The image above was the first “demotivational poster” I ever saw – back in 2009, according to the date I saved it on my hard drive. There are many sites devoted to these satiric little beauties, including Despair, Inc., where the motto is: MOTIVATIONAL PRODUCTS DON'T WORK. BUT OUR DEMOTIVATOR® PRODUCTS DON'T WORK EVEN BETTER.
I had my own experience with demotivation last month. Having resigned my teaching position (due to despair in the workplace, ironically enough), I was faced with the task of making writing my full time job. A fairly well-known YA author suggested the “calendar method” for staying on task. It basically boiled down to giving yourself a sticker for every 1000 new words written. At first I laughed at the idea of a former teacher giving herself stickers. But – I did find some shiny stickers when I cleaned out my desk at school. What the heck? I thought. I’ll try it.
At first it was great. I usually write late at night, so my family checked the calendar every morning to see if I’d earned a sticker the night before. They high-fived me when I got two stickers in one day.
Then, the inevitable “stuck-point” happened – the thing that occurs several times in every one of my first drafts where I’m not sure what needs to happen next. I might know the next plot point – just not how to get there. Days went by. No stickers. Usually, when I need to stop and think about my draft, I know I skip some writing days, but this time I knew exactly how many days I’d missed. Because of those damn stickers.
No stickers meant I wasn’t writing. No stickers meant I obviously couldn’t hack it as a full time writer. No stickers meant I was an idiot to quit my day job. No stickers probably meant I would never finish another book again! I’d been a full-time writer for less than a month, and I’d already failed!
Incidentally, during this time period I was conducting a series of a paid gigs as a visiting author at a summer camp for student writers. One of the most frequent questions I got was, “How do you combat writer's block?” My answer was always, “Walk away from the project.” I don’t know how many times I gave that answer before I realized I wasn’t allowing myself to follow my own advice!
As Matt McNish and Marissa Burt expressed in their excellent blog posts earlier this summer, writing doesn’t always mean putting new words on the page. The most commonly given advice for full-time writers (in fact, for all writers) is to write every day.
But “writing” can mean:
- Blogging and making new contacts
- Creating a promotional package for school visits
- Looking up contacts to send the promotional packages to
- Updating your website
- Taking out old stories you never intend to finish just to play with voice and POV
- Re-reading a book that uses a POV-switch you hope to emulate in a future project
- Brainstorming ideas for another story
- Researching Colonel Percy Fawcett’s journey into the Amazon just because you might model a character after him some day
I ignored the demotivational stickers and did all those things above, which furthered the business of writing. After about ten days, I started adding words to my WIP again. And I threw out the stickers.
Goals are good, and so are schedules. Writers should have those things, but only to the extent that they motivate us and make us feel good about ourselves and our work. The instant they start to demotivate, they need to go. If I don’t write new words for a week because I decide to binge-watch all 4 seasons of The Killing on Netflix, then yes – I need a kick in the butt. But if I don’t write new words for a week because I need time to think about my story, then that’s just part of being a writer.