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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Friday, November 02, 2007

When the Well Is Dry . . . Finding Focus and Motivation

Deadlines. Ugh. Love them or hate them, there’s nothing like a deadline to force us to get things done.

I’ll confess that I’m more than a little envious the super-organized people who always have things done ahead of time. Once I’ve committed to something, I always come through, but usually not until the day it's due. I think I suffer from the I-can-do-it-all syndrome. Not that I think I’m Superwoman—ack! far from it—but I often try to do more than can logically be squeezed into one day. Sound familiar?

Take this blog post as an example. I committed to it weeks ago. I’ve had ideas rattling around in my head, I’ve made notes and even created an outline. But it didn’t come together till yesterday, and here I am, on west coast time, no less, posting it this morning.

Probably the best and worst things about a deadline is its relentless approach. No matter what happens, by the time d-day has arrived, what we set out to accomplish has to be, well, accomplished.

Easy? Not for me. At least, not always. As I work toward a writing deadline, I go through periods when I lose focus and lack motivation. With every project, there are times when I’m convinced it’s the worse thing I’ve ever written, I have no idea what’s going to happen next in the story (I’m so not a plotter), and I’m absolutely certain I’ll never get it finished. It would be great if all those doubts and fears coincided so I could deal with them all at once, but that never happens.

On the plus side—and yes, there sort of is one—I’ve come to accept that this is who I am. Instead of trying fight it, I’ve found all kinds of psychological strategies to keep myself motivated, even when the going gets tough.

Avoid focusing on the entire project.

If you’re anything like me—and I truly hope you’re not!—you focus too much and too often on the big picture. “I need to write 20,000 more words.” Or, “I have to revise ten chapters.” Before I know it, I’m feeling completely overwhelmed. When that happens, I force myself to sit down with a notepad and pen—kind of a metaphorical pair of scissors—and I cut that big picture into little jigsaw puzzle pieces. If I have to write 20,000 words this month, that’s a little over 650 words per day. Okay, that’s not so bad. I can do that. I can.

Don’t try to do it alone.

Strive to create a network of supportive and encouraging people. I have two important networks. One is a small email loop of ten Golden Heart “hopefuls.” A few years ago we formed an email support group to share writing tips and motivational strategies. Three of us are entering the Rita this year, and we hope to see that number rise! My second “network” consists of a good friend who exchanges emails with me first thing every morning. We each state goals for the day and report on the previous day’s progress. Stating these daily goals really helps keep me focused on that little piece of the puzzle instead of the big picture.

Speaking of goals . . .

. . . set them! I’m a big believer in setting goals. I have daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual goals, and a general statement about where I’d like to be in five years. I just peeked at my annual goals for this year, and to my surprise I’m actually on track!

Don’t compare yourself to others.

Let’s face it, we’re all human, and we all do it. When I used to watch others enter a contest and final, or submit a manuscript and sell, I seriously questioned if I could ever do this. She must be a much better writer than I am. What if that publisher only had one slot for a first-time author, and she got it? This kind of thinking can make a person crazy. The problem is that it’s a.) wrong thinking, and b.) it undermines whatever self-esteem and motivation we have going for us. Relax. We can only do this in our time, not anyone else’s.

And when you see an email on a loop, congratulating someone on being a contest finalist or a first-time author, keep in mind that very few authors sell their first manuscript right out of the gate. Most of us have huge files full of rejection letters and stacks of contest entries that never became finalists. It’s part of the process . . . everyone’s process . . . not just mine, and not just yours.

Be good to yourself.

When a deadline is looming, I have a tendency to spend long, frustrating hours at the computer. My productivity goes down and my level of frustration goes up. Different things work for different people, but here’s what works for me. I use a timer to remind myself to take breaks. Although I hate to exercise, I use one of those stretchy bands to give my arms, neck, shoulder and back a mini workout. Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated is good, and the more you drink, the more you’ll have to get up from the computer :) Eat well, and resist the urge to snack on junk on food. I don’t know about you, but after a day or so of eating junk, I start to feel sick. Taking the time to prepare healthy meals and shop for healthy snack foods pays off in long-term energy and productivity levels.

Believe in yourself.

I’m a firm believer in believing in oneself. After all is said and done, my friends can support me and a contest judge might love me or an editor might rave about me, but I am the only person who can write that book. And I can do it.

Say it with me now. I can do it. I can do it. Yes, I can do it!


PS: I've loved reading the Noodlers' blog posts this month, and I've especially enjoyed "meeting" so many new writers who are entering this year's Golden Heart Contest. I'm so privileged to be part of this wonderful group, and to have achieved my dream of becoming a published author. I wish the same for each and every one of you.

