Motivation, Work, And Other Things that Make You Go Hmmm

I hope your weekend was restful and untainted by several waits in line for iPhones that you didn’t end up getting because you’ve just been paying your mom for all cell phone charges for the last five years rather than taking forty five seconds to go to the Verizon store and sign over the phone to your name. Because something like that would’ve sucked.

Today we are keeping things short, sweet and intensely focused as I have a workload this week that would make the average person stand up and say, “That seems like a pretty normal amount of work,” but–for me, at least– seems next to (mission?) impossible. See, friends, I am trying to do two-non-main-job things this week. The first is my official announcement to myself that I am starting another in my series of Boston Mag articles analyzing and commenting on the social values of people in the 27-37 age bracket. I will not say how this is going to go forward (it’s a secret!) but I will say that involves me going pseudo-undercover, not unlike Johnny Depp in 21 Jumpstreet or Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed, except in my story, most of the people are not hanging out with David Arquette.

The second agenda item involves jumping back on the re-write train for my book. It has been awhile since I stared at the one or two chapters that  need to be pruned (deleted!) and, this weekend, I was watching VH1 Soul, which was playing a documentary about hip-hop that I’ve seen at least eleven times, and there was so much talk of creative interaction and artists and the creation of said art that I started to feel guilty that I was sitting watching it rather than taking part in the art party. Also, my dad asked me twice about it while I was using his swimming pool for (nearly flawless!) pencil dives and the consumption of that Gatorade with Tiger Woods on it. Guilt–such an amazing motivator!

Anyway, I have some topics to discuss or not discuss in the Section Formerly Known As Comments. What sort of things/events/motivational speakers get you back on the writing train when you’ve fallen off? Reading good writing? Hearing about other people’s success? Watching hip hop documentaries while eating Peach Cobbler Ice Cream?

I await your motivations with a curiosity that knows several bounds and Billy Corgan.


Smashing Pumpkins

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25 thoughts on “Motivation, Work, And Other Things that Make You Go Hmmm

  1. Ree

    Self-flagellation, what else?

    Since I’m rewriting my novel too, I’m really struggling with the opening paragraph. So I’m reading a lot of Sarah Dessen, who’s one of my favorite YA novel authors. I go to Hastings and I pick up random classics, such as Lolita or Atonement or something that’s withstood the test of time, because if it’s done that then all of its elements must be pretty perfect, right? I guess that’s just my 14-year-old logic.

    And I listen to a lot of music. The Rocket Summer is a good band, one of the most honest-sounding bands I’ve ever heard and by that I mean the lyrics are real, gritty, honest.

    Sometimes you just sort of have to wait for the right words to come. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to craft the magic sentence. But this can be easily confused with procrastination (Though I suppose it is a form of it), even though you’re trying to avoid something with procrastination and with "waiting", you’re, well, waiting for it to come and not necessarily trying to escape anything.

  2. Shelly

    What gets me to write…sometimes nothing. I get distraccted by other things, new video games, friend’s dinner parties, shopping for something I don’t need but just want to tag along, and more reccently my budding (possibly a new career) in photography. I find myslef spending hours on end going pouring over photos, trying to figure out which I want to put into my portfolio and then quickly realize that I need to hurry up and build my website. Which then leads to more time wasting looking over hundreds of photography websites figureing out what I like and want I don’t. When I come up for air (and usually to run tot he bathroom) i find the day has slipped away and I haven’t cracked open my story. So, I pencil it for the next day and try to push all other distracts aside, even if that means turning off the phone, flipping off the wireless connection on my laptop and telling my husband that I’m writing today. So when he comes home he’ll ask how it went, and I sure don’t like saying I didn’t get to it. That usually makes me write.

  3. Valerie

    Reading Virginia Woolf always sparks the writing mood – she’s not linear but associative, and a genius, which I may understand better than most or some or at least I think I do, which is all that matters (the associative part. Now I sound arrogant). Writing something lyrical, reading postmodernism, listening to a good indie song…maybe not the last one. V. Woolf is always a sure bet.

  4. Sheri

    If I am in a real creative slump I pull out my old, battered copy of ‘A Moveable Feast’ by Ernest Hemingway, about his early writing days in Paris. I don’t know what it is about it, but it always does the trick for me.

    And recently I had a personal deadline that motivated me: I wanted to finish the rough draft of my first novel before the birth of my second grandchild. He will be born next week, and I finished on July 6th. I told my daughter that I want his first sentence to be, "Nana is a novelist."

