Tag Archives: Motivation

Writing Goals: Poetry Addition

April was National Poetry Month. So, of course, on my Facebook page, I posted a poem or two a day. And, inspired by all the poetry I was posting, I tried to write more poems than I usually do.

Now that April’s over, I want to continue pushing myself to write poetry. I’ve written in the past how deadlines work really well for me when it comes to writing, but how arbitrary ones, not attached to a literary journal’s deadline, kinda never seem to have the same effect on my writing.

My new goal is to write two poems a week. Is that doable? Maybe. I’m older and more mature now, so maybe I’ll be able to hold myself to my writing goals. But there are a few other tricks I’m using to motivate myself to keep my writing goals.

First and foremost, I’m telling all of you about my goal. When other people, like my co-blogger Melanie, know about my goals and can ask me about them, I tend to do better at holding myself accountable for my goals. So I’ve told her, and you, that I plan on writing two poems a week and now there’s an expectation that I will be writing two poems a week.

The Things We Do Instead of Writing

With no papers due and no pending deadlines for any of my writing projects, I find myself unmotivated to write on a regular basis. Even when I sit down to write – pen in hand or keyboard under finger – I start to create this long imaginary list of other things I should be doing. Soon, it’s too late for me to write, or I’m too tired, or I want a break after doing said list of things. There are some very specific things that pop into my head that prevent me from being a good writer and actually writing. I know I’m not the only writer out there to do this.

One of my professors commented that, anytime she has a book to write, she suddenly remembers that she has dirty dishes in the sink, and that her floor sure could use a mopping, and man, when was the last time she vacuumed? We all have our little ticks that prevent us from doing the writing we set out to do.

The holidays, for example, easily break up our normal routines. Even if you have a normal writing schedule, it’s hard to stick to it with the obligations of the season. It’s hard to say “listen, family/wife/kids/friends, I know we’re supposed to be opening presents right now, but I really have a writing schedule I need to stick to. It’s not that you’re not important, it’s just that if I break my schedule it might be really hard to get back on it. You understand, right?” The answer to that would probably be no.

Unless you plan to give your family disappointment for the holidays, you should probably not use writing as an excuse to skip out on the festivities.

For me, most of the gifts I give during the season are handmade or homemade. I love to crochet and bake cookies, and both activities tend to occupy my hands and my mind so soon writing is completely pushed out of there. Even after the holidays, my brain is still in crochet mode – I’m working on two bags and one hat, at the moment, instead of my poetry or my short stories.

Literary Arts 30th, Or Quieting Fear

There’s nothing more motivational than listening to the struggles and realizations of an author who “made it.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll no doubt say it again. On Monday, I attended Literary Arts 30th Anniversary Party, where I was able to hear Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists and author of the series Wildwood, play a few songs and listen to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, (among others) speak.

For those of you who don’t know, Literary Arts (LA) is an Oregon-based nonprofit literary center that was formed thirty years ago, in 1984, with the mission of bringing “authors and thinkers” to the Northwest. LA hosts lecture series that bring in over two thousand readers; they host workshops, seminars, and programs for high school students. They’ve also helped support many Oregon authors throughout their careers, like Cheryl Strayed for one.

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Gilbert seems like the best friend we’d all love to have; she’s got a great sense of humor, an adventurous spirit, but most of all, she’s sure of herself. Not just because her best-known novel, Eat, Pray, Love, spent nearly two-hundred weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. Although, that’s plenty enough to make a writer feel sure of herself.

Maybe it’s that, as Gilbert said of herself (quite depreciatingly), she isn’t good at anything besides writing. It must be difficult to be good at a lot of things, she told the audience. How do you know where to direct your passion? That struck a chord with me. I’m not amazing at everything I do, but I’ve always been a good student with a hunger for knowledge. I love astronomy and history. Sometimes politics when I’m not too down on the world. And growing up, my being on the honor roll and needing to always be right led my parents to believe I’d make quite a successful lawyer. I can even sing without breaking glass (although, stage fright makes this difficult to prove). Point being, becoming a writer isn’t generally something a parent dreams for their child. And when there’s literally nothing stopping you from going for that law degree (or some other—stabler—career) besides a persistent itch to write and tell stories, it’s difficult to convince yourself that you aren’t, indeed, making a huge mistake.

“Creativity and fear,” as Gilbert said, “are conjoined twins.” It takes courage to be a writer. Courage to acknowledge fear’s presence, but to let fear know that it won’t control the journey. Gilbert told the audience that she has witnessed many writers—writers just as good as her, if not better—who gave up on themselves. They weren’t happy with the work they were producing. It didn’t meet the expectations they had set for themselves, and so they quit. They “pre-decided,” as Gilbert put it, that they weren’t good enough.

Write Now: Don’t Put It Off

It’s not very often you discover a secret to life, but get ready—I just learned a whopper (you’re welcome).

Every goal I have and every weakness I want eradicated can be achieved by figuring out one thing: how to quit procrastinating.

I’ll start eating healthy after cleaning this bowl of cookie dough. I’ll write that chapter tomorrow. I’ll work out Monday. I’ll finish that to-read stack, clean the litter box, floss—later later later. I’m never on time for anything, and even hitting the snooze button is just a way of procrastinating six times before I get up.

I didn’t understand how procrastinating was single-handedly thwarting everything in my life until I read about “The Procrastination Doom Loop” in The Atlantic and realized “later” may never arrive. Why? We don’t procrastinate because of poor time management; we procrastinate because 1) we feel like we’re in the wrong mood, and 2) we assume our mood will change in the future, which—let’s face it—rarely happens. My aunt, for example, sent Christmas cards every year with the same message, “Will write more later”—a spectacular example of how to hang fire.

