The Stupid Motivating Brain

brain

As it’s the season of new year’s resolutions, I thought I’d talk about motivation. People often ask me how hard it is to motivate myself to sit down and write enough words, in a coherent order no less, to make a book. And the answer is, sometimes it’s really hard. Other times it’s (relatively) easy.

I’m not very good with resolutions. Like 99% of the people who make them I tend to give up fairly quickly and sometimes I never even get started because I’m chronically indecisive. I either decide I’m going to do everything and therefore end up doing nothing. Or else I try to be more discerning and pick the one thing I’m most desperate to achieve this year and focus on that – except my indecisiveness means I never actually get round to choosing the one thing. Perhaps this year my resolution should be to work on my decision-making skills.

But I think the point I’m trying to get at is that to motivate yourself you need to really want to do the thing you’re planning to do and have good reasons for it whether that’s losing weight, quitting smoking or writing a novel.

Deciding to write a novel about the war between wizards and vampires because it’ll make you a fortune is probably not the best motivating tool, unless of course you really, really, love money. But to be honest there have to be better, less difficult, and more guaranteed ways to make that money. Unless you’re obsessed with wizards and vampires anyway, and can think of nothing better than to create stories about them, finding the motivation to sit and write will be extremely hard. Writing something you love, something you care about, is the first thing that’s going to get you to your desk in the morning. I love crime novels so that’s a good start for me.

But even when you love what you do and the characters are nice to be around, it’s still sometimes like pulling teeth to get my bum on my chair and the words on the page. And that’s where the second thing comes in. The fear and the guilt.

Now, I’m not suggesting for one minute that my editor is a ruthless tyrant who punishes me if I don’t get my daily word count finished. She doesn’t have to be because I can do that myself. I always get my work in on time. But in my mind I always think that this draft will be the one that’s not done in time. That this one needs so much doing that I’d better work on it all day and night just in case. It’s just the way I’m wired. I’m sure some other writers have a more relaxed relationship with deadlines – or like Douglas Adams, like listening to them whooshing by – but I’ve always been a bit of a swot.

This is because on the days I have been slacking, my brain will punish me by nagging at me all night long about how lazy and useless I am and that I’ll never finish the book and I’ll have to go back to the day job and I’ll have wasted my life. Yes, my brain is a right arsehole at times. But an arsehole who’s quite useful at getting me to work.

The final tool for motivation is reward which can, of course, be tied up with the why you’re doing it at all. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t write for the money. This is my job after all. But it’s not a huge amount of money so that’s not just it. I wrote long before I ever earned any money – as we all do – and I’d still write even if the money dried up and no one was reading. So the pleasure of writing is a reward too (which not only sounds cheesy, but if you asked me while I was in the middle of an edit, I’d also say was a lie, but it’s not, it’s true).

But there are other rewards I give myself too. I buy a book I’ve been desperate to read when I get a new draft finished. Or I have a day off and binge watch a TV show. And then there’s the promise I always make to myself as I approach the end of a book – a few weeks off to do nothing but read and catch up on TV. But that never happens because there’s always another book to write. That brain of mine is not only a bully but a liar too. Stupid brain. Stupid, motivating brain.

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