PPS: This weekend I’m attending a workshop called Empowering Character Emotions by Margie Lawson. Margie also teaches an online course called Defeat Self-Defeating Behavior: Allow Writing Productivity and Creativity to Soar. I highly recommend it!


At 10:26 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Wow, Lee, your post left goosebumps running up my arms. I can do it! I can do it! I can do it!

I've been writing for 12 or more years now (losing count on purpose) and I went through a period of time where I was bitter and angry that I hadn't published yet. For the last year though, I've been more motivated and determined than ever to just keep on going and keep a good attitude. I do have to confess that I used to do everything at the last minute and I could not multi-task. My kids are older now and I think that has helped (but they call every single day and I still drive one around all day). I've also been taking Omega 3 twice a day and it could be all in my mind, but I swear it has helped my brain power. Get this--I already have my Christmas cards ready to go!!!? That's a MIRACLE. I used to only do them every OTHER year! I have been getting stuff done way ahead of time. I exercise every day and I do say NO to anything that gets in my way. In fact, I turned down a visit with sisters and Mom last night because I needed to finish a certain number of pages. That's my priority.

You're absolutely right about looking at the little picture instead of the big one...ONE PAGE AT A TIME! Just concentrate on that. One word, one sentence, one paragraph and pretty soon you'll have an entire page!

Great post, Lee!

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Jill Monroe said...

I just have to second your advice of don't comparing yourself to others - there's only disappointment and sadness in that. Set your personal goals, then celebrate when you reach them!

Excellent post!

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

What an inspiring post!

And Theresa, very impressed with the Christmas cards being done!!

At 1:23 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Great post, Lee! And great to see you and meet your DH in Victoria last week, too!

I used to be so organized when I was working. I had to be or nothing would get done. I saw other social workers who didn't even know HOW to organize, and they were always frantic. I knew, though, if I put off my court reports till the last minute, that was a sure guarantee for an emergency to erupt. And guess what? The judges didn't care. I should have written it earlier. And I didn't like for them to scold me in court. I also knew if I didn't write my books on my lunch hour, writing wouldn't get done. And nobody but me cared then, either. So more than half of my novels were written mostly between 12:00 and 1:00 weekdays.

Since I've been home, it's as if I think there are unlimited hours in the morning, plenty of time to finish my quota of pages after I check the news, check email, do a Sudoku or two... check the mail again...

It's so much harder to do a job that is entirely dependent on me to get done. I've got this great book on eliminating procrastination... it's right over there in my bookcase... I think... I haven't seen it since I bought it.

But beating myself up about giving in to procrastination does absolutely no good, and in fact, then I think I have to soothe my hurt feelings, give comfort to my sorrow. No, being good to myself and recognizing that I want to do both-- create and recreate-- is the only way. And I have to schedule both, just like I used to schedule court reports a month before they were due.

Off to NaNoWriMo now. It's writing at its funnest-- both creating and recreating.


At 2:34 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Theresa, you are an inspiration. I admire your determination, and I know it will pay off. I'm sure you're reaping the benefits of the Omega 3 and the exercise. I need to try both :)

Jill, I totally agree about celebrating successes. It's easy to get down on ourselves when things aren't going well, which makes celebrating the high points even more important, in my opinion. Whether it's treating ourselves to that special latte or a glass of bubbly or a mani-pedi with bright red toe polish, we deserve it!

Delle, you and Theresa both bring up an important point. At different stages of our work and family lives we have varying demands on our time, and our responses to those demands differ too. You've both underscored the importance of being flexible and learning new ways to keep ourselves motivated.

Waving hi to Mo!

Hugs to all,

At 2:34 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Great post, Lee. I too have really enjoyed the wonderful GH discussions we've had on the loop the past few weeks -- and we've got more ahead, up until the GH deadline.

And we're already planning wonderful things beyond that.

At 7:02 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Love this post!!!
I finally came home from a crazy day, just normal stuff with family that must be done but eats up the day.

This is very inspiring! :)

At 9:01 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Gillian, I know what you mean. There are never enough hours in the day. It's tough to protect those minutes and especially the hours.

At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Margaret B. said...

Beautiful post! What it all boils down to is that I'm happier writing than I would be not writing. I'm like everybody else--I want to be published. But I also write because it makes me happy--I like my characters and I like spending time with them. Not that there aren't days when I end up sweating blood, but overall, writing, RWA, and my fellow writers in my local chapter have all been positive influences in my life.

At 8:26 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

That's exactly how I feel about writing, Margaret!


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