Staying Motivated while Writing (tips for how to finish the manuscript without making a deal with the Devil)

> If any of you have some ideas or things that you
> do to keep you motivated, would you please share them with me?

Greetings,

Before I go any further, please forgive me if the paragraphs seem disconnected. I’m answering this on the fly between working on other projects throughout the day as the thoughts come to me. Whenever my motivation has been low for whatever reason, I’ve always found it best to take it back old school: Write in baby steps. Set aside at LEAST 10 minutes a day to writing, whether it’s working on a manuscript, notes regarding parts of a manuscript, researching stuff for your manuscript, ideas for other stories, random thoughts, or even reading about writing as a craft and thinking about how to apply it to your manuscript. The beauty in setting aside this 10 minutes a day is that even if you’ve got a family and kids it can be done–just take a notebook or a book with you into the bathroom. The trick here is to come to terms with the fact that no matter how high your personal standards are, everything you write CANNOT be “Hemmingway” — so don’t try to make it as such. Some days you will write great stuff, other days it may come out garbage. Don’t be afraid to delete anything from a manuscript, whether it’s a single word, paragraph, or an entire chapter. The key is to just write like it’s a nervous habit. I’m constantly learning that the more you write and learn about the craft by reading about structure or analyzing other books and movies based on books, the better your writing will become.

Think of writing like acting, singing, or even weightlifting — it’s essentially a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. Start with that consistent 10 minutes a day and you’ll be up to an hour a day and beyond pretty quick. Once you’re at that point, even on the days when you don’t physically write, your mind is still at work on the manuscript. For me it kinda feels like what I’d imagine how a Director visualizes shots while storyboarding a movie. Another thing that I’ve found that helps me is to take time out from writing prose to developing the characters that are going to be in the manuscript. I used to scribble character notes on index cards; now I just keep all that in a string of notes files. There are also programs floating around out there like “New Novelist” that can help with this fleshing out the dimensions of your characters. If you’re into the basics and writing something other than simple genre fiction, define your character’s Hopes, Dreams and Fears. Once you’ve got that, you’ll notice that your characters will come to life because now they have purpose beyond just names on a page. Once they have purpose you’ll probably find it harder to have “writer’s block” since even if you’re not working on the manuscript itself, you’ll be consciously and unconsciously digging up all sorts of things that will make your characters grow. One thing that has worked for me was putting together a Writer’s Kit. Mine has been “The Black Bag”, a Black leather [laptop] backpack. It contains the following:

  • a digital notebook (used to be a laptop, now just a PocketPC),
  • a digital recorder (the Olympus DM-1 with 10 hours of recording time has proven to be invaluable for on-the-spot interviews and taking mental notes when I’m unable to stop and write),
  • a journal-style notebook with 3 or 4 pens (including a highlighter and red pen),
  • a printed copy of my current manuscript for markup,
  • an MP3 player (that also doubles as a portable data storage device),
  • misc batteries and power adapters,
  • and sometimes a digital camera (when traveling or for special occasions).

The Black Bag has enabled me to capture sights and sounds and write almost all of my manuscript away from home–in airports, trains, planes, bars, and restaurants from Virginia to California to New York to the Virgin Islands and everywhere between. I can’t say what will work for you, but this has enabled me to consistently work on my manuscript at *least* 2 hours a day, whether it’s writing, compiling info, or research. Anyway, hope some of those thoughts and ideas help.

Good luck with it.

— Max