How to find the motivation to write

If someone tells me they would love to write a book but they don’t have the time, then I know it’s a daydream and they don’t really want to write one. Because you can always find the time, it’s the motivation that is lacking.

I’m not saying that everyone can spare 10 hours a day writing, or that everyone has the capacity to spare the same amount of time. For a lot of people the idea of writing a book is like the dream to quit your job, buy a boat and then spend the rest of your days sailing the seas and oceans. It’s a fantasy, but nothing that will become reality.

There is no ‘snap your finger’ solution and your book is written for you. The motivation for writing a book comes from setting time aside, sitting down and writing. Even if you sit in front of your computer and you can’t find the words, at least you’re trying [I’ve written a post earlier on how to overcome writer’s block].

Maybe you don’t have a lot of time, but if you can dedicate half an hour over the course of your day to write, well that’s better than nothing! Writing a book takes a long time and many, many drafts. But nothing will happen if you always make excuses and put it off. I’m too tired, my head hurts, the kids are impossible… Some days you will lose the battle; sometimes something does come up and you can’t set the time aside to write. But it’s very easy to say you’ll take a short break, and then it’s summer, you’re going on holidays, then school starts again, it’s someone’s birthday, then Christmas, then New Year’s, then spring cleaning, you move or you start a new job… There is always an excuse and that is where your dedication to the craft will be tested.

The simple truth is you need to put in the hours, put in the effort, and write words on a blank page. And since you’re doing this without getting paid (at least in the beginning) and it takes a long time to see a finished product, it requires even more self-control and dedication to see it through. It can be very frustrating at times. I remember days where I sat for hours in front of my laptop, trying to focus and think of the next chapter, and after hours of pacing in front of the screen, re-reading the last sentences I wrote, reading my ideas and imagining the scene in front of me, I’ve written one single sentence. It’s easy to feel defeated and give up, but that one sentence is one more sentence than you had yesterday and one sentence closer to the end. So you keep going. One sentence at a time.

So what’s the magic formula to find the motivation to write? Sitting down and writing words on a blank page, and keep at it until the book is finished.

Why I chose to write fantasy

It wasn’t really a choice, it was more of an attraction. I’ve always been more intrigued and drawn to fantasy. Escaping into a world of superheroes, where you can disconnect from your daily problems and root for the main protagonist to succeed in their quest to defeat the evil forces…

I have always had a lot of imagination and I spent a considerable about of time daydreaming especially during my teenage years. I didn’t really fit in school among the other students and disappearing into one of my fantasy worlds would be a temporary escape for me. I remember sitting in an overly hot class (the air conditioning had broken years ago) trying to concentrate on what the teacher was saying, and I found myself imagining a handsome young man in military clothing bursting through the door in the middle of class and telling me I had to come with him. And the teacher and students would all be surprised at what the guy wanted from me, and I had to explain that I had to go with him because I had some special powers and was working with the military to protect the country against some threat [I’m deliberately not giving out too many details 😉 ]. I could imagine a whole story within 3 minutes, while stuck in a classroom. And I could imagine things out of any situation, there was always a way for me to escape. The door to my imagination was always wide open.

When I wrote When Colour Became Grey I wanted to create a hero story with a female lead. I was tired of reading superhero stories with a male lead and I wanted to show that a woman could also be the hero. The idea was born in a dream and initially was written with a male lead, but I switched it to a female lead after realizing that what I had written was too similar to what was already available. And when I rewrote it with a female lead, I saw other opportunities to make the story different from other mainstream fantasy stories.

I’m also intrigued by other genres like horror, thriller, science fiction… but I’ve spent so much time in various fantasy worlds that I naturally fell into fantasy when I decided to pursue writing more seriously. My very first story was actually an epic fantasy story that I haven’t finished writing, but I plan to pick up again at some point. I would also like to explore other genres, but at the moment I’m focusing in the sequel to When Colour Became Grey.

