Posts Tagged writerly life

7 tips for keeping your motivation as a writer

I’ve had an interesting email from Zoe that sums up some typical challenges of the writerly life:

I started writing two years ago. I’m bored with my story. I have outlined every scene and character and I know how it will go; but I find while I am writing that I change it completely and like that better. Do I stick to my outline?

1. Outlining to flatlining

Outlining is essential. Very few writers can make up a whole novel on the spot as they’re typing. Even if they don’t plan in writing, they’ve usually done a lot of preparation in their heads.

We all have a greater or lesser need for a formal plan. You may be discovering that if you outline exhaustively you kill the idea. In that case, don’t write a detailed synopsis, just put a few notes on cards and set sail (more on outlining methods in Nail Your Novel). Or you may be discovering that detailed outlines free you to take turns you wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

2. Have you let the book rest?

Are you changing stuff because you’re stale, or because you’re having better ideas? We all get to the stage where it’s impossible to tell. Change if you’re improving the book, but not for its own sake because you’re no longer entertained.

Sometimes working on a novel is like hearing the same joke over and over. We need a break before we can tell if it’s funny.

3. Is this your learner novel?

You mention you’ve been writing for two years. Is that on this same book? Most of us start writing because we’ve had an idea and we hurl ourselves in. A few years later, that novel has had a lot of pummelling as we learn what to do.

Sometimes we should let that learner novel go.

We might grow out of it, but cling on because we like the familiarity, or we refuse to be beaten by it, or we worry we won’t get another idea.

Some learner novel ideas are so ambitious we won’t have the wisdom to write them for many years.

On the other hand, some learner novels turn out just fine.

Again, the best cure is to let it rest.

4. Going in new directions

Don’t be afraid to take the book in new directions if the muse suggests them. Novels evolve all the time – as you understand the characters more, fill logic holes, make new discoveries in research or fix things you’ve fudged. These realisations make your book stronger and you shouldn’t try to force the book back on track.

But I find that if I go totally off piste I can get in a fearful muddle. So if I need a new direction I stop and work out the consequences. Redraw the map and continue.

5. Get your enthusiasm back

When you take a break, give your book the best chance to win you back. Read some novels that are like it, to remember why you love that kind of story.

Do you still have the very first notes you made? It’s always worth keeping notes from the honeymoon period. Dig them out and find what got you excited in the first place.

6. Writer’s block

Zoe also asked:

What do you do when you get writer’s block and don’t feel like reading over what you have written?

If I’m blocked it’s because there’s a problem I haven’t diagnosed. Like you, I don’t want to open the file. But this reluctance is my brain’s way of telling me I’m sending my story in a direction I don’t like. So I figure out what that is and find ways to change it. Once I have, I’m happy to continue again.

7. Confidence

Zoe’s final question was this:

Do you ever feel like no one will like your work?

What do we mean by ‘like’? Do we mean ‘where’s the market’? Will agents, publishers, readers in their millions like our work?

We can’t write with fashions in mind because they’ll have changed the next time it rains. We can only write the books that would satisfy us as readers.

There’s another question here – will you like your own book?

All the creatives I know – artists, animators, game designers, musicians, choreographers – worry that we are creating rubbish. We’re hoping we can fix it before anyone finds out. I look at my finished novels and cannot imagine what super-brain made them so coherent – because now I’m on a new idea (The Venice Novel) I’m splashing blind.

Our sense of perfection can paralyse us. But it’s also the spur that makes us raise our game. So like most things in writing, polish the book until you’re satisfied, have a rest and repeat. When you can’t go further, find beta readers, polish until they’re satisfied… approach an agent or an editor… and spread out wider and wider until you have a comfortable majority who agree it’s good to go.

For more on outlining and editing methods, see Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books And How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence

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What saps your motivation as a writer? How do you beat it? Share in the comments!

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