Practical Writing Motivation

Now to apply the research to writing. A few days ago, I posted about my latest readings on motivation and productivity. I have three “idea” and personal goals for the year, but I’m still working on my writing and career goals.

(Sorry about all these posts. I wrote them a few days ago, while strategizing for the year. I’ll be done in a week. :-)

If you’re a numbers person, check out my spreadsheets with the pretty graphs that track word count and multiple book projects. All, except the Google one, have been updated. If you want one customized to you, just email me at spyscribbler through gmail and I’ll be happy to help.

If you’re looking for some different ideas on self-motivation, keep reading. :-)

1. Set learning goals instead of performance goals. For big goals, learn to write a novel with multiple viewpoints is better than sell a novel to New York. On a day-to-day basis, try focusing on paragraph construction, or juggling sentence structure, or rhythm, or getting deeper into a character’s emotion.

2. Expect and treasure the grit. A lot of mastery isn’t fun. In sports, you’ve got the endless sit-ups and weight-lifting and whatnot. It’s been proven that the more you embrace and do the grit work, the more successful you are.

How to enjoy the grit work? I don’t know. I like feeling sore in sports, but I’m not sure there’s a writing equivalent. :-)

3. Visualize the work and the obstacles, not the end result. Studies show that visualizing the achievement, like your books on the shelf or whatnot, makes you happier, but they actually hinder your progress and motivation in the long run.

Instead, visualize the day-to-day work. Tiger Woods visualizes his golf swing, not the trophy. :-) You can throw in the trophy, but first visualize the possible obstacles to your goal, and then visualize yourself mastering those obstacles.

4. Make mastery goals. I’ve said before that art is striving toward unreachable perfection. Mastery is the same way. “Mastery attracts because mastery eludes.”

Writing the “perfect” novel may be a good lifetime goal, but on a day-to-day basis to avoid the perfectionism trap, Daniel Pink suggests asking yourself, “Was I better today than yesterday?”

5. Practice deliberately. Always change. If you keep doing the same practice, you will get the same results. When you catch yourself saying, “But I have to do it this way,” then change. Try a new way. Shake things up. Stretch yourself. Change your approach.

6. Chase flow. Figure out how you get in the flow, and then go after it. Flow is the ultimate intrinsic reward, and the gist of what I’ve researched this week has been it’s more motivating to replace extrinsic with intrinsic goals.

7. Profit as a pathway to purpose: Money objectives are more powerful if you make them a pathway to a life purpose, like a charity or a “calling” or whatnot.

For example, in my last story, sure, I wanted to be able to pay the bills. But that stresses me out and worries me and makes me second-guess.

But when I make my goal to touch my readers’ hearts, or to make them feel understood and respected and accepted, I’m motivated.

8. Schedule a weekly Play Day: Confession time: I used to do this with my student’s piano assignments. One practice a week, they could practice ANYTHING they wanted, for as little or as long as they wanted. One year, I started making the “play day” optional, and there was a HUGE DIFFERENCE in student motivation. That play day felt silly when we had so much to accomplish, but in reality, the motivation they lost when they skipped the play day did not make up for the extra day of “real work” they did. In fact, it put them at –1.

Studies show that spending twenty percent of your working life on meaningful, purposeful, and/or fun work strictly for YOUR purpose and/or pleasure, prevents burnout and increases both happiness and motivation.

And increases creativity.

So take a day each week, or at least an afternoon, to experiment. Write something just for you, not for your goals. Write a poem. Write a letter to the editor about a cause you’re passionate about. Play with that novel you don’t think is marketable. Try a new voice, or a new point of view.

Play! :-)

What think you on all this? Any other tips to share?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags: , ,

Resolution #1: An Easy Life

There’s always something. You know those people? The ones who… just seem to be attractants for bad luck. Things always happen. Some self-caused, some not, but the whole package deal makes you look and shake your head and wonder what they’re doing to attract that kind of life.

I was born one of them, but we’ll just skip over the childhood drama, of which there was a lot, and the seven or eight years of illness in my twenties, which is pretty much me just sitting in bed.

I remember one good friend from high school, getting really perturbed and throwing up her hands in the air and saying, “You can never just go somewhere, can you? Something always happens! Every time we go somewhere, something happens!”

Glenn was the same way when we first met. He liked to wait for when “all our ducks are in a row.”

Let’s put it this way: after living with me for eight years, he has stopped using that phrase, and has not mentioned even attempting to get all our ducks in a row.

My point is, I’m sick of being one of those people. I want an easy life. I want a nice, predictable life. I want order. I want security. I want a life like my best friend, who has a daughter and a husband and a family and a secure job and income and house and she’s most oftentimes happy. She’s blessed, sure, and she’s had hardship, for sure, but… her life is definitely not there’s always something.

Maybe this might seem to contradict with the desire to upgrade my RV so we can live on the road, but even that “adventure” can be done in an easy, relaxed, almost-predictable way. You know?

When I was little, for some odd reason, I became convinced that the first half of my life would be hell, and the second half would be easy-peasy and wonderful.

I thought this would happen when I was thirty. And then when I was thirty-five.

I think I made the first steps when I was thirty-five, but now I’m thirty-six. And while there’s not always something, there’s still often something. It’s clear that somehow, I have no idea how, I’m going to have to force the issue. I am tired of waiting.

A good portion of these things that happen have not been my fault, but plenty of what has happened to me has been my fault. I try to find a way it’s my fault, at least, because that gives me the power to change things.

