Updated: Nov 12, 2020
A few people have asked me recently how I stay motivated when writing. And I get it. It's hard. As writers we have to put in so much work, never knowing whether it will pay off.
With this in mind, here are 5 of my top tips on how to keep motivated and finish that book!
1. Write what you want to write!
My first tip is to write what you want to write! It’s hard to finish a project if you’re not actually enjoying it!
I think we have notions sometimes of what we should be doing. But they don’t necessarily align with what we want to be doing.
For the longest time I thought that I should be writing something incredibly high brow that all my friends would be impressed by. I thought I should want to be winning awards and hitting prestigious author lists, and be critically acclaimed etc. You know what though? That’s just not me! It's not actually what I want! The first book I ever wrote – with this notion in mind -was such a slog. I hated writing it. And it was terrible. Same with the next.
So what am I saying here? Never be embarrassed about your passion, your weirdness, or what brings you joy. These are all strengths. Embrace who you are and what you want and put in your all. Your dreams are yours. Own them!
Somehow, I’ve built a foundation of a writing career by posting weekly content about cupids on the Internet! That’s so weird! I used to feel kind of embarrassed to tell the people I knew in real life about it because it didn't seem like the kind of thing I should be doing. But you know what? Cupid’s Match was the first project I wrote for the joy of it. It was the first project I decided to do my way instead of the way I thought I should be doing it. It was the fastest I’d ever finished writing a book before. And it was the first project that I really had a lot of fun working on!
I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that out of all the projects I’d worked on, that was the one that gained traction and eventually became my debut. I wrote it because I wanted to write it. And I think that readers could feel the joy that it was giving me as they read along.
So tip 1 - write what you want to write!
2. First drafts are allowed to be shit!
Ernest Hemingway said once, 'The first draft of anything is shit.' Terry Pratchett once said, ‘The first draft is just you telling yourself the story’. And Margaret Atwood once said, 'If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word’.
Why are these words comforting? Because first drafts are allowed to be terrible! They’re supposed to be! The important thing about writing a first draft is getting to the end and figuring out your story. Your first draft won’t be great – seriously, no matter how good a writer you are – it’s going to have problems.
But that’s okay, because once it’s done you can go back and fix it!
When you’re working on something that doesn’t feel as excellent as that awesome book you just bought from a bookstore, it’s easy to feel not good enough. But it’s like what they say about social media; don’t compare your backstage life to someone else’s highlight reel.
A book you’ve bought from a store has been revised/re-written by the author (sometimes multiple times), it’s likely been critiqued by beta readers, it’s probably been revised/edited again by an agent, then it’s been torn apart by a developmental editor at a publishing house (maybe two or three times), then it’s been through copy edits where another editor has pulled out all the things that don’t make sense, then it’s been proof read by numerous people for typos! And then it’s ended up on the shelf!
That’s a lot of work, right? And it’s a team effort, too! So, there’s no wonder your first draft doesn’t quite compare. Yet!
Let your first draft be bad. Stop worrying about perfection. Stop going back and editing the same chapter over and over. Just get it finished!
3. Have a main conflict!
I’m always harping on about main conflicts when it comes to writing because it is SO HARD to finish a first draft without one. Your main conflict is basically what your character wants, what will get in their way, why, and the consequence of not overcoming it.
It’s your problem. Your baddie. The thing your character has to get past.
It’s the backbone of your entire book.
Without a conflict, you don’t have a story. You just have things. Happening.
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that I’m a pantser (I don’t plan my stories, I write by the seat of my pants). But I NEVER go into a story without a conflict. Because everything that happens in the story is somehow going to relate to the conflict. Knowing the conflict allows me to stay on track and have a vague idea of the route I need to take to get to the end.
Without a conflict I’m going to lose focus, I’ll write myself in corners, I’ll get lost, I’ll waffle, and ultimately I’m going to lose motivation and abandon the project.
