Writing a book pt 4 – keeping going

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In the previous posts I’ve looked at motivations for writing a book, getting the proposal done and the writing process. So now you’re on your way, full of enthusiasm, you’ve got a plan, several piles of references and a good supply of snacks. But at some point it is likely that you will be visited by those pale twins – self-doubt and flagging motivation. There are lots of good sites on writing advice, but here’s my tips on dealing with those unwanted guests. All of my advice is really a variation on the theme of ‘treat yo self’ – not necessarily in a material sense (although maybe) but more in ways that give your ego the required boost.

Give yourself a break – in the previous post I emphasised how important it was to allocate time, have a plan and stick to it. I’m going against this somewhat here. You may find yourself (living in a shotgun shack) in a rut. You’ve put aside every Friday afternoon and that has gone well, but now it feels like a slog, in which case it’s ok to give yourself a break. Take the afternoon off, go to town and have an afternoon tea or whatever. As long as you don’t employ this tactic too often, it will repay in several ways.

Re-read material after a break – the first advantage of having a break is that when you revisit material, particularly that which you haven’t read for a while, you’ll likely be surprised how good it is. Without wishing to sound like a rampant narcissist, I have often gone back to material after a reasonable period and thought “hey, this stuff is good – did I write this?” This is a powerful reminder that the content you are currently struggling with is not as bad as you think it is, and that you can do this.

Give yourself an easy task – you should have a plan, but it’s ok to tweak this. If you have written a tough chapter, and the next thing on your plan is “write even tougher chapter”, then the feeling of digging wet clay can become overwhelming. Instead find something on your plan that is necessary (we’re not making up procrastination tasks here), but fairly easy to complete, for example tidying up references, locating images, etc. That sense of actually completing a task will provide impetus for the next harder task.

Regular rewards – these can be of your choosing, but go full Skinnerian conditioning on yourself. Whether it is a material treat at the end of every chapter, a weekend away every quarter, a week off from writing or whatever you fancy, having a regular check provides some motivation. Perhaps more importantly it helps break up the book writing into discrete chunks with clearly recognised milestones.

Keep writing enjoyable – returning to the motivations for writing a book, it is likely that part of the reason for starting on this endeavour in the first place wasn’t driven by a masochistic urge to make your life miserable, but because it is something you will find rewarding. I’ve mentioned writing retreats as one method of making the process enjoyable, but on a smaller scale, if you find that a writing session is now competing with taking the car in for a service, picking the kids up or attending a meeting and is adding to overall stress, then rearrange. Ensure that writing time is something you look forward to, in a setting you like, with your favourite hot drink by your side. Writing will inevitably be a bit of a chore at times, you have to get it over the line in the end, but generally try to keep it something you want to do rather than dread.

Failing all that, just get the thing done as quickly as possible and go on holiday.

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