So anyway, that’s my number one goal for the year. I want an easy life. I have no idea how to get it, but that’s my goal.


How do you make your life so that there’s not always something? Do you know people where there’s always something? Have you been one? How did you… stop it? What’s your number one “idea” goal for this year?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings | Tags: ,

Motivation and Writing I

I always read or skim books on motivation or learning. Even though I’m no longer teaching, I use it for myself. Yesterday, I discovered Drive by Daniel Pink, which has some hard, scientific studies on motivation and productivity, and my experience as a teacher agrees with his findings.

I’m sorry this is a little long, but I think it’s worth it. It does have some new ideas on the subject, all based in real-world research.

I was surprised that money, beyond that which puts food on the table, does not actually motivate us well. One study found that people will do things for charity or for free far more than they will do things for money.

Mark Twain summed this idea up:

There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign.

Other findings?

Higher rewards lead to worse performance.

Rewards narrow our focus and hinder creativity. In artists, commissioned works were rated as having the same technical quality as non-commissioned works, but commissioned works were rated as less creative.

“The highest levels of creativity were produced by subjects who received a reward as a kind of a bonus,” of which they had no knowledge until after they completed the task. And those rewards are better if they’re praise, feedback, or useful information about their work, rather than monetary or materialistic rewards.

The studies also show (and I’d say they pretty much 100% agree with my experience as a teacher) that the stick and carrot approach does not work as well as we like to think it does.

Three things work:

Autonomy: A full feeling of choice. The research says makes for happier people. There can be deadlines, but people need to feel like they can get the job done the way they want to get it done.

Writing is like this, of course. Easy-peasy. :-)

Mastery: Improvement, rather than results, make more effective goals. “The desire for intellectual challenge—that is, the urge to master something new and engaging—was the best predictor of productivity.”

This fascinates me. I said before that “numbers” goals were not terribly motivating to me. Perhaps I need to focus more on mastery goals.

Purpose: People who set profit goals tend to be anxious and depressed while pursuing them, and unhappy when they achieve them. People who set purpose goals are happier as they work, and fulfilled when they achieve them.

In writing, I suppose a goal of “making readers feel understood” is more motivating than “make $50,000 this year.”

In a couple days, I’ve got another post on the practical applications of this information for writers.

What think you about the above? And what motivates you? When are you most productive? How are you most driven?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings | Tags: , , ,

What Motivates You?

It’s that time of year. I’m pretty aggressive about analyzing the year before and planning for the year(s) coming. I check in once a week, but I try to focus on the small steps on a daily basis.

Hence the need to step back once a year and look at the larger picture.

And I’m puzzled. I nail all my “idea” goals. Like “Be real” (2006–totally); “Live outside the window” (2007—took me two years, though); “Be more mindful” (2008—didn’t really succeed at that one yet); “Live slower” (2009—check).

Every year I also set “numbers” goals, what they call “SMART” (smart, measurable, achievable etc.) goals, like write X number of words a day, exercise X number a week, lose X number of pounds. “They” say these goals are THE way to make goals, but I don’t buy it. I fail those almost immediately. Those kinds of goals don’t motivate me and they don’t work for me.

So I’ve been reading a lot on the science behind motivation. This is the time of year where I’ll skim through a ton of self-help books. I’ve found that 2009 seems to be the year for “real” help, rather than rah-rah unuseful stuff.

I’ll let you know what I’ve come up with in the next few days.

In the mean time, Dean Wesley Smith is doing a repost of his Motivation series. Good food for thought when thinking of your annual goals.

People are motivated by different kinds of goals. Some prefer way easy ones, like 100 words a day, and generally do more. Some prefer perfect-sized, like 1,000 or 2,000 words a day. And some thrive if they put out a wild goal, like 10,000 words a day… even though they never achieve that, they get a lot of work done.

What kind of goals motivate you? Historically, which kind of goals do you nail? Which kind of goals do you drop almost as soon as you start?

PS: Here’s a link to an Excel spreadsheet I made, with the help of Meljean Brook, if pretty graphs and tracking numbers help motivate you. It works for up to six books, but you can plug in more or take away some, if that suits.

PS2: My offer in 2009 still stands in 2010; I’ll be happy to customize one for you, as long as it’s for Excel 2007. I can try for Excel 2003 and the like, but I’m not sure it’ll work.

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags: , ,

Better Than Cabbage Soup

It’s the Rumi poem with the ugliest title. The real meaning of the poem doesn’t suit my purposes, and I’m not quoting the whole thing, because the “Better than cabbage soup” line spoils the mood for me.

For some reason.

Before Poet Joey accuses me of a literary sin, I have a defense: religious words have such a long history of selective pruning to suit the purposes of the selector, I have plenty of precedent.

For the record, I like cabbage soup. It’s just not evocative of a Rumi mood.

If your mind and stomach
burn with the fire of hunger
it will be like a heavenly song for your heart.
In each moment that fire rages
It will burn away a hundred veils
And carry you a thousand steps
toward your goal.

Be empty
and weep with the fullness of the reed flute.
Be empty
and discover the mysteries of the reed pen.

The (out-of-context part of a) poem seems to say it all for me. Sometimes, when something is your only option, it’s a whole lot easier to make a success of it. If the obstacle to your goal is what stands between you and food in your belly, pushing past that obstacle becomes world’s easier.

How do you stoke the fire in your belly? What makes it easy for you to push past that which is hard? Which obstacles are you thankful for?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings | Tags: , ,

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