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✍️ How to Overcome Your Busy Day and Motivate Yourself to Write
or, Yes You Can Juggle Priorities Without Losing Your Marbles!
There’s this guy who can’t outline a novel. Okay, there are many guys – and women, too, of course – that endure this affliction. I’m one of them, a pantser through and through. This post isn’t about that, though.
But this guy. This guy. He can’t outline because it ruins the story for him.
“I find that if I know exactly where a book is going, I lose all interest in writing it,” he wrote his publisher 30 years ago.
Another writer who worked with him 20 years after this statement confirmed this. "He experiences the story as he writes it, and he wants to be able to surprise himself to some extent or get new ideas along the way,” she said. So in order to stay interested in the story, he has to not write the story until he’s writing the story. An intriguing bit of information! But this post isn’t about that either.
This post is about the fact that this guy is almost more famous for the books he hasn’t written than the ones he has. This post is about motivation.
And this guy is George R.R. Martin, writer of the A Game of Thrones books (or, more accurately, A Song of Fire and Ice series). Although I strongly believe the villagers should put away their theories and their pitchforks, there’s no denying he’s the poster child for lack of motivation. The fact that it’s wrongly so makes him a great example of what’s really going on, too.
“Martin is Not Your Bitch”
We all lead busy lives. Seems like work can zap the energy out of you, leaving you bleary-eyed and unfocused. Maybe I’m just grumpy today, but here’s the advice I have for you: suck it up.
It’s one thing to admit we’re busy. It’s another to let it drag us down creatively. Some days, we don’t want to face writing at all. Some days, we just want to watch reruns of The Simpsons. All of this I know from experience.
And you know what? Some days, flaking out and watching reruns to recharge the batteries is okay. But don’t say “I’m busy” and feel that’s a Hall Pass from writing. Every. Single. Time. It helps if you think of writing as a reward, not a “have to”, like we discussed in You Don’t Need Permission to Be a Writer.
You can also stop writing. That’s always an option. Another lesson we can learn from Martin: you’re not obligated to write a single word for anyone in the world but yourself.
“Pull your fucking typewriter out of your ass and start fucking typing,” someone on Twitter once advised. To which Neil Gaiman replied, “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.”
As recently as last September, someone on Twitter wished him a belated birthday then said, “Mine is in February. Any chance the book will be done by then?” Love to see one of these tweeters crank out a 700-page bestseller to spec and deadline…
So let’s explore what else might be stopping Martin from writing. A quick Google will show that Martin has a very complex and perhaps delicate writing regime. He can’t outline, as mentioned above. He relates that there was one chapter in A Dance with Dragons that he wrote, removed, rewrote, removed, added back, changed, hated, loved, and… well, I don’t know how that one ended. Everything seemingly stopped though until he got unstuck on that one chapter.
He also seems to have that same fear of rejection we all have. Impossible! you might say. But here’s what Martin said: “What if I fuck it up at the end? What if I do a ‘Lost’? Then they’ll come after me with pitchforks and torches.” (There they are again: the pitchforks.)
Here’s the thing. Those two examples along don’t speak to me of a man who’s not motivated to write the story. Quite the opposite, actually. He desperately wants to get it right.
Besides, who is anyone to say how someone should or shouldn’t write? We don’t know the struggles this guy is going through. We don’t know his process. The books he does put out are undeniably bestsellers even during the pre-sale. (And if there was a pre-pre-sale, he’d sell that out too.) So if he’s putting out good work when he does get done, then maybe it’s our lack of patience we should be addressing, not his motivation.
“Methinks the writer doth protest too much!” you might be saying, if you were born four hundred years ago. And your age-ed self would be right. The reason I am so forceful and seemingly uncaring with the “suck it up” bravado is because…
DUN, Dun, da…
I’m that person, too.
How to Suck It Up and Start Writing Again
Motivation has been a problem for me in varying degrees since, well… I was probably very motivated to write in Grade 3. Then, I went through a period of un-motivation, which I talked about a bit in my last post, How to Fall in Love with Writing. These days, it’s more about competing priorities (not sure if I mentioned that before…? lol)
If motivation is your problem like it can be for me, let’s find ways to solve that.
Think about what fears might be stopping you. Then find ways to address them. I’ve talked about many of these fears in my Substack – as good a place to start as any! But it can be tiredness, lack of focus, lack of “an idea”, or lack of time. It’s important to pinpoint what is holding you back. It doesn’t have to be one single thing, either! Often, many of these are at play.
Schedule your writing time. Try to find times that have a low risk of being interrupted. “Bath time for the kids” is a bad time. “Afternoon when kids are in school” is a good time.
Think about what you’re going to write before that scheduled time. You can mull this on the bus, in the grocery line, changing diapers, making coffee, hoeing the garden – try to spark your ideas before you sit down to your desk.
If you ignored the advice in the last point, there are ways to generate ideas. Try Zero Draft Writing, be prepared to Write Bad Words, or even make friends with the blank page. Writing prompts can help, too. What you shouldn’t do is waste the time you have, now that you’re (perhaps finally…) at your desk. Even if you think it won’t go anywhere, write anything and have fun with it. (Who knows, you might Get Some Satisfaction – teaser for my next post.)
Tape a quote to your wall, the edge of your computer monitor, on your keyboard – anywhere that is always (or almost always) in your eyeline. This could be one of those motivational “you can do it!” quotes, or a favourite line from a novel or poem, or even a picture of someone who inspires you. This will help you remember why you want to be sitting here writing in the first place. If your desk isn’t always where you’re at, tape it to the fridge or the bathroom mirror instead to get you to your desk in the first place.
Read something you really like, or watch a TV or part of a movie that sings to you. Similar to the above, it will inspire you to reach those same heights and motivate you to get to work.
Think about why you want to write. We all have some drive or another. What’s yours? Turn that over in your mind like an ancient coin in your hands and familiarize yourself with its edges and grooves and embossing once again.
Get over yourself. Just write, already. (Wow. Guess I am grumpy today.)
Key Takeaway: Lack of motivation comes in many disguises. Find out what’s really behind your inability to sit down and write, then address it. Fears, lack of time, disillusionment – or maybe you really don’t want to write after all. There are no wrong answers, just your answer.
Over to You: What Motivates You to Write?
Do you have any surefire ways to get your butt into your chair? How have you overcome your struggles with motivation? Let us know in the comments below!
In the meantime, check out the video below — a few minutes of George R.R. Martin asking Stephen King how he writes so quickly… lol
Until next time, keep writing with wild abandon!
email me if you get lost.