Writing a book is more than just… writing

Obviously you can’t publish anything if you haven’t written the words down. But writing a book, especially a fantasy novel, is not only writing words on a blank piece of paper.

  1. Thinking

There is a lot of thinking involved. You need to spend time with your characters and get to know them. Some may do this also through writing; by writing scenes they know will not be in the book, but they simply serve as getting to know the characters and figuring out how they behave and talk. Others may choose to play with their imagination, have arguments with the characters in their head.

Then you need to do world building, which is when you create the fantasy world and invent the “laws of physics” the world adheres to. If you have demons running around, then the question becomes where do they come from and how did they get here? And if you want to write something original, it may take even more time to figure out how it all works.

2. Research

Another aspect is research. If your main character is a police officer, understanding how police investigations are done can help you build a good crime story. Sometimes you may want to experience the things you’re writing about, such as shooting a gun or parachuting out of plane instead of simply imagining what it feels like. [Obviously, without hurting yourself or others.]

All along the story you do research; to take the example again of shooting, how many bullets can the gun shoot? How accurate is it at great distance? If a character gets shot in their leg for example, how much blood leaves the body? How long until they pass out? Do they pass out or does something else happen? How long until someone goes into shock?

3. Inspiration

Writers get stuck a lot. At least that’s my case. Sometimes it’s a big block and I can’t write at all, other times it’s a small open question I need to remember to resolve within the next few chapters. What helps is distraction and inspiration. Watching movies or series, listening to music, and reading books can stimulate your inspiration. It doesn’t mean you copy someone else’s work, but maybe you realize your book doesn’t have enough tension. Or you would like to have more characters in your book. Maybe you love the dynamic between two characters in a series, but you would have given them a different twist. You can draw inspiration from many (even unlikely) places.

4. Post production

After you’ve written the story, there is a lot editing and re-writing involved. But even after the book is done, you still need to figure out book cover, title, series name if it’s a series, dedication, acknowledgements, book format, launch date/time, marketing platform & social media use, self-publishing or traditional publishing, pen name or real name, and I’m sure I’m forgetting others.

Writing a book is more complex than it seems from the outside, but it’s a challenge worth taking on.

Why other authors are not your competition

From the outside it can look like you’re in competition with other authors, but I don’t feel that way. And I don’t think it’s useful to look at other authors as competition, even if they write within your genre.

You can argue that when someone decides to buy a book, they could buy someone else’s book instead of yours, and therefore you’re in direct competition with other writers. But that is just a temporary restriction; a reader may not buy your book that time, but they may buy it at another occasion. And the more people read and buy books, the better it is for all writers because the audience gets bigger.

Most people don’t read books

The number of readers is relatively low. I think a lot of people prefer to watch TV or movies instead of reading a book because it requires more mental engagement. So to me writing has always been about getting more people to read in general, not stealing away readers from other authors. If more people read, then more books will be read by more authors. If a new reader discovers a good book, they may be inclined to read more books by the same author, or read similar books in the same genre by other authors. So you can only win.

Those that do, read lots of books

Most of those that read regularly, read lots of books. Some genres are dominated by a handful of authors, but that doesn’t mean there is no room for you. On the contrary! Sure, most readers have their favorite authors. But that doesn’t mean they won’t ever read anything written by other authors, especially if their favorite author is still working on a sequel or taking some time off. It’s like having a favorite TV show; you will not watch that show exclusively and nothing else ever until you die. You will want to try out other things in the same genre or something completely different, either to wait until the next season comes out, or to mix it up. So once again, you can only win.

And there is also another huge upside; once a book series has ended, those readers will look for the next great series to read and that may be yours. Why then waste your time being bitchy at other authors?

Authors’ advantage

If authors help each other out, and promote newcomers and other authors (even established ones) they really like, it will benefit everyone. You interact with your audience, the readers get to know another author, the other author will be grateful (and may return the favor when he/she is the big shot!) and you create a positive atmosphere for everyone.