  5. Tom

    Darn you writers and your unintentional reading influences! I JUST started The Iron Heel an hour ago, and now all this Hintonism is making me think, "…hmmm…yeah…The Outsiders. Shouldn’t I have read that by now?" So I go and Wikipedia the thing, and now I REALLY want to read it! One more on the ever-growing list! I will never finish them all!

    This is true. This is very true. Is this…could it be…a challenge????!

  6. Andrew

    Hollywood Herman

    These names are inspiring enough for Kevin’s next blog, Tom’s rat story, and a brilliant new Hinton book.

  7. Genevieve

    Stacey- Ponyboy Curtis makes a cameo appearance in That Was Then, This is Now, but as far as I know there’s no sequel. The other Hinton novel I really liked was Rumblefish. She just came out with a new one a couple of years ago, but it was crazy. There are vampires, pirates, orgies, a confusing time line, and the plot was…what word should I use? Insane, but not in a good way. You know what I mean, not funny and delirious. I was brokenhearted.

  8. Angie

    For me, it’s mostly reading. But I also listen to Barnes and Noble’s Meet the Writers podcast, and sometimes an author’s story or insight is really inspiring or motivating.

  9. Sanga

    Hi Kevin,

    I’m a bit off-track right now for my book as well… sigh. Mostly what helps me get back on track is reading books about writing or how to write. Not really prompt books, more something about plot structure or character development. It puts my brain back in the groove and I feel more like I should be going forth. Also a trip to the NaNoWriMo forums never hurts; anything to read about other people who are writing. Guilt probably plays a part in this. I can’t deny that it’s a huge motivator for me… good luck!

    PS: You’ve now really put me in the mood for peach cobbler ice cream…

  10. Clo

    I find that the butt in chair method works best because it
    gives me an opportunity to review unfinished projects and
    that puts my brain in the right gear to write, but it works only if I’m not too tired to think after work. If my brain
    is oatmeal, I can’t write.

    So,realistically, the best method for me is the "butt in chair very early Saturday morning with really good coffee and I’m all alone and it’s quiet."

  11. Robert Williams

    Sometimes there are various things that help get me ‘back on track’ when it comes to working on that unfinished project. One way is that I will sit down with the project in hand and just read through it, not consciously editing, but just refreshing my mind with what I have already written, which sometimes gets me flooded with ideas again. Also, I tend to edit some things better this way than when I am actually looking for issues. LOL

    Another way is that I will go outside to a park, hilltop, where ever I can find nature and relaxation, and just kick back and daydream for an hour or so, that usually gets my imagination going, which always tends to get me writing.

    Then of course, there is always the music approach, where I turn on either classical or rock’n’roll(depends on my mood) and start straightening up the house or some other project that doesn’t require much active thought, and sure enough, my mind wonders… 🙂

    RD Williams, author of "The Lost Gate"

  12. topanga

    I find that reading blogs about writing (like yours), books about writing, and writer’s conferences all give me a good kick in the pants. It’s partly for the good writing advice, but also for the guilt that settles in when I think, "Hey, I should be writing and not reading–or hearing–about writing."

  13. Tom

    Frigtastic Phrase of the Week Award goes to Michele for:
    "my brain works about as smoothly as bumper cars driven by drunks"
    THIS is good stuff. THIS is why I show up here! (Not to make light of the many contributions by Herr Alexander, of course.)

    Speaking of good stuff, Kev, your undercover story sounds thrillingly intriguing. If you’re stuck for ideas on suitably concealable spy-like recording devices, there was just a blurb on Maria’s blog about her new Olympus digital recorder. She’s probably all geek-giddy about it still and more than happy to share how it worked out for her at Thrillerfest.

  14. Mohadoha


    This is the first time I’ve visited your site. I got here because I am in the midst of revising a novel and saw that on Writer’s Digest a tag line about revision for this entry.

    I have to agree with Pat that there is nothing to beat the ‘put your butt in the chair’ method.

    For me writing and exercising motivation go together: I trick myself by saying I’ll only go for 15 minutes and then an hour later, viola! I’ve got something.

    That juice leads me back the next day. And the next.

    Actually – writing here to you has made me realize I need to get back to work!

    Getting the fingers moving across the page (or keys on the keyboard) overides my brain’s tendency to stall.

    Good luck!

  15. Michele

    Hey Kevin!

