You know the deal: If you want to get better at writing, you need to write.
Preferably daily. Preferably at the same time every day.
But uuuuuugh. What if you’re just not motivated to write every day? What if you can’t discipline yourself? What if you tried for a few days then completely ran out of juice and sat around eating cookies instead?
Every writer struggles with this. “I just don’t have any motivation today,” we say, all sad and desolate, as if we’d completely run out and had no idea where to get more.
This may be because we don’t stock up properly.
Writing motivation doesn’t come from within. It comes from your secret stash.
What Do You Get Out Of It?
I was reading a book on how to develop habits, and one critical point caught my eye. This book argues that one of the reasons we fail to develop “good” habits and keep up our “bad” ones is because our bad habits offer us a better reward.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you decide you need more physical exercise every day (a good habit) and want to quit eating junk food (a bad habit).
It’s easier to start exercising every day if you pick the same time to do it. You decide you’re going to go for a run at 7:00 am every morning. No excuses.
Meanwhile, you decide that you’re going to get rid of all your chips and stock up on healthy carrot sticks instead. Now you won’t be tempted.
But after a few days, you have a rotten day at work and you sleep poorly. You wake up with a bit of a headache, and your shins hurt from those three days of diligent running. You’re tired. Cranky. Meh.
Anyone who’s ever tried to rejigger their health habits knows what happens next: You skip your run and somewhere around noon, you find yourself at the snack machine pounding at the glass to make that Snickers bar drop down.
What went wrong?
Eating junk food (your bad habit) is rewarding. You get a tasty rush of sugar. You feel satisfied. You feel content. You were stressed out, you got some good stuff, and now you feel better.
Running (your good habit) didn’t come with a reward. You got up early, you ran, you worked hard that day, and then you . . . come home, take a shower, sleep, and do it all the next day.
Where’s the fun in that?
We tell ourselves that there IS a reward for running – in a few months, we’ll be in better shape. But honestly, that’s not much good. We need motivation so we act NOW.
Which brings us back to writing.
What’s Missing From Your Daily Writing?
You have a long-term goal for your writing. For many of you reading this blog, you want to have your novel published one day. For some of you, you just might want to finish that book. Whatever your motivation, it’s long-term motivation.
It’s not something you can accomplish in a day of writing.
Since that’s the case, your mind starts wondering why it’s doing this daily writing thing. It’s hard. It’s tiring. Some days, it’s grueling – a real chore you’re starting to hate. And it doesn’t seem to have any immediate reward.
You’re just going to keep doing this painful daily writing forever and never going to get anything out of it.
That’s lousy motivation.
Long-term goals are great, and you should keep moving toward them. The ultimate reward of achieving your dream is going to be amazing.
But right now, you’re not sitting down to write a whole book. You’re sitting down to write for an hour. One hour. That’s it. And you need a reward for doing that.
You need motivation. Here’s the problem:
Your Motivation Isn’t Internal.
Motivation isn’t some magic force that you either have one day or you don’t. You provide yourself with motivation.
People often make the mistake of thinking motivation is inherent in the act – if we write, we’ll feel good. That’s true to a degree, but while it feels satisfying to write, it’s also difficult do do every day.
And many days, the satisfaction of having written that day is just too intangible a motivation to convince you to sit down and write the next and the next and the next.
So give yourself a motivation you can touch.
Your motivation can be small, and it should be intensely personal. Let’s say that you enjoy fine wine. After you write (not during; after), pour yourself a glass of the good stuff. Not that boxed stuff on top of the fridge; that’s just disgusting.
This is special, just-for-you, reward-for-writing wine.
Not a drinker? (I suppose some writers aren’t…) Alright. Maybe you fancy a truffle from that chocolate place you don’t often indulge in because come on, what do you need with fancy chocolate?
Maybe your motivation is a walk in the cool night air, all by yourself. Maybe it’s freshly-squeezed orange juice. Maybe it’s an episode of your favorite TV show.
It’s anything you want it to be.
Well, okay. Within reason. There are a few rules:
The Motivation Reward Rules
There are only three rules for your motivation:
- It has to be personal. If this isn’t something you really want, you won’t want to work for it. Don’t decide to do the glass of wine if you could care less about the glass of wine. Choose a reward that works for you, something you really desire, guilt-free.
- It has to be something you can enjoy immediately after writing. This is crucial, because you want to attach your reward firmly to your effort and build association. Your mind will subconsciously connect those two together. It’ll start thinking, “Well, I don’t want to write, but I really do want to go watch the next episode of House, so let’s get this over with.”
- It has to be something you won’t do otherwise. If you make your reward something you indulge in all the time, it won’t be special. It won’t be a motivator. Sure, you could have that fine glass of Shiraz after you write – or you could have a glass without writing, just like you did yesterday. Useless. Your reward can be something you used to do intermittently, but once you decide on it as a reward, don’t do it at any other time than post-writing.
Here’s the interesting part: After you’ve used this reward motivator technique for a couple of months, your mind will automatically associate writing in the “good” part of your brain rather than the “painful, dreary, daily slogging to be avoided” part.
That means you’ll start getting the impulse to write even when you know perfectly well it’s not possible to have the reward. Even when you’re out of wine or it’s raining too hard to go for a walk, you’ll still feel motivated, because your mind won’t be thinking of writing as difficult.
It’ll think of writing as rewarding.
Which is all the motivation you need.
So tell me: What do you think your motivation will be? What small thing can you give yourself as a reward for writing? And if you already use this technique, what reward works for you?
About the author:
Preferring a lovely glass of fine Shiraz for her after-writing reward, James Chartrand of Men with Pens devotes her time to teaching students at Damn Fine Words, the best online writing course for business owners yet. Get on the newsletter today!
Image: Boy in pilot’s hat courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com
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