For me the author’s community is like a company; there is no point in fighting within our midst since we’re all selling the same product. It’s about working together and promoting the creative writing space as a whole in all its genres, from comic books to poems and everything in between. It doesn’t mean you have to be loyal and defend absolutely everyone. There are “authors” that I don’t think are worthy of that title, but ultimately the readers will decide who they support and buy books from, and as I said above there is no point in tearing each other down. Best case scenario you start a feud with a fellow author and you both lose respect from the audience (because newsflash, everyone can publish a book.). So don’t waste your time on being negative and judgmental, take that energy and do something positive.

How writing can be mentally freeing

Writing allows you to create your own world, your own heroes, your own challenges, and thrive in a fictional setting. You can be whomever you want to be, you can create characters and set them in an environment they would never normally be in, and see where the story takes you.

Writing is not only an outlet for your imagination, it is also a way to set your feelings free. Even writing a journal/diary that you don’t intend to share with anyone, can be very freeing. You can be brutally honest and say things that would be unpopular or a cause for concern while you explore your deepest inner thoughts. And it doesn’t have to mean you are mentally unstable or you have deep underlying issues, it’s part of exploring the human psyche. And by writing them down, you may understand yourself better. By trying to clearly formulate your thoughts and emotions into distinct words, you can discover things about yourself that you might not have otherwise.

Writing a story is not only freeing, but gives you a way of controlling things that are out of your hands in real life. You can create characters in your story that are based on real-life situations or people, and make them do things the way you want them to. That boy that didn’t ask you for prom and went with someone else? In your book you can make him take you to prom. You can make him have feelings for you, you can make him reject you and then you meet someone else. The possibilities are endless!

Though writing can be so many things, it is important not to lose touch with reality. Writing is an outlet and can be very freeing, but you cannot disappear into your imagination and disconnect from reality completely. Then you’re trying to hide from reality and that’s possibly a sign you should change things in your real life.

Setting realistic goals

It can be frustrating to write a book. When I started writing I used to constantly compare myself to the big names and be annoyed I wasn’t writing at their level. Or the plot is just not going in the direction you had anticipated. Or your characters are so annoying and you can’t make them likable in your story, but you need them for the plot development.

First of all, don’t put yourself under so much pressure. You should compare yourself to the great names in your craft, but do it with the outlook to learn from them, understand their way of working and making it your own.

[DO NOT COPY other people’s work and slap your name on it. A copy of something is generally a shitty version of the original one and you deserve to show your own talent. And if you get caught you will forever be a fraud, and possibly have to pay huge indemnities, etc. Don’t do it, it’s not worth it.]

And if this is your first book, then make it the best it can be, but don’t be saddened that it’s not immediately a bestseller. Not only does it take time to sell books, but it also takes practice to be the best in the field.

Don’t pressure yourself to finish your project in a given time frame, especially if you’re self-publishing. Time frames are fluid and you cannot always ‘force’ the imagination out onto a page. To take a famous example, George R.R. Martin hasn’t finished the last two books for his ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ series and has repeatedly missed deadlines. Try to have a schedule of when you’re working on your book, but don’t arbitrarily decide on June 16th it has to be finished, potentially releasing it with errors or a flimsy conclusion because you didn’t have time to finish it properly. Your name is on that work so make sure it’s the best version it can be.

This brings me to my last point; don’t set high expectations and then be disappointed and hate yourself when you don’t meet them. Don’t pretend you’ll write 20 hours a week when you can realistically only manage 5 hours. Then aim for 6 or 7 hours and be happy even if you only managed 5 hours. There is a difference between motivating yourself to sit down and do the work, and setting yourself up for failure by setting the bar way too high. And note that I said ‘way too high’. It’s healthy to set the bar a bit higher and encourage yourself to improve, but if you set it too high and you’re constantly disappointed you may give up on your craft altogether, which is also not the goal.