Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How did you stay motivated?

Sian asks a two-part question:
I am new to your blog. As an aspiring writer I have two questions for you. 1)How did you stay motivated? I know you took at least a year off but still managed to persevere and, not only complete your novel, but also get it published. 2)When did you know you were ready to approach editors? Did you have your manuscript completely finished with multiple rewrites? You may have already addressed these two questions in your blog but I thought I'd ask anyways. Sian

Thanks for following the blog, Sian. This post addresses your first point, and I'll talk about the second one next time.

I spent a lot of days thinking about your motivation question. The first thing to share is that I didn't write the book with a goal to have it published. That idea came pretty late in the game, actually. The second thing to share is that I've never been much of a competitor unless the opponent is me, in which case it's on like Donkey Kong.

In marathons and triathlons, for example, I'm a total hack but will always finish. Never mind that real athletes finish in half the time. I don't really care. These are things I do because they're fun and on some level I believe they make me a better person. Trying my hand at writing was similar to committing to my first marathon. In that case, I wanted to find out if I could finish. With writing, I wanted to find out if I could plot a mystery. I loved reading mysteries, never figured them out, and got really curious about how the authors were pulling that off. So I started paying attention to their tricks and tried to think up a story of my own.

Why'd I finish? After thinking about it for a few days, I've decided my critique partners are what kept me motivated. It's kind of like meeting somebody at the gym. You go, even when you don't feel like it, because you know they're waiting for you. Running used to be that way for me. Now I run marathons alone. Writing used to be that way too. Now I write alone too. In most of my bigger life challenges, the support and encouragement of friends got me through until the desired behavior became a personal habit.

Back then I really wanted to impress my critique partners as much as they were impressing me. I had two wonderful on-line writer friends, one on the west coast and one on the east, and we each posted a chapter every Thursday. One woman already had a finished manuscript. So she would take our comments and clean up pages during the week. I, on the other hand, was winging it, coming up with new material every week. The deadlines, though self-imposed and totally voluntary, are what motivated me to keep my head in the story even though I had a day job, two little ones, and a baby on the way.

As work on that first book was wrapping up, I started attending writers' conferences with a mind toward learning more about dialogue, scene, structure, and those sorts of things. Turns out those conferences are equally geared to educating writers about the publishing business. As I sat in a room full of aspiring authors and listened to them ask questions about getting agents and landing contracts, it occurred to me that I'd already gone to the trouble to write the darn thing, maybe I should send it out.

And that's a good breaking point for transitioning to your second question about how I decided when I was ready to do that. I'll talk about that next time.

Wrapping up here, though. We all write for different reasons and I think people find various rewards in all the things that they do. I write for slightly different reasons now but the personal challenge still tops the list. I have no plans or desire to ever quit my day job because working at NASA is kick-ass cool. Writing is still fun, and while I'd like to be successful at it, I don't define success by Amazon rankings, best seller lists, or royalty statements. To be bluntly honest, if my publisher has me back for a second book I will feel like a success. I'll count that one as a success if I'm lucky enough to write a third.

In skydiving we say a good jump is the one you walk away from. In marathoning, a successful race for me is the one I finish. And in writing, so is a successful book.


  1. I agree with your philosophy. If you don't enjoy what you are doing for its own merit, it's time to find something else to do.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Chad. Great to see you out here!