On Motivation & Motherhood

How many goals can you maintain? Mark Terry’s post “On Quitting” got me thinking. I’ve been missing the drive to write I had when it was my number one goal/passion/obsession.

Lately, it’s not.

You mothers are going to totally laugh and make fun of me, but I’m already feeling the pull between being a mother and a writer.

The focus thing: how do you do both?

When I daydream, I see my kids instead of mentally working on my book. My “imagination time” has plummeted lately. Even during my downtime, I’m researching homeschooling or somesuch, instead of researching writing or the market or the my next story.

I’m trying to get ultra healthy before I have kids, so I’m working out three or four hours a day. (Mostly walking 7 miles a day, so it’s not like I’m being crazy about it.) I want all systems go when it comes time.

Lately, writing has become a sub-goal instead of a primary goal. I want to build royalties so I can have more time to be a mother, to homeschool, to be at home with my kids. I dream of family dinner every night (I know, laugh) and big Sunday afternoon dinners and having a real family.

It’s a little weird. A part of me sort of mourns when my single-focused goal was writing, you know?

On the other hand, who’s to say that writing as a sub-goal won’t make me more motivated at writing than when it was an only goal, you know?

I was in Walmart last week and there was this little boy outfit and I really wanted to buy it. I could see putting it on my son. (*squeals at the words, “my son”* Can I say that again? *my son* *my son* *tears* *biological clock POUNDS*)

Did you guys sense what sex your first one was going to be? Were you right? Wrong?

If I could to choose, I’d probably choose a girl, but I seem to believe I’ll have a son first, which is weird, right? I don’t care which one it is, honestly.

(Okay, see? I’m trying to talk about writing motivation and this has derailed into tears and baby clothes.)


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

Express Yourself

Whether you’re NaNoing or not, a dash of inspiration from Glee, Neil Gaiman, and the Dresden Dolls couldn’t hurt, could it? I was thinking today about this drive we writers tend to have: the drive to express ourselves.

What an odd thing. Sometimes in life there are bits you can’t talk about, can’t write about, can’t even turn into fiction, and for me, it feels like I’ve got a muzzle on.

It. Drives. Me. Mad.

I need to express myself. I have to. I don’t know why. (Is this a good time to embed Glee’s rendition of Madonna’s “Express Yourself?”)

I remember once asking my best friend about what I would tell some people about something (I’ve since forgotten the details), and she answered, “Nothing. It’s none of their business.”

I was stunned.

That hadn’t occurred to me.


Neil Gaiman reviewed a concert by the Dresden Dolls yesterday, and I discovered a new song: Sing. He described it:

Then it’s "Sing." If there ever was a Dresden Dolls anthem, it’s this: a plea to make art, whatever the hell else you do. "Sing for the teacher who told you that you couldn’t sing," sings Amanda. The audience sings along, and it feels important, less of a singalong and more like communion or a credo, and we’re all singing and it’s Hallowe’en and I’m up on the balcony slightly drunk, thinking that this is some sort of wonderful, and Amanda’s shouting, "You motherfuckers, you’ll sing some day," and it’s all so good, and I’m standing with two dead girls, and we’re cheering and happy and it’s one of those perfect moments that don’t come along in a lifetime that often, the kind of moment you could end a movie on.

I keep thinking that if I’m not going to get much thinking on anything other than the things I can’t talk about, why can’t I just use the stuff I’m obsessing about and turn it into fiction?

Lots of people do.

I’ve never been able to.

Maybe with time.

What about you? Ever felt muzzled? Do you turn the thought-stealing issues from your life into fiction? And how’s your writing going, NaNo or not?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Pop Culture | Tags: , , ,

Enthusiasm and Writing

If you’re my Facebook friend, you know how much I enjoyed the Mixed Martial Art event on Saturday. It totally inspired me. Two of the many fighters just loved their sport so much, it was like watching unfettered, pure, and joyful enthusiasm.

(I’ve always felt that way about Taekwondo. Most fun I’ve had in my life.)

Enthusiasm is such a pleasure to watch.

And I thought: Why can’t I approach writing like that?

It’s true that in my first days of writing, I’d just grin at the screen and toy with the words I’d written. I love how each word carries so many nuances and connotations. SO cool. I love, love, love language.

What I think is difficult about writing is that I can’t sit down and be in an enthusiastic and joyful mood when I’m trying to write a gripping story full of conflict. I’m mostly a “Method” writer, so I put myself in the emotional frame of mind (and heart) of my characters.

