What do you do to motivate yourself to write when you don’t “feel like it”?
Chances are, you found this blog not because you have an answer to this question personally, but because you’re desperate for someone else to give you one.
I never claim to have all the answers. Everyone’s writing experience is different, so any advice I give may or may not apply to everyone in the same way, or at all.
But what I can do is tell you what works for me. And that’s turning work into a game.
It’s time to level up your writing. It’s time to play a new game, and embark on the path to “winning.”
First, you have to know the endgame. Every game has an end goal, or a point in which you know you’re about to reach the finish line. What is your personal endgame? Where do you want to be in x number of weeks/months/years? What do you want to accomplish?
It’s impossible to start writing anything without a goal, even if it’s not a very specific or timely one. When you start writing a book, you pretty much know your end objective is to finish writing that book. When you start a blog, typically your objective is to gain a following and earn some income.
Whatever your “final boss” is, make sure you keep your head focused on it as you move through the stages ahead. Because things are going to get harder. And you’re going to need something — e.g., signing a contract with an agent — to keep you heading in the right general direction.
Decide what it’s going to take to get there. In a video game, for example, your playable character usually has a set of traits or skills you can “level up” as you play to make reaching your end objective more feasible. Whatever the end objective might be for you, you should make a list of the skills you’re going to need to improve in order to get to where you want to go.
For example, to build a successful blog, you can generally plan on improving your writing skills as you go. But what about your marketing smarts? Your graphic design or photography capabilities? Or, maybe you want to break down “writing skills” into different parts, like character development, dialogue writing, foreshadowing, things like that. It’s really up to you.
Establish clear checkpoints. Many writers don’t like this part, but trust me, it’ll come in handy in a second. You can’t just have one end objective. You have to create smaller checkpoints along the way, to help you get from start to finish without feeling too overwhelmed.
Goals don’t have to be scary. Writing 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo sounds like a lot, until you break that up into five segments of 10,000 words, and then break each of those segments up into 5,000-word pieces. 5,000 words, 10 times, seems a lot less overwhelming, don’t you think?
Figure out how to “gamify” your experience. Yes, writing is hard work. But you can make it fun. Think of writing a book like progressing level by level through your favorite RPG. You can establish small rewards for yourself for reaching checkpoints, or have someone else provide said rewards. There are even apps out there that turn goals and habit-forming into a level-up gaming experience for you.
It can also be as simple as putting gold stars on every calendar day you write a certain number of words, with a special reward in place if you stick with it for a certain number of days in a row. It really doesn’t matter. But if you’re motivated by “leveling up,” it might really help you get more done, and enjoy it more, too.
Finally, start and keep working at it little by little. The most important thing to remember is that you will not get to where you want to be in a day. It takes small, gradual steps over long periods of time to write books, build blogs, get good jobs, and more. If you expect things to happen quickly, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.
Instead, go into this expecting things to take a very long time. Accept it as the norm and take things as they come. Celebrate small milestones. Don’t let yourself get discouraged when it feels like things are taking too long, or you’re struggling to reach a goal, or you have to make a new one and start over.
All that matters is that you’re trying your hardest. That you’re making progress, no matter how slowly. And that you’re enjoying yourself to the best of your ability. Writing is work. But it doesn’t always have to feel like it.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.