You sit down in front of the computer. You open Word. Your fingers rest poised over the keys, ready to tickle their way through greatness. You’re ready. You’re determined. … The cats get into a tussle and you turn your head to watch. Then you decide you feel like a cookie. You get up. Might as well make some coffee while you’re at it. Better yet, why not just drive over to Starbuck’s for fancy coffee and a pastry. Yeah! The one that’s in Barnes & Noble. Then you can wander through books all afternoon. Because reading a lot is part of the writing process, right? Right???
Yeah, you saw that coming. Whether you’re a writer like me or an artist or a crafter or person with friends that would occasionally like to see you, I’m sure you’ve had those moments of pure inertia that keep you on the sidelines. Sometimes it’s just so much easier to fritter than to fight. And SpongeBob is always on somewhere. Why not just kick back and chillax? There will be time for all those important things later.
Thus begins the slippery slope.
But if you’re anything like me a load of guilt comes with that decision to go to B&N instead of writing another chapter or getting in a few more rounds on the sock you’re knitting. And procrastination is not inherently evil. I happen to like it now and then as a way to recharge the batteries. But the crucial thing is to stay motivated to get the work done. Because remember, you actually like this hobby!
I’ve had many people over the years tell me their techniques for staying motivated. Bribery is a big one. If you can make a deal with yourself, set yourself a reward for the hard work, then you’ll get more done, they say. Okay, I can go to Starbucks IF I get five pages written first, if I get this little section of the painting sorted out, if I call up Kristine and ask if she wants to come with me because I haven’t seen her in a month. Or one of my favorites, I can go yarn shopping again as soon as I finish this pair of socks! Wheeling and dealing with yourself can be a huge motivating factor because who knows better what you want enough to work for than you?
But what if you are terrible about holding yourself accountable?
Another technique I’ve heard for getting the work done is to limit your exposure to distracting influences. Put the cats in another room. Close the curtains and turn off the radio. Set up an office in the basement and unplug the phones. And definitely, definitely do not go online! The Spartans might not have been the most fun people in Ancient Greece, but they got stuff done. Limiting exposure to the things you know are your weaknesses can help your mind to focus on that other thing that you love but are avoiding. Don’t avoid it! It loves you! Let that sock fill you with warm-fuzzies as you turn the heel!
Okay, what about the opposite of that?
I find that keeping a lot of inspirational things around helps me stay motivated to write. I have a corkboard with character pics of all of the main characters for the stories I’m working on above my computer. They sit up there, all cute and approachable, and urge me to get a move on. And I am a big fan of Pandora for setting the mood. Some days it’s Haydn, some days it’s Glee, but whatever the mood I find that music carries it along. And if I get really stuck, well, as a historical romance writer I find that trolling Netflix for a good BBC costume drama is not entirely a waste of time. The combination of a subject I love, sweeping cinematography, fantastic costumes, hot British guys, and a killer soundtrack can usually get my juices going. … And make me want to write too. 😉 But if you don’t happen to be a historical romance writer maybe a trip to the museum or a hike in the woods or a jaunt down to your local high-end yarn store (if you’re in eastern PA I recommend Lancaster Yarn Shop as a euphoria-inducing experience) will do the trick.
Right, that seems to work in the short term, but what about long term?
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I get massively burned out. On everything. On writing, on knitting, even on cricket. It happens to the best of us. But what I’ve learned is that people are your friends. Not only that, like-minded people are your best motivational tool and resource. No, seriously! I never feel so energized and motivated to take on the world than when I’ve been to a conference, convention, or event revolving around my passions. Writer’s conferences, like the Philadelphia Writers Conference or any of the Romance Writers of America conferences, send me to euphoric heights of writing bliss. Attending the recent Knitting Along the Viking Trail exhibit at the American Swedish Historical Museum made me want to knit sweaters for everyone I know. Taking a wheel-throwing ceramics class at the Abington Art Center this Spring turned me into a total pot-head. Because each event gave me the chance to learn about what I love and share my enthusiasm with others who share the same passion. There’s nothing like finding a clump of people who can talk just as long and just as furiously as you can about the things you love.
But what is the best technique for staying motivated?
Answer? All of them.
Just like combinations of drugs have been proven to be the most effective treatment for cancer, combinations of motivational techniques are the best way to yank yourself up out of the rut. For example, having attended the Philadelphia Writers Conference last weekend I have now told myself that if I get off my butt and set up an online presence as an author and take a risk to ePublish The Loyal Heart this summer then I can get that Kindle I’ve wanted for years so that I can read my own book. And I’m allowed to watch as much SpongeBob as I want as long as I’m knitting socks for the craft sale I intend to have a booth to sell them at in November.
So if I can do it, me, a devout lover of procrastination, you can do it too. Let’s get out there and conquer the world!