By Sammy Bina
I don’t know about you all, but I have a problem sticking to one project. I’ve got boxes full of ideas that I scribbled down on post-its, napkins, and ticket stubs. I get ideas for stories in the most ridiculous places, and as soon as I get a chance, sit down and start writing. Sometimes I’ll write a hundred words, and sometimes I’ll write 20,000. And later I’ll look back on what I wrote and think to myself, ‘This isn’t so bad. I could really do something with it.’
The only problem is, I don’t.
I’ve currently got a file on my computer entitled ‘Graveyard,’ where I keep all of my unfinished stories. Some of them are just a chapter or two, and others are over a hundred pages long. I mean, that’s a pretty substantial amount in some cases! I’d clearly liked the idea enough to write about a third of the manuscript, so what made me stop? Why’d I give up?
To this day, I don’t have an answer to that question, though I’m leaning toward failed motivation. I still have a file of unfinished stories on my computer, and I’m still combating the habit of starting numerous projects. However, I recently adopted Nike’s well-known slogan: Just do it! And so far, it seems to be working. I even bought myself a new pair of Nikes, to serve as a constant reminder! (Okay, really, I just bought them because I wanted some weird colored sneakers, but we can pretend I did it as a more symbolic kind of thing.)
Motivation is a really important aspect of writing that can easily be overlooked. With the number of ideas we get each and every day, it’s not hard to move from one project to another. That first story seemed like a good idea at the time, but the second one was obviously better, and the third was definitely going to be a bestseller. So you went ahead and finished that last one, but completely forgot about the first two, which were potentially just as good. And why did you do it? A loss in motivation is definitely a potential suspect, among other things. Sometimes we just don’t have time to write, and our excitement over a particular project wanes. Or maybe you read a book that was eerily similar to your own. Maybe you hit a roadblock and don’t know what comes next. All of these things can spell danger for a story, so here’s what I’ve been doing to keep myself motivated lately – hopefully this helps!
Make a schedule. Now that school’s back in session for many of us, it can be hard to find time to write. Students need to worry about their homework and making it to class on time, and those not in school have jobs and families to take care of. Like all of you, as much as I’d like to be writing, I sometimes just can’t find the time. So, to make sure I get an hour or two to myself, I’ve set aside a time each week where all I’m allowed to do is write. From 9-10:30am on Saturday, I’m parked in front of Microsoft Word. Sure, I may have to sacrifice an hour of sleep, but by the end of that hour, even if I’ve only written a hundred words, I feel a lot better. So even if you can only spare an hour or two, pick a time to write, and stick to it. (“Stick to it,” “Just do it…” Are you sensing a trend here?)
Make yourself a promise. I’m convinced I have writing OCD (or I’m a compulsive writing hoarder), because I bounce from one project to the next without much thought. I write what I want at that moment, and if I feel like writing something else the next day, I work on that instead. But a few weeks ago I made myself a promise: I wasn’t going to start any new projects until I’d finished at least one of the three currently being worked on. When I get an idea for a story now, I jot down a few notes in my notebook, and that’s the end of it. So far, the walls are holding.
Write a query letter. Someone suggested this to me a while back, and while I thought it sounded weird at the time, have come to find that it’s actually rather ingenious. By forcing yourself to come up with a general concept for your book, and talking about it as if you were pitching it to an agent, it helps to get ideas flowing. This, my friends, leads to motivation. Also a plus, when you finish your book, you won’t have to write a query letter; it’ll already be done!
Tell other people about your book. With this latest project of mine, I’ve been telling all of my roommates about it. Why, you ask? Won’t that annoy them? It probably does, but since they know what I’m working on, they tend to ask how it’s going. They’ll ask questions about the plot, or the characters, and it serves as a great way to keep me on my toes. I’ve definitely come up with a few ideas based on things my friends have said, or things they’ve suggested.
I know it can be hard to stick to one story sometimes, but the problem with having multiple projects is that sometimes nothing gets done! So today, if you’re in the same boat as me, consider the message Nike’s been preaching: just do it. Pick a story, and just write it. It may be easier said than done, but when you’ve got a finished product in your hand, it’s going to make it all worth it.
Sammy Bina is a fifth year college senior, with a BA in Creative Writing. She is currently querying her adult dystopian novel, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, and working on a historical YA piece. She has been a staff member of her university’s literary journal for three years, and is currently an intern for the Elaine P. English literary agency. You can follow her on twitter, or check out her blog.