It’s easier to finish something when you have an idea of where you’re going!
So, it might not surprise you that for me, personally, posting on Wattpad motivates me! For those unfamiliar, Wattpad is a serial, social storytelling platform that can be used as a great tool for sharing your stories, gaining reader feedback, building an online platform, and even making money from your works.
I have quite a big audience on Wattpad now (check out my Wattpad profile here), but even when I first started out I found posting on Wattpad incredibly motivating. The act of posting a chapter gave me a sense of moving forward. And as writers it can be so hard to feel we’re moving forward when publishing moves so slowly and so much of it is out of our control!
Nowadays it’s even more motivating for me, because I’ve built an audience who wait for my updates and let me know their thoughts when they’re read new chapters!
But even at the beginning, when no-one was reading, I enjoyed the instant gratification of actually posting something. It made me feel a bit more in control of my writing destiny in an industry that can feel incredibly wild and unpredictable!
It also had the added bonus that I realized that if I did it well, I could use the act of posting chapter by chapter on Wattpad to grow an audience. Which – in a world where social influence and having an online presence is often seen as a positive thing – seemed like a productive thing to be doing regardless of whether I ended up selling the book I was working on at the time.
5. You’re a small business!
My final tip mostly applies to people who want to build a career out of writing, but I think the general sentiment is also applicable to people writing as a hobby and finding themselves a little demotivated. And it’s this: As an author, you are a small business.
Publishing isn’t made of dreams and fairy dust, it’s a business. And as an author you are a business too, with products (stories) to create and sell.
Why does this motivate me? Because growing a business takes time!
Let me get side-tracked for a moment and tell you about my mum. My mum runs a small online business. She creates and sells teaching resources and she’s been doing it for years! It started as a hobby, then grew into a business while she was working as a teaching assistant in a school. She barely made any money back then, a lot of her resources she gave away for free, and she put a lot of her spare time into it with little financial reward. But she kept going. She kept growing.
A couple of years later, and she’d put so much work into it in her spare time that she was starting to make some money. She decided to put all her efforts into growing her business more.
Fast forward a few more years of hard work, and her business is now doing incredibly well. She makes a good full time living out of it. And her business is still growing! (Psst, if you work in education, she still gives away loads of free resources. Check her site out here!)
My mum didn’t wake up one morning, open her laptop, and suddenly have a business. Just like a person doesn’t wake up one day and say ‘hey, I’m going to be a doctor’ and – with no medical training – open a surgery. It takes time, work, training, and experience.
Writing is no different! You know those debut authors you hear about? That book they just sold as their debut is hardly ever the first book they actually wrote! I debuted in October with Cupid’s Match. It wasn't my first book!
You’re going to create products you can’t sell. You’re going to make bad decisions. You’re going to make loads of mistakes. You’re going to write books that aren’t good. Of course you are!
But here’s the thing - you need to! How else are you going to get better? How else are you going to grow? Stephen King said once that the first million words you write are just practice.
This is one of the things that keeps me motivated, because firstly I know that my worth as a writer is not intrinsically connected to just one project. If I’m a business and I can’t sell a product, it doesn’t mean I’m bad, it just means that particular project didn’t work. It’s time to work on the next one.
I also know that the time I’ve spent creating is never wasted. I’ve learnt a lot from the experience of writing a book (that I can add to my metaphorical writer resume and author skill set). And now I can move on to my next project a little wiser for the experience.
How do you stay motivated?
These are five ways that I stay motivated. What motivates you to keep going?
Let me know in the comments!
LAUREN PALPHREYMAN is a writer based in London. She is best known for her supernatural teen romance series, Cupid's Match, which has accumulated over 50 million hits online and was published by Wattpad Books / Penguin Random House, October 2019. Her new book, Devils Inc. comes out Friday 13th November 2020. Find her on Instagram @LaurenPalphreyman and on Twitter @LEPalphreyman.
Get hold of her debut, Cupid's Match, here!