Tag Archives: writing motivation

Why you shouldn’t mock aspiring writers

Renaissance painting of a scribe writing on parchment in a writer's workshop, surrounded by scrolls and books.

 

In Biblical times a country town was lucky to have a single literate member. In the middle ages only the aristocracy, clergy, and merchant class could read or write. At every stage in history, the few people who could read and write controlled where history would go next and what ideas every educated school child would be raised on afterward. It’s no exaggeration to say writers are as valuable as doctors to any society.

They always have been and always will be, but individual writers today aren’t as valuable as they used to be since they’re not as rare. The supply outweighs the demand. Nobody is going to bow down to you or even pat you on the back for being able to read and write. You’re expected to know how to do that. That’s the bare minimum. That’s 15 pieces of flair. And the bar is set even higher than that. Ask any high school English teacher to show you the standards children are tested to. They’re very articulate. Ask any high school English teacher what they think the standards should be, and you’ll get a broader impression of where the bar sits today.

So while you won’t get a pat on the back for being able to form coherent sentences anymore, you will get a pat on the back for being able to form coherent essays. You’ll get a standing ovation if you can write a great book. You’ll change the course of history if you can write the most profound thing anyone has ever written. In all walks of life, the better you communicate ideas, whether on paper or in speech, you’re a greater and greater asset to yourself and to society and by rights should be regarded as such. There are writers and speakers alive today who are already legends, but for every sung hero there are countless unsung heroes… especially in the digital age. There was a time in history when finishing a book at all practically made you a publishable author. Now, authors are practically expected to give their first ten books away for free just to prove their worth.

Even in real life, if someone at a party tells you they’re an aspiring author, your first reaction will likely be to mock them for being an unemployed bum who’s too nancy and irresponsible to get a real job. If you meet an aspiring blogger at a party they’ll probably introduce themselves as an “author…” not a “blogger.” Even if they’re personally proud of what they do, they know they’ll get mocked for it and quizzed about why they don’t do something better with their lives.

When authors are a dime a dozen we lose sight of how difficult and vital good writing is. The call to action there is to give aspiring writers the credit they’re due… if not with your pocketbook, then at least with your heart. I’m not trying to guilt trip you. I’m trying to help you understand that writers are important, and if you understand why they are then you’d already be patting aspiring authors (and even bloggers) on the back at parties and buying them shots. If you think writers are lazy then you must not understand how much effort and skill goes into writing even a semi-decent book or blog.

The only way to get good at anything is to do it all the time. You can’t learn to snowboard well enough to bomb a mountain by going up on the slopes two or three times a year. You can’t learn to hit a home run consistently by playing backyard baseball in the summer. The same is true for writing. So say what you will about the quality of books and blogs written by noob writers, but give them a pat on the back for soldiering on. And acknowledge another thing right before you give them another pat on the back. Sports are as brutal on the body as writing is on the mind. It hurts, but it’s a good hurt. It’s not for everybody, and that’s fine. But for those few who are so into snowboarding, baseball, writing, dance, yoga, music, martial arts or building little miniature ships and putting them in big glass bottles that they stick with it when they could be doing anything else with their lives, then why not be happy for them? They found something productive they were so passionate about that they did it long enough to get even half decent at. There’s nothing laughable about that. And at least in the case of writers, they were so passionate about following their dream that they stuck with it after the honeymoon phase ended without being driven or inspired by the people around them. In fact, they’ve likely been soldiering on despite the fact that they’ve been getting booed and dismissed since day one. So if nothing else, give them credit for having the fortitude to put in the man-hours in private and take a beating in public.

If you’re still not impressed, then you’re still not seeing the whole picture. The piece of the puzzle you might be missing is how much concentration and technical skill are required to write well enough to finish a book or maintain a blog at all. How much concentration does it take to write well? Consider how much concentration reading a book takes. It absorbs your whole reality. Everything else in your mind fades away and you’re no longer a stressed out suburbanite worrying about bills and how much work you have to do. Reading transports you to an alternate reality, and as fun as that is, you’ll have to put the book down or step away from the internet eventually because the effort will exhaust you. If it’s exhausting to slide down that rainbow road, imagine how absorbing and exhausting it must be to lay the bricks. It’s beyond words. But you know that. If you’re not an aspiring writer, you’ve got your reasons, and one of them is probably because the idea of spending your evenings and weekends grading English papers makes you want to choke yourself on used toilet paper. But grading grammar is what writers do. The difference is that writers have to write the papers they grade first. Then they have to know how to grade them, and they can’t settle for a B.

I’m not saying you need to kiss your barista’s ring each time you order a latte. It’s not that what they’re doing is so much more difficult and specialized than whatever you do for a living is, but think about this.  You (or half the people you know) probably sit in chairs all day and stare at computers and solve complicated problems and devise articulate, useful answers, which you effectively communicate to other people. All day at work everyone’s brains are crunching more numbers than their computer, and everyone deserves a round of applause for that… even authors… even though they don’t sit in an office; they sit in their mom’s basement.

