It’s hard sometimes to prioritize writing, something we love, over the things that feel practical and necessary to get done, and once we can prioritize them, we’ve sometimes taken too long of a break from writing regularly for it to come as easily. This thing we love becomes this thing that also makes us feel vulnerable, afraid of the possibility of failure, or worse, the inability to even get enough words written to fail.
During the school year, I know writing should be my priority, but I have trouble pushing back the obligations I have toward my students, the reading and academic papers that go along with my own degree, and the personal stuff and other passions I want to pursue. It’s an age-old story that doesn’t actually stop when spring rolls around and the semester ends.
I get all geared up and excited to write during the last week of school. Every task – handing in my first final paper, my last final paper, my students’ grades – all feel like a step closer towards freedom to do what I’ve really wanted to do all semester. But then comes the blank page, and then the electronic distractions that help me avoid the insecurity of sitting in front of that blank page.
This summer, I decided no excuses. This isn’t to say I haven’t messed up, procrastinated, or had some less successful days, but I’ve taken steps to ensure I’m writing often, constantly thinking about writing, and staying motivated.
In this multi-part blog about staying motivated, I’m going to share with you some of the things I’ve been reminding myself that have kept me typing each day. I in no way consider myself an authority on how to be motivated in your writing or what it takes to be a writer, but I’ve learned that having discussions with other writers about these things always keeps me pushing forward, so take these posts not as a message about what you should be doing, but rather as a conversation about what kinds of things may be helpful to us.
It seems to me that the more I try, the more I succeed. The habit of writing is akin to the routine of working out (especially, I’ve found, to running). If I do it every day: It affects my life, is a part of my thought processes and my outlook on life. It comes naturally and feels wrong if there’s a day when I absolutely can’t do it. I want to do it and feel better when I do it. But if I haven’t done much writing in weeks: It’s hard. Just getting myself there (in front of the page, on the track, in the weight room) is the hardest part. The next hurdle is making sure I come back the next day and keep pushing my goals. I’d rather avoid it by taking out the trash and cleaning behind the stove and watching every episode of Frasier ever made (if you avoid writing, you probably watch something cooler, like every episode of True Blood or Breaking Bad). But the thing is, nothing happens until I get myself there, and once I put myself there, in front of the page, every day, it becomes easy again. I remember, “Oh, yeah, this is something I actually love.” So I try to remind myself, Just put your fingers on the keys, or around the pen, and keep pushing yourself until it once again becomes the most invigorating, satisfying, and rewarding part of your day.
If you remind yourself of this and still have trouble putting yourself in front of the page, be proactive and set goals for yourself. Sometimes pairing my writing routine with a workout routine is very helpful. Often, keeping my schedule regulated (writing at the same time each day, if possible, is helpful). Some people write early in the morning, before they’re forced to think of anything else. Some write in the evening, when everything else has been checked of their list. Others don’t have the liberty to choose when they write and just do it any moment they can – when that baby is sleeping or when their boss lets them have a fifteen minute break. Many writers set goals for themselves – to write for 3 hours a day or 500 words a day or 2 pages of prose or 1 new poem a day. These are probably things you’ve all heard before. I think the key is making writing your priority, finding a routine that works for your life, and not letting your routine slip once you’ve set it in motion. It’s easy to make excuses, but writing, like any art, involves practice, so put yourself in front of that page. Nothing happens until you get there.
Christina Glessner is a third-year MFA candidate in Fiction at the University of New Mexico. She is Managing Editor for Blue Mesa Review.