Romantic Life Lessons, Writing Tips

How Do You Stay Motivated Through the Pages?

I often wonder how writers stay motivated when they have to live with their characters for 200+ pages. Dear Writer, don’t you get sick of them? What if the plot is floundering just as the hero and heroine enter the jungle? Do you insert a night of sticky passion or take a break?

Editors experience similar frustrations with a story. Sometimes, if the grammar is convoluted, I can’t tell the difference anymore after 200 pages. Asking for revisions, staring at the flood of urgent emails, sending rejections, or just the day to day work we do with a project can overwhelm the eyes. This is when I step away from the computer and pick a new task. There are days, too, when I can’t bear to look at words at all.

We all have those moments when we hit a wall. Sometimes, this is when the real fun can begin, where you pull out that angst and let it flow on the page. Through it all, you have to keep yourself pumped up. You have the stamina and you’ll get to the finish line.

In the meantime, how do you stay motivated? For me, I play games with myself or follow slightly-OCD routines. These last fifteen years, my tricks are:

I break down those gigantic tasks into smaller tasks. If you have a scene to write, break it down by page. Feel the intensity of that moment and put it down. For me, I vow to edit 10 pages instead of the whole chapter before taking a breath. For those 10 pages, I am all there and determined to do my best. Repeat.

Looking at flowers never hurts. Extended immersion in nature is healing. In NYC, this is tough, so I look at pretty pictures.

In the morning, I take a piece of scratch paper and with a black Sharpie, write out my three goals for the day. I then tape the paper to my desk (which is full of years of tape marks). I cross out each goal with the Sharpie and only the Sharpie. If I get it all done, I can have ice cream. Okay, I’m an adult, I can have ice cream anytime I want and usually do. Never mind that. Reward yourself a lot. It makes you happy and that will keep you motivated. Skip the three goals and go straight to ice cream*.

If feeling particularly listless, I’ll bring a timer with me to work. For each task, I’ll set the timer and not go below or beyond when the bell rings. It’s a little hard core, but I need it. I try to imagine my mother yelling in my ear because she wrote six books in the last year. She has this inner Olympian that pushes her to stay focused and enthused. She is scary.

Exercise and watch bad television. Escape, escape, escape while doing the body good. My hair and makeup are a mess, but I return to work happy.

When the words swim on the page and I’m liable to do harm to them, I get up and do one of my favorite things: close the door, crank up the music and empty my box of Things to File. This sounds incredibly geeky but that’s just how I roll. It’s the little things, right? It’s still work.

At lunchtime, on a particularly busy day, I will go to a store just to browse the makeup aisles. I don’t wear a lot, but this tends to relax me, like a spa.

Some time away from Romance, especially at night, helps me return to it full throttle the next morning. I choose non-fiction on most nights. Oh, and there are the oodles of shows and movies that I watch.

So, while you write, what keeps you motivated and on task? Please share your methods. I could learn a few more for the next fifteen years.

*Unless you’re watching your sugar intake. In this case, online shopping in moderation to the rescue!

4 thoughts on “How Do You Stay Motivated Through the Pages?”

  1. I usually set a goal for the day’s writing–a minimum of 1K words, usually. If I’m really struggling, I’ll allow the “1 page” rule. I have to at least make myself write one page. Every once in a while, I really do stop there, but most of the time things start rolling and I end up writing away.

    Sometimes I do in fact promise myself ice cream…or a glass of wine… And mostly I tell myself that this is my job, so I have to show up every day, whether I’m in the mood or not. That’s harder at this time of year, though, when there are so many more distractions and things on my plate (who put all those weeds in my garden?). So occasionally I cut myself some slack and do something else. The words usually beckon me back before too long.

  2. Whether reading or writing (or even critiquing a ms or judging a RWA chapter contest entry), I have to see what’s going to happen to the characters. What will she say next? What will he do next? In what way will they change? I love the journey. I love the transformation. This alone pulls me through the pages from the start to the end.

    I can’t imagine your job–so many mss, so many millions of words, so much change in publishing. Unfortunately, I can’t offer any clever tips to make your job easier. But, for whatever it’s worth, I can give you these words of encouragement (yes, I know, more words): I’ve heard that, no matter what methods you use to get the job done, you get it done and rather brilliantly at that.

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