Finding Motivation When the Muse is Absent
What do you do when your drive to write is gone? (Or perhaps merely on vacation). Do you push through anyway, making yourself write words, any words, in order to meet some daily quota? Do you let yourself take a break--perhaps even a break that extends for months--in order to wait for the muse to return? After all, if you're not enjoying yourself, why do it at all?
A few of my author-friends have recently mentioned that they haven't written in months. The muse, the drive to create, just isn't there, and even when they try to force themselves, they end up staring at a blank page.
I've been there as well. I haven't let myself go quite that long without writing, but lately I haven't felt as motivated to work on anything (initially brought on by the absence of my boyfriend and the need to pack up my apartment, then by the actual moving once he got back). But still, I've managed to get at least a little bit of work done every day. A little is better than nothing, right?
I'd like to examine this idea a little deeper, because I think there's more than one thing to consider when you're faced with such a situation.
First, what is your ultimate goal? Is it to become a bestseller and quit your day job? (These don't necessarily go hand in hand, by the way). Is it to write for the sheer joy of writing? Somewhere in between?
Second, how is your writing affected when you force yourself to write? Do you end up pushing through whatever block is there and go on like normal? Are the words not quite up to par with your usual work? Do you end up hating the whole thing even more, making you that much more reluctant to put words on the page the next day?
Third, do you know what type of writer you are? Have you been at this long enough to even have a clue? (Not talking genres here, I'm talking writing practices).
There are some famous writers who wrote every day at the same time and in the same manner. Having done such a thing myself, I know how beneficial this is for creating good habits. The brain learns that 5:30 PM every day is writing time and adjusts itself accordingly. If you're the type looking to create such a habit, you have nothing to lose by setting aside a specific time every day for writing and sticking with it for a month.
But sometimes it's the exact opposite that's necessary to get the juices flowing again. If you feel stagnated, perhaps trying a different time and place every day is just what you need. Try listening to different music, or no music at all. Do something different.
These, of course, only apply if you're trying to write more. Those who desire to become bestsellers and quit their day job will likely have more luck if they have some sort of daily routine.
However, there DO exist writers who only write when they're ready, cranking out a novel in a month and then not touching another for many months, and somehow still managing to make a living by doing this. In my opinion, they are touched personally by the writing gods. From a business standpoint, I don't recommend it until you've proven without a doubt that you're one of the Blessed.
So, what if you only want to write for the sheer joy of it? First of all, you are blessed in a different way, for you're not constantly weighed down by the need to produce content and submit in a never-ending cycle. Honestly, there's probably not much you need to change, unless you're so relaxed about it that you're not writing at all.
I suspect many writers fall somewhere in between. We humans tend to have many things we like to do. We may love writing, but don't necessarily want to do it for a living. Or perhaps we're satisfied with our day job and only receiving supplemental income from our writing. Whatever the case may be, have you been honest enough with yourself to know where you fall? If you could know the future, without a doubt, and realize that you'll have a day job for the rest of your life, how would that make you feel? Depressed? Content? Perhaps even relieved?
I say all this to move on to the next phase of this discussion, which is motivation. Without knowing the type of writer you are and what your long term goal is, you'll have trouble finding a writing practice that works for you. Sometimes you can figure it out by trial and error, but it requires you to be 100% honest with yourself. Are you making yourself happier, or only adding more stress?
If you're the type who writes simply for the joy of it, you already only write when you're motivated. But if you fall into the former category, the type who is willing to strive their entire lives for something that may or may not happen, you've probably struggled with motivation a time or two.
The first thing you need to realize is that you're not a failure if you don't write every day. Read that sentence again. You're not a failure if you're not writing daily. Considering how many people there are in the world, take joy in the fact that you're part of a small group who's lucky enough to call themselves a writer. So many people claim they want to write a book some day, but only a few actually sit down and do it. Often not once, but many times. If you've even taken the time to start, you should be proud of yourself.
Understand that novel writing isn't a science. There's no one set path to follow. This applies not only between authors, but between different books by the same author. Every single book you write will be different from the one before, not just in content, but in how it's written and how you approach it. Just because you wrote novel A in three months doesn't mean you'll do the same with novel B.
Learn how to forgive yourself for not writing perfectly. Literally no one in the entire world can create a masterpiece out of their first draft. (And if someone does, they are absolutely one of the Blessed). That's just not a thing. I admit to being one of the guilty ones who insists on striving for it anyway, trying to make each sentence absolutely perfect before allowing myself to move on. But learning to accept your novel for what it is, major failings and all, can help you to at least complete the first draft. Without those ugly bits, there would be no use in editing, would there?
Knowing and accepting these three things, deep in your bones, can save you a lot of heartache. They are not necessarily easy things to accept. I still have to constantly remind myself that the words don't have to be perfect in the first draft. They don't even have to be completely perfect in the final draft, if the constant tweaking is causing me to obsess over it and never submit. Keep in mind that not even your final draft will actually be the final draft. If it's accepted somewhere, odds are they'll have someone edit it. But you have to allow yourself to get to the point where you say, "Okay, it's done," and submit it.
"That's all well and good," you're probably saying, "but what does that have to do with motivation?"
Everything. Nothing. Because it's not actually about motivation, not when you're trying to make a career out of writing. It's about perseverance and routine.
Look at it this way: if you work a day job just to pay the bills, do you feel motivated every day to get out of bed and go to work? If you're not motivated, do you call in and calmly explain, "Sorry, I'm just not feeling it today..." Some people do this, but I'm guessing most of us don't, or at least not often. Motivated or not, we get out of bed and go to work.
For writers who want to make a career out of writing, we have to treat our writing the same way. Will there be sick days and days where we want to destroy everything we've written and days we can't even bear to look at the blank page? Absolutely. Same as with a day job. And just as with a day job, the best solution is to get out of bed and get to work. Keep writing.