Here are a few techniques Iíve found over the years that have helped me keep moving along that novel-writing road:
1. Set specific goals and stick to them. Itís easy to become discouraged and stop writing when you donít feel like youíre making progress. Creating detailed and reasonable goals can help you stay on task and chart the growth of your story.
For example, instead of saying "I want to finish my novel this year," say "My goal is to have my novel, A Dark and Stormy Night, completed and submitted to my first choice agent by December 31, 2007."
Then, figure out the smaller milestones that you must accomplish to reach your larger goal. How many pages will you need to write per day to complete your novel? How many months will you need to allow for revising and polishing? Have you done your agent research yet?
So, in the end your goal sheet might look something like this:
Be realistic. If you know that you usually write about three pages a week, donít set goals that force you to try to write twice that.
Write your goals down and post them where you can see them daily. Never underestimate the power of suggestion! My husband, a realtor, writes out his yearly transaction goals and posts them on the bathroom mirror. I teased him about itÖuntil I tried it for myself! Something about seeing those goals in black and white just makes you want to work that much harder to cross them off.
2. Share your goals with others who are supportive. Writing a book is not a solo effort. Donít cut yourself off from friends and family under the mistaken impression that you can go it alone. Even when itís just your fingers on the keyboard, you need other people to help you along the way. Maybe itís a reassuring voice when youíre having one of those "I canít do this" moments. Or, maybe itís a friend who volunteers to read your manuscript and help catch all your grammar boo-boos.
No matter who they are or what they do, you need people who believe in you and what youíre trying to accomplish. As with any other major endeavor in your life, their support is invaluable.
Watch out for "Yeah, butÖ" friends. This is tricky. "Yeah, butÖ" friends, as I call them, are those who seem outwardly supportive but always find a way make you doubt yourself. This kind of friend (or family member or co-worker) might say something like this:
"Wow, youíre writing a book. Thatís great! But I heard itís really hard to get published these days."
"Sci-fi? I heard the real money is in romance."
These people arenít trying to hurt you or damage your motivation. In fact, theyíre usually trying to protect you. But pursuing your dream requires courage and the willingness to venture into the scary unknown. If youíve got those things, donít let even the most well-intentioned friend talk you out of it.
3. Keep a journal. Take two minutes at the end of every writing, editing or research session to jot notes down about what youíve accomplished on that particular day. I also use my journal to note when I get stuck on a particular scene or plot point as well as the techniques that helped me resolve such problems.
Tip: Feeling down? Look back through your journal and see all the plot issues and character questions that felt insurmountable at the time. You made it through those. Youíll get through whateverís got you stuck this time, too!
Reward yourself. When you accomplish one of your goalsówhether itís reaching your daily page goal or finishing your synopsisóreward yourself! The brain is hard-wired to respond to positive stimuli. Doveģ makes these amazing little bite-sized dark chocolate candiesÖbut it doesnít have to be food. Treat yourself to a guilt-free hour of television-watching or reading for fun.
Start with the reward. Sometimes when Iím having particular trouble getting started, I give myself the reward first and then work to earn it. So, if on a lazy Saturday afternoon, Iíd rather lie around and watch what I Tivoíd all week, I bribe myself with a Starbucks hot chocolateÖas long as I drink it at my desk.
Be a firm but kind taskmaster. Remember, the point of all this is to help you stay motivated, not drive you crazy. Stick to your deadlines once youíve set them, but try not to worry too much about missing them. Itís not about failing to reach some date youíve established, itís about learning and making progress toward your larger goal.
The world is not going to end, nor are you a failure if you canít get your query letter out on December 31, 2007. But if you canít meet that date, look at what youíve learned in the process. Maybe editing takes you a little longer than you thought. Or, perhaps writing two pages a week instead of three is more your speed. Either way, this is valuable information to have when youíre setting goals and building your career as an author.
CheatÖa little. When I build schedules and set deadlines for myself, I make sure Iíve got a little breathing room. I may plan for editing to take three months when I know that it will probably only take me two and a half. You want to be motivated but not stressed out, and sometimes that can be a fine line. If you put too much pressure on yourself, you may end up decreasing your productivity.