When the Well Is Dry . . . Finding Focus and MotivationDeadlines. 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!