    Since my brain works about as smoothly as bumper cars driven by drunks, I often need motivation.

    Anne Lamott’s book "Bird by Bird" always helps me. It’s tattered, yellowed and dog-eared from my years of pawing it to gleen just an increment of motivation. This book is particularly good for me because I have so many thoughts bouncing around. "Bird by Bird" has that old "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time" philosophy of writing.

  16. Pat

    Hey, Kev, for motivation I like writers conferences, contests (especilly if I win), deadlines, writing at the dock instead of my office, a great idea, and listening to other writers which is why I’m here today checking on you. When all else fails, put butt in chair and "just do it!"

    Can’t wait to hear more on the undercover assignment/

  17. Stacey

    Kevin, good luck with rewriting. You’re going undercover? Cool! Are you going to wear a long, black coat and a hat that casts a shadow over your eyes? Because that would be pretty cool if you did.

    To get motivated, I just think of where I will be after I finish. I imagine the best possible outcome of all my hard work and I keep that vision in my mind as I write. I also only write what I want to write, so I am already motivated from the start because I do not try and metamorphose my writing to suit other’s opinions. I love to write, but sometimes I love to have written. The only thing that motivates me is the dream of publication and the happiness that I will get from it. That’s all. I’ve never been motivated by talking to others/movies/guilt. I was probably inspired, but not motivated. My only motivation comes from within myself.

    Genevieve – The Outsiders was a great book. I read it in 7th grade with my english class. I had heard that there is a sequel to it, but it isn’t as good.

    Tom – Unlike your mosaic artist friend, sometimes I too have trouble finishing most things I start. I drop them when I’m about 30% finished. But only to start something better. I like to think that if I dropped something, then it must have not meant enough to me anyway, so it’s okay if I don’t finish.

  18. Genevieve

    True, Ryan. Wonder Boys was another good one. Tom, you made me think of another one. Talking to artists outside of writing can be inspiring. My friend Fred is a professional French horn player and listening to him talk about the stress of auditions and the exhirlation of playing sounds so similar to writing that I can identify with a lot of what he says. And, yes, you simply must keep writing the rat story. Moral imperatives being what they are and all. Reem, your name is awesome.

  19. Ryan

    Good movies sometimes motivates me. Finding Forester, Finding Neverland, Narnia, Dan In Real Life, Freedom Writers, to name a few.

    I also find that bouts of seclusion or a total change of scene inspire me to write.

  20. Tom

    Sometimes it’s talking with friends that gets me motivated. I have an mosaic artist friend who I admire. Yes, her art is gorgeous, but what really stands out for me is the way she continually overcomes that obstacle of self-doubt that I hear about/experience so often. I was talking about one of my stories recently, one that I’d started and just not finished, and it was just sitting there. Knowing that she had expressed frustration with completing projects in the past, I asked, "Do you finish everything you start?" She thought about it for a minute. "Yes," she said. "Even if you don’t like it and think that it sucks when you’re halfway through?" "Yes," she said, without hesitation. That was a big help in getting me going again.

    It also helps when Genevieve tells me to keep working on stuff. Then, too, I have friends (It’s true – they’re real friends! Honest!) who say, "Hey – I wanna read something else of yours! Aren’t you done with that rat thing yet???!!"

    my condolences regarding your attmpted iPhone purchase. I hope this week is full of more LOLZ and fewer WTFs for you.

    If Six,
    Was Nine


  21. Genevieve

    Good luck this week, Kevin. Do you sometimes feel scattered with all the different assignments?

    Music always puts me back on track. "Across the Universe" usually pus me in that dreamy, artsy, flowy kind of place, both because of the muic and because of the line, "Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup, they something, something, something, as they make their way across the universe." Cheesy, perhaps but it gets me in the right mindset. Sometimes I flip through my old copy of The Outsiders because that was the book I read when I decided to become I a writer. And yeah, reading about other writers, their struggles and successes helps, which is why this has become one of my regular sites.

  22. Reem

    Guilt is one of the biggest motivators for me, but it’s not a daily thing to feel guilty. Reading about writing and writers, however, is another motivator that is always present, hence, this log as one of my daily routine internet stops. And of course, reading stuff I’m interested in, and stuff that I think resembles my writing style.

    J. Maarten Troost’s Sex Lives of Cannibals is one specific and recent item worth mentioning as a major motivator– not just to write, but to go to the equatorial South Pacific, where sharks are just shooed away.