Just because authors wear the same clothes you wear when you’re being lazy doesn’t mean they’re being lazy. They’re working just as hard as school teachers, secretaries and anyone who writes performance reviews for a living. You wouldn’t walk up to a first, third or fifth-grade teacher and tell them they suck and should quit just because they’re not Jamie Escalante. You wouldn’t be condescending to someone at a party who told you they wrote memos and performance reviews for a living. You might not necessarily look up to them either, but life isn’t a dick-waving competition. So next time you run into an aspiring author at a party, pour them a drink and raise to toast to working hard, following your dreams and never giving up.

 

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16 Tips To Overcoming Writer’s Block

A piece of paper sits next to a typewriter. On the paper are the words, "Stop the block!"

 

1. Know Thyself.

If you’re suffering from writer’s block it’s because something within your mind or your life is preventing the flow of ideas. The better you understand your motivation, strengths, weaknesses, resources, and your style, the better you’ll be able to use your brain to generate ideas effectively. In fact, I could end this list right now, because every other step boils down to self-awareness.

 

2. Analyze and reaffirm your motivation.

As a writer, if you truly loved to write then you would write no matter what. You might even write more often than is responsible. If you have to force yourself to write, then you need to seriously question whether or not writing is something you’re passionate about. If it’s not, that’s okay. Life is about defining yourself and exercising your free will. As long as you follow your passion you’re doing it right. If the only reason you’re writing is for fortune and fame, then even if you become rich and famous it will be because you’ve spent your life doing something you’re not passionate about, which is wasting your life.

If you do decide writing is something you’re passionate about, then you may want to write down why it’s important to you. If you ever get stuck or discouraged about writing, you can look back to your mission statement, your love letter, and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. That alone may provide the motivation you need to get out of your slump.

 

3. Improve your technical skills.

Think of writing like baking a cake. There’s no right way to bake a cake, and if you make a career out of baking cakes by strictly following other people’s recipes, then your job will be as rote as any office cubicle job. So you may be tempted to get experimental and express yourself right from the beginning. However, if you don’t know how to bake a cake, you’re going to get very frustrated and discouraged when your experiments fail. If you would quit trying to be creative long enough to learn the core technical skill of cooking, then your job would be made exponentially easier, and you could modify the recipes quickly, creatively and effectively. If you’re having a hard time writing it might be because you don’t know how, and the only thing you can do to eliminate the frustration and discouragement you’re facing is to go back and study the fundamentals of how to write.

 

4. Improve your creative logic skills.

Typing is the final step of the writing process. 99% of the writing process is creating ideas. If you don’t know how to create ideas, then you don’t know how to be a writer. If you think creativity is magical, unscientific and can’t be taught, you’re wrong. If you want to write well, then you should study logic, the psychology of creativity and this blog: The science of thought/creativity

 

5. Have something to say.

If you can’t think of anything to say, then you should seriously question whether or not you have anything to say. Similar to point #2, if you have something so important and so vivid to say that you’d be saying it regardless of how well you’re able to express yourself, the words would just force themselves out of you. If you’re having a hard time writing, then put your paper down and turn off your computer. Spend some time thinking about what it is you have to say. If you can’t come up with anything, then writing well is the least of your problems. You need to go out and live life.

 

6. Live life, and observe it.

Your writing will only be as good as your comprehension of life, and in order to comprehend it, you need to experience it. If your writing is dull, it might be because it reflects the dullness of your life or your understanding of existence. The more you live, the bigger well of inspiration you’ll carry inside of you.

 

7. Resolve your problems in real life.

Writing uses all your mental faculties. Nothing ties up more of your mental capacity than stress. As a result, stress caused by real-life problems will stop your writing dead in its tracks. Likewise, happiness will give you energy and motivation to plow into your writing career. So in order to get back into writing, you need to solve your real-life problems, which are more important than writing anyway.

If there are problems in your life that are preventing you from focusing on your writing, you’re going to need to analyze and express them. Since writing involves analyzing and expressing life, you can kill two birds with one stone by writing about your problems. This also provides the added benefit of making your writing meaningful. Just be aware of the danger of getting locked into a cycle of wallowing in self-pity. This will make for boring, nauseating, melodramatic writing and won’t help you either.

 

8. Improve your health, or at least get some rest.

There doesn’t have to be anything wrong in your life in order to be depressed. In the same way that depression will sap your body’s mental and physical energy, an unhealthy lifestyle will also sap your body’s mental and physical energy. If you never seem to have the energy or motivation to write, it might be a symptom of an unhealthy lifestyle, and all the tips and tricks and how-to books in the world won’t help you until you start taking care of your body.

If you do live a relatively healthy lifestyle, you might just not be getting enough rest. Try eliminating some activities in your life that are stretching your time too thin and get some more sleep. Then you’ll have more energy to solve any problems in your life and clear up more time to get adequate rest and eventually to focus on your writing with a fresh, energetic mind.

 

9. Just say it.

Have you ever tried to express your feelings to someone you cared about, and after hours of trying to find the right words, you finally decided the only way to express yourself is to just blurt it out? That’s often how writing works. After you’ve blurted out what you had to say, then you can refine the details, but first, you need to create that solid, core expression.

