Well, staying motivated can be a challenge all right. It doesn’t matter what you do, have to do or want to do, motivation is often the elusive factor. Really, the only way to get motivated is to DO IT.
Whatever IT is.
I tell my children, and especially tell myself, ACTION LEADS TO MOTIVATION. Other things can, such as an idea, something that moves you emotionally, a goal. But how often do we have these motivations yet still never do or achieve? Too often. The world is littered with tired, bored, aborted and broken motivations. They lie around everywhere with every intention of tripping us up and stealing our edge, our purpose, our ability to reach whatever pinnacle we have placed in the distance.
There are many books written on motivation. Whether you want to finish a novel or a vegetable garden, or perhaps get out and exercise in the sunlight: whether want you want to achieve is lofty or just down here at grass roots level, it is all the same thing.
It goes without saying that success breeds motivation, and the confidence to act -which leads to motivation …
But, motivation has to come before success of any type, big or small, and therein lies the rub. So, as we are focusing primarily on writing, that’s where I’ll address this from my point of view. Please feel free to apply it to any area of your life if you find it works for you.
Whether you want to write a short story, a novel, an article or an essay for school makes no difference. The question I am asked most often, however, is how do you finish a novel without getting lost or bored or a hundred other reasons to stop. There are as many answers as there are questioners, and we each have to find what works for us individually, usually by trial and error.
That old adage grandmothers (in my day) used to give: we learn by our mistakes, is very true. All those failed drafts are errors you can learn from.
One of the most common reasons for not finishing a first draft, though, is that the writer doesn’t know what it is they are writing about or because they aren’t really interested either.
So, let’s break that down somewhat. You’ll often hear the advice: write what you know. I consider this both true and nonsense. How so, I hear you ask. I admit one is oppositional to the other, but it is, all the same, true.
The nonsense side of it comes from lack of knowledge on a subject, and making assumptions rather than learning how something works in real life. It also comes from not knowing how to create believable dialogue.
The truth side of it comes from the fact that we are all human and share a commonality of emotional reactions. This is where the universal element comes from which makes for good writing.
Let’s look at this more closely.
If you are writing a novel on being an international pilot, then you need to know something about piloting. If you are writing about a character, i.e. person who is an international pilot, then you need to know something about that character.
The truth of writing is in knowing your characters and making them believable, accessible and real. And you do this by knowing your own emotional reactions and understanding about others emotional reactions.
If you cast your story with a polyglot of characters who you want to spend time with in real life, or have known in real life, and some who drive you crazy to some degree or a large degree, then you are creating something which you will enjoy writing.
No one enjoys reading something which the writer doesn’t enjoy writing.
This is true of genre fiction as well. You might know the world of spies, or doctors, or forensic psychology, but if your characters aren’t real and interesting to you, then they won’t be to anyone else either.
Does this mean they have to be only likeable? Or have no annoying foibles? Be popular? Beautiful? Successful? Or a hundred other positive adjectives? No, definitely not. There is one thing they must be above anything else, and that’s human. We all have less than perfect personalities, often they are what make us interesting and welcome in others’ lives. Who wants to spend time with someone who is perfect? Who is perfect?
No, make your characters real, show us who they really are and what they are grappling with within themselves – often exposed and developed by what they are grappling with in the everyday or with those they must interact with – and you will not only stay interested in what you are writing but will then develop something others will be interested in.
All that said, don’t take your first draft as anything but a guideline for the real novel; and don’t think your first novel completed is the next big seller. It more likely is a practice novel to allow you to hone your skills towards writing the next big seller. It’s an achievement in itself and should prepare you to make a like achievement, and then another.
Remember, many successful writers would cringe if anyone saw their first novel or first several novels. Some destroy them. One very popular writer I know made a paper Mache ball for her desk out of her first draft of her first novel. Others keep them to remind them of the hard work of the writing apprenticeship, and sometimes to rewrite them in the future. Some even do rewrite and go on to sell them.
Forget about reviewing or editing anything in that first draft. You are just getting the bones down to be worked on. Complexities, development, scene expansion, consistency, dénouement aspects can be sorted out later.
Finally, find the time – and discipline – to write every day. Set a minimum, even if it is as little as 300 words, approximately a page, even scribble in a notebook if you can’t sit down to actually write. Focus on characters and how they feel in any given situation and imagine what they are thinking, will react, or what they do about it. To complete a novel, you must spend the mental time and energy to think about it every moment you can.