by Kate Monahan
The goal is a steady flame.
So I’ve been noticing something lately. I’ve been noticing that there is a serious ebb and flow at work in terms of my motivation. Some weeks I am fired up beyond belief—I am ready to conquer the writing world. And other days, I am caught in the hailstorm of life, barely getting through the rush, my writing the last thing on my mind. This can’t be. I understand there are natural ups and downs, but one must maintain a consistent attitude. One must remain persistent.
One should not neglect their writing goals for weeks at a time. There must be a steady flame, a commitment. I have friends that constantly have a piece of work out in the world of submissions. They receive a rejection and then send their next piece out. My good writer friend is always querying agents. She doesn’t obsessively focus on it every day, she simply sends one out once a week and then forgets about it. A steady flame. Sometimes I shoot through the ceiling with drive. I get what my friend calls “Nudges from the Universe”—a teacher gives me positive feedback and urges me to submit to journals, or an old mentor reads a new story and tells me I am “on my way.” These nudges light the fire. But then. I don’t act quickly enough or I allow the flame to diminish. I argue that there are other things to be done—paperwork for
the new house, research for work, laundry. I get caught up in the everyday and the dream becomes distilled. It’s still there, but I can’t sense its immediacy. And so, I’ve compiled a helpful list of ways to stay revved, ways to stay fired up.
We need not be obsessive or crazy or fanatical (though aren’t many of us, as writers?), we need only to remind ourselves daily of our goals and possibilities and in turn, begin to pursue them consistently.
10 Ways to Stay Fired Up
1. Strike while the iron is hot.
Do what you can do now, NOW. If someone urges you to submit to a magazine or sends you a freelance opportunity you’d be perfect for—pursue it immediately. Don’t wait until you have more time. You will never have more time. And if you wait until “the timing is right,” the moment may pass.
2. Forget about being perfect.
Imagine how much we’d get done if we allowed ourselves to be less than perfect? As Harriet
Braiker said, “Striking for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.”
3. Accept your messy life and your messy house.
Again, touching on perfectionism: we can not do everything. In order to pursue our writing dreams—dreams which take time and energy—we must allow other things to slip. Dinner may have to be take-out. Your kitchen table may become your dumping ground for clutter. Send out a submission instead of polishing your silver. Use plastic forks. Writing time is more
important than housework.
4. Wage a war against your moods.
There are days when our goals feel possible. And there are days when they seem so utterly distant. We allow these feelings to impede our process. We allow fear to affect our writing. You will not wake up every morning with the burning need to write. Write anyway. “I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work,” said Pearl Buck.
5. Take time each day to reassess.
Sometimes we just forget. We get caught up in life’s tide and we’re helpless to its pull. We are focused on just getting by. We lose track off our dreams, our relationships,
our well being. Reassessing what’s important helps. Writing it down helps. Take
five minutes every day and scribble down where you are, what you want, and how
you’re going to get there.
6. Look at how far you’ve come.
The greatest gift you can give yourself, the greatest boost, is printing out your work. Print out your entire rough draft. Hold on all your stories in your hands. My writer friend bought a colorful binder and organized all her work—it was a physical reminder of how far she’d come. I finally did this a few weeks ago and it was one of those Aha! moments. Wow, I thought, I actually have a book here.
7. Accept rejection as part of the process.
Author Carolyn See puts it simply: “Rejection is a process, not an event.” Also remember that just because you’ve been rejected doesn’t mean that your work isn’t good. It often means it’s not just right for the publication or the agent. Saul Bellow put it best: “I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of heart, ‘To hell with you.’”
8. Write every day.
Even if it’s for five minutes. “The more a man writes, the more he can write.” Truth from William Hazlitt.
9. Enter the game.
Submit work. Enter a contest. Start a writer’s blog. Get your work out in the world. You never know how far it will go, where it will take you. Check out Duotrope’s Digest to search for writer’s markets that best fit your work. Visit Writers Digest for a list of writing
competitions. Get in the game NOW.
10. Give yourself permission.
You’re not human if you haven’t once uttered these words: Who am I to pursue this writing dream? Writing is an alternate path, a difficult pursuit—many may balk at you. I have both friends and family members that consider my writing a “hobby.” We are the only ones that can give ourselves permission to take this seriously. No one else can do that for us.
Often we get sidetracked by what we think are more “realistic” careers when in our hearts we know that writing is the only thing that makes us whole. Stop considering your writing a hobby and start putting it ahead of everything else.
“You must once and for all give up being worried about successes and failures. Don’t let that concern you. It’s your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite steadily, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, and for failures.”
– Anton Chekhov