A Writing Life: Finding your motivation (or…Robert Pattinson in a Speedo)

I was the worst procrastinator in school: always waiting until the last minute to cram for tests or write a paper. But I got things done because I wanted that A. After finishing school, I always worked for someone else, so procrastination wasn’t an issue – my boss was looking over my shoulder, so of course I got things done on time. I was a high achiever due to my total psychological dependence on praise. Caramel is my favorite thing on earth…but even IT is superseded by someone patting me on the back and saying, “Wow, Amy! Amazing job!”

I’ve always written, but only started doing it on a regular basis around five years ago when I moved to France. I had a blog that I posted to EVERY DAY for three years, then every few days after that. And do you know what my motivation was? Reader comments. I’m a comment whore.

I wrote because people responded to my writing. And when people sent me heartfelt emails saying that something I wrote had touched them to the core or made them laugh or cry – I swear that was better than caramel. On a beach. Served on a platter by a scantily dressed cabana boy. Who just happens to be the spitting image of Robert Pattinson.

Um…where was I?

Oh yeah…can I write in a social vacuum? No. Do I write a journal that no one ever sees? No way. (Although I sorely wish I did.) So how have I motivated myself to write three entire full-length books without having hundreds of people patting me on the back every few minutes? How do I close myself into my little isolated office and pump out 83,000 words without a whole cheering squad of readers rah-rah-ing me on?

Um, I can’t. I did once, with my first manuscript, which hasn’t been published. It was hard to motivate myself, and took more than a year to write. I did leak excerpts to my blog readers, who were very enthusiastic and reassured me that it wasn’t total crap. And once it was done, an agent snapped it up in no time, which was also extremely reassuring.

With my next attempt (DIE FOR ME), I couldn’t procrastinate. I had three months of summer vacation before I had to return to teaching horribly uninterested university students a language they couldn’t give a flip about. I was not cut out for teaching people old enough to sit on each other’s laps and make out while I attempted to teach them prepositions. So this book was my ticket out of a job that gave me stomachaches every single morning. Let me tell you THAT was a good motivator.

But, knowing my Achilles heel, I knew I needed more. I needed constant feedback. When a friend offered to read my book in installments as I wrote it, I jumped at the chance. Long-suffering Claudia opened my emails every day and cheered me on as I went. I will never forget—about five chapters in—when she wrote me saying, “I REALLY think you’re on to something here!” And that encouragement helped carry me through.

Around the same time, I began reading to my husband at lunch. (We both work from home and usually eat together.) Although he squirmed a bit during the kissing scenes, he bravely listened through the whole thing. With him, the moment I best remember was a scene near the end. I was reading to him from my computer as he drove the car and he was so shocked by something that one of my characters did that he almost drove off the road. Making my cool, unflappable husband react like that felt like a victory.

Not everyone can have a longsuffering friend like Claudia. Or a partner who has the time and energy to listen to rough drafts. And not everyone needs continual feedback to serve as motivation. Hopefully most of you are able to pat yourselves on the back and your motivation can come from within.

But for those of you who need an extra boost, I suggest finding your own formula. Try NaNoWriMo, or organize your own production-based contest with a few friends, and encourage each other as you write. Find short and long-term rewards. For each chapter written, take a bike ride or walk somewhere with particularly interesting things to see along the way (eye candy). For five chapters, go see a movie (brain candy). For ten, treat yourself: buy a new dress or hat or let yourself eat something you normally wouldn’t dare. For me, that would be a box of salty French caramels (candy candy).

You don’t need motivators to write? Great. I am in awe. You do? Find something your soul desires: approval, a dress, or caramels served by Robert Pattinson’s twin brother wearing a Speedo. Find it, make it your motivation, and then work your way towards those magical two words: “The End”.

5 Comments to A Writing Life: Finding your motivation (or…Robert Pattinson in a Speedo)

  1. by Suzanne - On November 9, 2010

    We are all comment whores! I rarely read something you have written that I don’t want to comment on – it cuts both ways! You deserve all your followers – many more to come I am sure.
    You are inspiring – how you find the time to read avidly, write voraciously, renovate a house and keep your family under control is a mystery to me!
    Happy Tuesday my friend!

  2. by BethDazzled - On November 9, 2010

    I think everyone with a blog is a comment whore–myself included.

    My weekly reassurance comes from my lovely writers group. They muscled through my first novel and were sweetly rewarded (as was I) by my second. Plus, they’re totally accepting of my crazy which is always good for us insaneo writers.

    PS Thanks for the Rob visual. 😉

  3. by Chez Loulou - On November 10, 2010

    Just last night my husband asked when I was going to update my blog again.
    Granted I’ve been visiting family in the States for the last 12 days, so have been a tad bit busy, but I have also been feeling somewhat stressed about my lack of motivation to write. Reading this helped. Truly. Thank you!

  4. by amy - On November 12, 2010

    Thank you, Suzanne! And I don’t know how I keep up either. It helps that I live in the middle of nowhere where there is a dearth of distracting activities!

    Beth – your group sounds wonderful. How great to have a support system that you get to meet with on a regular basis!

    And Loulou…glad to serve as motivation. Knowing your cheese fetish, though, you could also promise yourself a big scoop of St. Felicien in exchange for blogging! (I am a cheese lover too. It’s right up there with caramel.)

  5. by BethDazzled - On November 14, 2010

    Amy/Suzanne- I have self-imposed “dearth” of distractions. There’s like 1 day a week I assign to seeing other humans. And then I feel guilty about not writing in that time. 😛

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