Tag Archives: writing

Staying Motivated to Write

By: Keagan Herring

Probably one of the hardest things as a writer is staying motivated to write. It’s not that you don’t want to write. Your mind is filled with all these creative and awesome ideas but sometimes the process of getting your thoughts down on paper exactly how you see them in your head takes time and serious effort. You sit there for 10 minutes… 15 minutes… suddenly it’s an hour later and you have one fragment of a sentence and anxiety that you just spent the last hour doing nothing. You put your pen down and think, “I’ll just go do some other things and it will clear my head to write.” But then clearing your head turns into a week and that fragment settles into the pile of papers on your desk, never to be seen or heard from again.

You promise yourself you’ll sit down and write something again soon… when you have an opportunity. But then opportunity never presents itself. Work gets in the way, children become a huge distraction, and obstacle after obstacle presents itself. It’s not that you are procrastinating; it’s just life that gets in the way. So, when do you find the time or motivation to do what you dream of doing?

First, before you think about when to make time, you should assess how important writing is to you. What is it that you do to relax or de-stress after a long day at work, or a busy day with your kids? Perhaps you treat yourself to a glass of wine and your favorite tv show. Or maybe you grab dinner from your favorite restaurant. Or you may even treat yourself to a massage. Whatever it is that you do, you do it because you feel you deserve a break. Sometimes these activities that you treat yourself with take an hour or more. So why not spend just 15 minutes jotting down some of those awesome ideas you have constantly rolling around in your head. Putting ideas to paper, if even just notes, can sometimes lead to enormously great ideas. There is nothing worse than thinking about jotting down a great idea, not getting around to it, and then losing it from your mind completely.

One of the best ways to stay motivated is to find yourself a group of like-minded writers who get together maybe once a week and do short prompt writing. If you don’t know of anyone who is currently doing that, then set a group up yourself and invite a few people whom you think would benefit from this activity. But instead of meeting in person, because let’s face it, who has time for that, plan to do it on Zoom or some other platform you are comfortable with. Set up a time that works best for you. If your friends or associates are as interested in this as you are, they will show for the meeting. Pick one or two-word prompts and do 15 minutes of writing for that prompt. Some groups who meet do several prompts which can make the meeting run 30 minutes to an hour. It is your group so it is entirely up to you. Some groups share what they’ve written, some don’t. Again, that is up to you. The main purpose of this exercise is to get your creative juices flowing. The prompt may have nothing to do with anything you are considering for your poems, short stories, novels, etc… But sometimes these prompts can lead to unexpected outcomes. For instance, you may have a prompt of the words “beautiful” and “hag” in which you write a comical but sad short piece about an old lady with a dry sense of humor. Then suddenly, it hits you! She would make a great secondary character in that story you started six months ago! Or perhaps none of your prompt writing leads to anything significant… until one day, it becomes your collection of short stories for your first published collection. Without prompt writing, you would have had nothing to pull from to even consider publishing.

Another great way to stay motivated is to not try to sit down with the mindset of writing a novel. Start yourself with reasonable goals and work up to the harder ones. Most accomplished, published book-writers suggest writing anywhere from 1000 to 2000 words a day. For some of us, that is a very daunting goal. Just like anything you try to perfect, you must build up to it. For example, if you were asked to run a five-mile race but had never exercised a day in your life, you wouldn’t run right out and try to run five miles. The smarter thing to do is to test your limit the first time you try, go as far as you feel comfortable and leave it at that. Then, on day two, you go to that comfort level and just a little further; day three, a little further. Trying to run five miles when you haven’t ever run before will leave you breathless, exhausted, and disappointed when you come nowhere close to your goal. This leads to disheartened views about your capabilities and eventually you will quit trying. Writing is very much like running a race. Sometimes you have deadlines or people expecting things from you. That is why it is important for you to start off comfortably and work your way towards those exciting goals. Sitting down and writing 100 words seems both hard and easy… but as you start writing, you suddenly realize that 100 words becomes 156 before you know it. “Okay, that wasn’t so bad. Tomorrow, I will try 200 words.” And 200 turns into 317. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so scary and before you know it, you’re writing that 1000-2000 words a day! It truly is all about conditioning your brain in much the same way you would condition your body for a race.

A final idea, though none of these are all the ideas currently out there, is to keep a memo pad with you to jot down ideas or blurbs that suddenly pop into your head. Perhaps you were standing in line at the grocery store and the mother in front of you has two teenaged boys with her who are highly disrespectful to her, the cashier, and dressed like little hoodlums, which prompts you to ponder how a mother could let her children act or dress like that. But then it becomes a heart-wrenching story about a woman who is actually the aunt (their mother recently killed in a drive-by shooting) and though not having the financial capability nor the experience to take on two teenaged boys, does so because otherwise, her nephews would end up in foster care, or possibly in jail at some point. Suddenly, you are imagining this whole story line that could be the next Lifetime movie! But you didn’t have a memo pad with you, or an index card, or something of the sort, to jot down this exciting idea. By the way, for those of you who prefer to digitalize everything, there are all kinds of apps you can install to quickly record your ground-breaking ideas versus writing them down.

