Staying Motivated

5 minute read

A friend just asked on Facebook what tips I might have for staying motivated while researching/writing.

Instead of making a few concise bullet-points, I figure I'll just blow it out into a whole blog post since, well, I do need more posts on this blog.

Not to mention I'm not a very concise person about writing, anyway.

So I'm running into this problem a lot lately.

Last blog post mentioned I was starting the foundation work for my NaNoWriMo novel, and that means a lot of worldbuilding and thinking about how I want the plot to go. It means writing a few exploratory scenes, which may or may not appear in the draft, so I can figure out the characters a bit better.

It's hard! It's hard to think about every day, in addition to trying to get a job, trying to learn more programming so I can present myself better to potential employers. Not to mention continuing to read the giant monolith that is Berserk, and however other bits of media I want to consume.

Yesterday, I read Berserk all day. Which, to those not in the know, is a Japanese comic (really, manga) that's been published since '89. A month before my birthday, actually. I feel like I learned a lot about storytelling, as I always do while I read more of it, but I can't say I did anything constructive.

That's just an example, but it's a recurring one recently. Spending my time by reading or watching stuff, and not doing anything 'constructive.' I'm interested in writing a book come November, but am I motivated?

How motivated do I have to be for this thing, anyway?

While I'm writing, my motivation depends on what I'm writing. I've written a lot of short story fragments I work on maybe once or twice, get them in a single writing session and then drop when I lose interest. I don't care about these so much, they're usually just something to get me writing, or to think about a scene or a character interaction, rather than something I 'mean' to write. Practice, that sort of thing.

But when it's a book, well...

While I was writing the first half of the Witch and the Snake draft, motivation definitely flagged in a lot of places. It felt like the characters weren't doing anything interesting, because I needed to lay down more setting detail and exposition, and that meant a lot of seemingly-boring scenes that I had to get through. I'd fix them in later drafts, but I still had to write them now.

And, for the most part, I just kept going.

What helped me was having a road plan, having an idea of what I wanted to happen and where I wanted the story to go. Not a full outline, I found the hard way those tend to stifle my creativity, but a more bare-bones 'in this chapter this happens, and because of that this happens in this next chapter' kind of thing. This meant I could plan ahead, get excited about reaching the more fun scenes that I wanted to write, while also remembering to put foreshadowing and subplots in the current chapter that would reach fulfillment later.

I think that's pretty important, to have an idea where you're going. When I write those short fragments, I often have no idea where a scene will go or what I'll expect from it. This usually means I lose interest pretty quickly, and is obviously untenable for longer works. Motivation's easy to lose when you're just flying blind, since why are you even flying in the first place?

It also helps to talk about what you're doing, even if it's just to yourself (I have a little anime figurine I keep by my desk to talk to, kind of like rubber duck debugging for programmers). If you voice your thoughts, I've found that it helps keep you focused and keep your mind on the task. You can psych yourself up that way, I know I have.

You've got to remember why you're writing in the first place. What makes this particular piece worth it. Motivation will flag, yeah, but you'll be able to pick it up again.

This also comes in handy when there are times, sometimes days, sometimes entire weeks, when you just can't work on your project. In my case, I get too busy, or I'm too tired from work to devote more time to mental activity. But by staying interested, by staying hyped up about your project, you can get through times like this easier.

Granted, if you're both unmotivated and busy, then it can suck. But you're writing for a reason, you've got an idea you want to impart, some kind of the joy you feel about it that you want to give to other people. That's what you have to hold onto when it gets hard. You're doing this for you, so you have to go at your own pace.

Research, though, that's a tricky one.

I have no idea how to research.

Like, I have no idea how to effectively figure out researching in terms of worldbuilding. Maybe I'm being too hard on myself, since most research is meant to be very exploratory, you're supposed to extend your feelers out and see what sticks.

But it gets hard when, in my case, I'm trying to develop a space setting and get more of a foundation for how it works, so it'll be easier for me to write. I want to figure out the cultures and all those little worldbuildy bits for a few of the space-nations of the setting, but I'm not sure how to do that.

It's meant that I haven't done much 'research' in the past few weeks.

I think that's due to not knowing where to start. It's been a big stopping block for me in the past. I'm not sure of any way to brute-force or finesse a way past it. In theory, I believe it might help to just tackle what little you've thought of already, and try to expand that naturally. If you're already thinking about a world, there's a good chance you've idly thought of some qualities of it, some things you've found interesting, and those are the things you should develop more. Other areas of the world will open themselves if you've got that kind of base.

In this space setting, one of the first areas the characters go to is a kind of space-Egyptian culture, not entirely but more in spirit. The plan is to make it relatively-light, started by a few Egypt-minded people that settled on a desert world and tried to make the most of things, an idea naturally spread as they grew more powerful and gained sovereignty over other star systems.

I know a lot about Ancient Egypt already, but I can use that to think about how this culture would develop, what their homeworld is like and how that would dilute to the other systems.

I don't know.

But it's something.

I'm interested in it figuring out, at least right now.