over a few brief weeks. It’s always there in the background – a call which needs to be answered.
The fire is inside, it might be low at certain times or burning brightly at others. It’s the reason people write. Probably the reason they paint, make music, and so on. It’s the need to do it and that need doesn’t go away. It hasn’t done for me anyway.
There are periods when I don’t write anything at all – and others when I do so only slowly. But once I get my teeth into a project then I feel the need to focus and sit down at my desk for a period each evening to start producing words. It’s at this point that I find I start counting the words and the growing number in the computer file becomes an aim of its own. That’s a strange thing really because, of course, the number of words isn’t what’s important, what matters is their meaning. But I don’t think that word counting is a terrible habit during the writing of a first draft – it gives you a goal to aim towards, a line to cross. And you know you are going to be rewriting eventually so the polish and finesse comes then.
I’ve said before that it takes me around 12 months to produce a first draft. That’s a lot compared to the novel in a month brigade, but not an incredible amount of time given that I’m including the thinking period and pre-planning in there.
Once I have the concept for a book formed in my mind the urge to get it down on paper is fairly strong and constant. I also find it helps to break the task down – so many pages a day, so many until the end of the next chapter, just finish writing this scene for today. These are all ways I find to control and sustain my motivation to get to grips with the task.
If I sat down at the start of the process and thought about the huge amount of work involved in writing a novel good enough to be published I probably wouldn’t do it. So I don’t think about it. Instead I get on with it and take a little bit at a time – brick on brick until finally there’s a house.
At the end, when I’m done, I allow myself to think about the task, the effort involved. I allow myself that indulgence. ‘Look at what you’ve done’ I think to myself ‘give yourself a pat on the back.’
Perhaps in the end it’s that sense of achievement which is the greatest motivation at all.
Don’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.