If none of these ideas work for you, then perhaps you are not a writer after all… I’m just kidding. Who am I to tell you what you are not? It is up to you to find that sweet spot that works for you. Reach out to the people who know you best, the professors, writers, and friends who write, and ask what they find to be motivating for them. There are so many opportunities for success. And by success, I don’t necessarily mean being published or making millions… Your success is measured by what you want to do with your writing and how you go about achieving it.

Stay motivated and you will do great things!

How Acting and Improvisation Improved My Writing

Jacob Allard

I am a writer.

I am an actor.

I am an improviser.

I am a teacher.

All of these titles are a part of who I am and each one has influenced my writing in some way. Today I’d like to look at acting and improvising.

Throughout my life I’ve focused on two main art forms: acting and improvising. Use of dialogue in both is essential to each art because it shapes how a scene works out in plays and movies. I had read probably over a hundred plays before I hit college to obtain my Bachelor’s in theatre education and then had to read yet more plays. Plays were important to us actors–not just to perform, but to understand how a playwright gets us to say what he/she wants us to say.

So, Jake, what the hell does this have to do with writing fiction or nonfiction? Simple: DIALOGUE. I spent most of my life learning how to perfect the art of speaking to another actor or actress on stage. More importantly, I spent my time learning how to read a script to see what the writer is telling me. Not just their literal words, but the same literary techniques we use as writers.

For example: Shakespeare (I know…starting tough) would use the sounds of the words to help show what a character is feeling. Here we have A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III, Scene II:

How low am I, thou painted maypole? speak;
How low am I? I am not yet so low
But that my nails can reach unto thine eyes.

The sounds in this passage are sharp, biting. Letters like “t” are abundant in this passage; rumors abound that Shakespeare used this alliteration to show the character’s feelings on wanting to “cut through the other character.” Some modern playwrights have taken on this technique, and we as fiction writers can do the same.

Look at how your dialogue sounds. Listen to it in your head, say it out loud, record it and listen to it, or even have some friends or family read that part out loud and really listen to how it sounds. Can you cut another person down with your t’s? Can you show sadness by having someone speak with more long vowel sounds, so it almost sounds like they’re crying with consonants? One of my favorite directors’ dialogue mantra was “vowels are the emotion of a sentence; consonants are the intellect holding it together and helping it make sense.” How much of this can you apply to your writing?

The art of improvisation has a simpler way of helping me in my writing. Many times (mostly when I was starting out after getting a better handle on the language) I would stop myself and re-read what I was writing only to trash the whole thing. Many other writers have their own way of saying it (i.e. Lamott’s way is “write a shitty rough draft”), but with improv, you are working with your teammates to create something that is brand new and comes from absolutely only in the creative part of the imagination. Rule number one of improv to allow this creative process to continue is called “yes, and.” This idea of “yes, and” is a beautiful one; it means “yes, I accept what you’re giving me, and I’ll move the story forward.” Improv, as well as all acting, really, is nothing but story showing. Actors get up on the stage and show the audience a story (I say showing and not telling because an acting mantra is “show us, don’t tell us.”) In improv, we’re not just showing a story–we’re creating one that stays true to these characters we’ve envisioned. It’s truly the most organic form of story creating that I’ve gotten to experience. We commit to our characters and allow him or her to carry us on a story, and if we deviate from what that character would do, our audience will notice it–and most likely wake from their fictive dream.

The same can happen to us as writers. We create a story and a couple of things can happen. We decide half-way through our rough draft that the story created is utter bullshit, we change the character’s personality and make him or her to do things that don’t ring true, or we just force the story to go a way that’s unnatural. One thing I’ve incorporated in my more current writings is this mentality of “yes, and.” I create my characters, I commit to the characters, and during the rough draft I don’t EVER say “no.” I let them make up their own minds. I let their actions push through, and I let their actions dictate what happens in the story. I will go back and edit later, maybe removing an action that doesn’t fit as well as I thought it did initially, but I find that my “shitty rough drafts,” to snag a line from Lamott, are significantly less shitty than I thought they were. It makes my edits go much more smoothly. So, the next time you hit a snag in a story, look back at what happened and say to your characters “yes, and” and then build your story further.

Keep writing!

Jacob AllardJacob Allard is the Managing  Prose Editor at South85 Journal. He graduated Converse College with his MFA in creative writing in 2014. When he’s not writing or editing he is usually found teaching, improvising, acting, or enjoying the outdoors or the City of Richmond, where he calls home.