This is also how you develop your own style: not by trying to perfect someone else’s art, but by saying what you have to say in your own voice. The only way you’re going to find your own voice is by saying to hell with everyone else and using your voice naturally.

 

10. Write crap.

If you’re getting frustrated and discouraged because nothing you write is perfect, then you should stop trying to write perfectly. Write crap. Have fun with it and actually get it onto paper. Then rewrite it. It’s like Nora Roberts once said, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.”

 

11. Get in the mood to write.

If every time you sit down to write, you find that you’re not in the mood to, then you can either wait until you’re in the mood or you can get yourself into the mood. Any “how to write” book will tell you to get into a habit. Write at the same place, at the same time every day so your brain comes to associate that time of the day and that place with writing. Then your brain will automatically go into writing mode. You can further trick your brain by performing a ritual right before writing. It doesn’t matter what that ritual is, as long as it’s consistent. Eat eggs, take a walk, clean your room, wear the same hat, perform a séance. Once your brain associates this activity with writing it’ll put you in the mood to write.

You can take psychology one step further. Your brain is most creative when it’s in a relaxed state nearing mediation. This is why you hear many authors swear by drug use. Drugs force your brain into that alpha wave state of mind. However, drugs also burn your brain out over time. But you don’t need drugs to put your brain into its most creative state. You can do yoga before writing, lay down and rest, listen to music, read a book, watch a movie. Find some form of relaxation technique that will help get your brain into the right gear before trying to write, and you’ll find that writing will be that much easier to slip into.

 

12. Diversify.

Maybe you’ve tried to establish a pattern, but it worked so well that now you’re stuck in a rut. There may come a point where you’ll benefit more by diversifying your projects as well as your methodology. If you’re working on more than one thing at a time you can jump to another project when you get burned out on your current project. That will keep you working and allow you to come back to the burned out project with fresh eyes later.

Maybe all of your ideas aren’t waiting for you at your computer desk. Maybe some are at the park. Try writing in a notebook for a change. If you always write in a notebook try writing on a computer for a change. Try stream of consciousness writing, try brainstorming, try outlining. Try everything and figure out which combination works best for you. In order to be a good writer, you need to know what works for you. If you’re stuck in a rut it might be because you’ve neglected to figure out how you work best, and now is the perfect opportunity to finally figure that out by experimenting.

 

13. Reread your work.

One of the best ways to gear up for writing is to reread your own work. Don’t worry about fixing it. Just reread it. If you see a glaring error, go ahead and make that little change. Then keep reading. If you see another little error, go ahead and make that change. Don’t be surprised when an hour later you’re pounding away at revisions with the fervor of an inquisitor when all you sat down to do was read over your older work.

 

14. Start over.

If you can’t seem to get anywhere on the project you’re working on, then maybe the problem isn’t your methods. Maybe the problem is your project. Maybe you’ve just written yourself into a corner. I guarantee that eventually, that will happen. At that point, the only thing to do is start over. You don’t have to delete your old manuscript. Just save it and put it away. Then start over from scratch. This will be extremely painful and discouraging at first, but I guarantee your ideas will flow out better. You’ll say what you have to say better than you did before, and inevitably there’ll be segments that you can cut and paste back into your new version from the old version. So you won’t really have to rewrite it all anyway.

 

15. Don’t talk yourself into writing when you don’t want to.

This isn’t like one of those diet fad promises where I tell you that you can lose weight and eat anything you want. I’m not going to tell you the easy answer you want to hear: that you don’t have to work when you don’t want to. No. Eventually, you’re going to have to write when you don’t want to. And it’s going to hurt, but you’re going to have to do it anyway. However, the trick to doing that isn’t to talk yourself into it.

Think of it like cliff-diving. Cliff diving is horrifying the first time you do it. You may stand at the edge of a cliff 8 feet above the water and work up the courage for an hour before jumping. The secret to cliff diving isn’t to work up the courage to jump. The trick is to shut off the part of your mind that tells you not to jump. Eventually, that’s the point you’re going to come to anyway if you do reason with yourself. You tell yourself, “And that’s why I’m going to jump.” Then your brain clicks off and you jump while your brain is silent.

Writing is the same way. Don’t bother arguing with yourself or debating or working up the courage. Just tell yourself, “Brain, I know you don’t want to do this. So we’re not even going to talk about it. I’m just going to turn you off and sit down and write. I’ll pretend I’m not even here if that’s what it takes.” And when you do that you don’t have to be strong or brave or disciplined. You’ll cross the line without those virtues as surely as if they were there, and everyone who sees what you accomplish will assume you possess all of them and more because the result will be indistinguishable.

 

16. Quit.

If you’ve tried all of these techniques and you still can’t write, then maybe it’s time to admit you’re not a writer, which is fine. That doesn’t make you a failure. What would make you a failure is chasing after a dream that isn’t yours. Maybe you should focus your time on knowing yourself and figuring out what your passion really is.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

 

Screenwriting for Movies
Screenwriting for TV
Short Stories
Erotica
Choose Your Own Adventure
Movie plot break downs
TV plot break downs
Free story prompts
Writing tips
Blogging
Art

 


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