So, I decided kicking procrastination may be the key to life without regret. After all, fulfillment literally means “the process of doing what is required,” not “avoiding it at all cost.” I have goals and a vision for my life, but I need to break that procrastination cycle if I want them to become realities.

Procrastination is most detrimental to writers, who—ironically—are notorious procrastinators. On one hand, writing may be our livelihoods, and regular writing is the only way to improve, produce material, build a portfolio, or avoid seeing poor-quality pieces killed after squeaking them out under deadline. On the other hand, writing is more than a job (for some of us, it may never be our jobs). Writing is our identity, i.e. “I am writer,” or “I think, therefore I write.” If we’re not writing—if we’re only thinking about writing, tomorrow—can we even call ourselves writers? Who are we really? Just students or interns or baristas slinging lattes who imagine writing, the way I imagine I can do a pull-up (I can’t).

Motivational Movies for Writers, Part Three

This final installation of movies for writers is brought to you by Missy Lacock, Insecure Writer Extraordinaire (at least this week). And I needed these motivational films just as much as the next poor writing sap.

First: It’s easy to NOT write—even for writers. And observing and thinking creatively is still not writing, people. Tools like these movies remind us we can’t improve or have a product to publish if we don’t actually produce it. Only writers are dumb enough to forget that.

Second: Like the editor-in-chief of this blog pointed out, writing’s the only activity with a “block” (there’s no such thing as “athlete’s block“); we need inspiration anywhere we can get it. Our jobs are to express something new, contribute something significant, but we need material and the creative fortitude to say anything at all.

And lastly: The life of a writer is a constant fluctuation between thinking we’re the best damn writers on earth and realizing we can’t even spell “attached” correctly. And since the craft is entirely subjective and—let’s be honest—doesn’t have any rules we can’t break, there’s no measurable validation we’re good at what we do. Not only that, but to write is to be rejected and edited, which means our egos are always taking a hit. That, my friends, is the life of a writer.

That is also why we need tools to remind us we’re not alone, that even the greats suffered insecurity and failure and rejection and writer’s block and lethargy, that what we do takes commitment and self-belief.

Adaptation

Synopsis: This movie follows two stories. 1) A writer researches orchids and writes a book. 2) A neurotic screenwriter struggles with insecurity as he adapts the orchid book for the big screen. And, uh, things get a little crazy for a movie about flowers.

Live vicariously: Land a screenwriting job for a major motion picture; use a typewriter; explore even a boring topic in interesting and eloquent prose; have our books optioned.

Quotes:

  • “Screenwriting seminars are bullshit.”
  • “There are no rules, Donald. And anybody who says there are…those teachers are dangerous if your goal is to do something new.”
  • “The only idea more overused than serial killers is multiple personality [disorder].”
  • “Because I’m pathetic. Because I have no idea how to write. Because I can’t make flowers fascinating. Because I suck.”

Themes: writerly neurosis, movie options, project obsession, writer’s block, insecurity, low self-esteem, writer-agent relations, and deadlines.

Motivational Movies for Writers, Part One

Last week, I watched the new release Authors Anonymous, in which a writer’s group copes with the overnight success of one of its members. Only a bookworm and writer would connect with the writing communities, workshops, rejection, insecurities, agents, self-publishing, and writer’s block themes. The movie might have been dumb as hell, but it motivated me to pick at a short story after the credits—and that’s really all that matters, people.

The experience reminded me films about writers motivate writers like Rocky motivates athletes. Need some summer writing inspiration? Check out these movies for a shot in the arm. The best part is they’re cases in point of the power of what we do: stories.

Anonymous

Synopsis: This film explores the true authorship of the plays and sonnets credited to William Shakespeare.

Live vicariously: Hear a crowd chant “Playwright” after the performance of one of our plays.

Quotes:

  • “Ten thousand souls all listening to the writings of one man, the ideas of one man—that’s power.”
  • “Only when I put their words, their voices to parchment are they cast loose free. Only then is my mind quieted…I would go mad if I didn’t write down the voices.”
  • “You, your family, even I, even Queen Elizabeth herself will be remembered solely because we had the honor to live whilst [he] put ink to paper.”

Themes: intellectual property, censorship, the political power of literature, the passion of writing, the timelessness of good literature (and apparently crowd surfing), and, you know, Shakespeare.

Capote

Synopsis: While writing his true-crime novel In Cold Blood, Truman Capote develops a relationship with one of the killers.

Live vicariously: Be famous; have fans; type on a typewriter; participate in a mass reading.

Quotes:

  • “Researching this work has changed my life. It’s altered my point of view about almost everything. And I think those who read it will be similarly affected.”
  • “Sometimes when I think about how good my book can be, I can hardly breathe.”

Themes: storytelling, fame, open minds, research, nonfiction, and commitment to a project.

Keeping a Commonplace Box

Before the days of Pinterest, people had to store quotes, books to read, author’s commentary, observations, anecdotes, and other general interesting information for later digestion or to use in their future writing projects someplace else. And that place is called a commonplace box. Instead of digitally keeping a catalog of all things interesting, people kept them, literally, in a box. I think we should still do this, and here’s why.

Before the days of Pinterest and the Internet, cute cats with quotes weren’t nearly as popular as you think. I’m really not sure how humanity was motivated to do anything in those days, honestly.