Given that by necessity, one has to put one’s characters through hell, I’m walking in the shoes of someone whose life is a real mess when I sit down to write. (That sentence makes me laugh on so many levels, that I’m not even going to fix it.) You can’t be feeling all happy while you write about someone’s mother dying.

So I’m wondering: How does one write with enthusiasm? Can you really sit down to write and feel, “I can’t wait to get all depressed about the fact that my mother died and there are werewolves chasing me!”

Is this perhaps why so many writers struggle with procrastination and avoidance? I mean, who wants to ruin a happy mood by going down in the dumps to write a character going through hell?

I can see how one could be enthusiastic about editing, however.

No conclusions today. Just wondering.

What do you think? How do you (can you?) bring enthusiasm to your daily writing?

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

Motivating Eeyore

You know writing’s not going well when you say to yourself, “Just write one good sentence today. That’s all you have to do. Write one good sentence.”

Yeah, well. All those posts the past week? I wrote before New Year’s. Glenn left New Year’s Day. I’ve been a regular old Eeyore since then. Worse: Eeyore with a sore throat and a cold.

I’m in a numbers group that sorta is in fizzle stage from the holidays (I’m sure we’ll get back to it), where we “just” have to write 100 words a day. That helps.

image But on really bad days, I get down to, “Just open the document. That’s all you have to do. You don’t even have to read it. Just open it.”

I’ve started thinking about my New Year’s resolutions, but no doing. Well, I just looked up and realized my camper is clean and I have my candles set out. I always resolve to think about my New Year’s resolutions, but not stress about getting to the “doing” part for awhile.

And lo and behold, I just realized I’ve gone and started them. I’ve added visualization and meditation already to my daily routine. Huh. I’ve exercised a few more times than normal.

I didn’t even notice.

That’s the magic of “just.” If I “just” start, sometimes I surprise myself and do a whole lot more. Even if I’m slow and mopey.

How do you motivate yourself when Eeyore has taken possession of your enthusiasm?

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

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: , ,

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: , ,

2009 in Retrospect


I spent the morning reading through old blogposts for the year. Evidently, I really wanted a more peaceful life. (I got it.) And somehow, I knew change was in the air.

Biggest Disappointment: I really want a baby. Very badly. I’m not feeling much hope on that front, for health reasons, age reasons, private reasons, and health insurance reasons. I cry inside a little (or a lot), every time I see a child. I’m trying not to think about it for a year or so. I’m not succeeding.

I ended my piano studio on a kick-ass note. I decluttered, decluttered, and purged this year.

Number 1 Thing I’m Proud Of: After three (or more) years of contemplation, yearning, and restlessness, I am finally living outside the window. These are my new adventures. I bought, (broke), and fixed a camper.

Campground life in Ohio rocked. Except for Dish Day, which was a lot of work there. But I didn’t want to leave: I was close to my best friend and niece. I miss them daily. Especially my niece, who is turning three today!

Restlessness followed me to my first stop, but not to Arizona. Part of that restlessness was my foot; I’m dying to get back to Tae Kwon Do. The foot’s actually doing better, and I practice my kicks in the pool every day. As soon as I can run, I’m signing up.

I am disappointed I won’t get to Slab City for another year.

The trip across the US was exhilarating. Living in Arizona is like living in the Wild West. Border Patrol is BIG, here.

Number 1 Thing I’m Least Proud Of: On a related note, I’ve been wrangling with writing all year. I felt I was getting worse. I wish my word count had been better. I want writing to be easier and faster in 2010.

ADD has been a big challenge for me, probably because my lungs have been drowning, and lack of oxygen makes thinking even more difficult.

I decided to read 365 books from September 2009-2010. I am about thirty books behind, but I’m thrilled that reading has become a bigger part of my life than Facebook and blogging, LOL. (Although I miss the socializing!)

At the beginning of the year, I was moved to tears at Obama’s inauguration. Near the end of the year, I was heartbroken over the prejudice against same-sex marriage.

And finally, my favorite and most self-inspiring post of the year is There’s No Traffic On the Extra Mile. For the thing that was most hard for me to write this year, I went twenty extra miles to get it done. (Seriously, swear to God, it was so challenging for me that I just went crazy, doing about eighty times the work it called for, and that’s probably an under-estimation.) And I’m tickled pink that it ended really well, being one of the things I’m most proud of.

Overall, it was a year of big changes, probably the biggest of my life thus far. I miss my niece and best friend. I can breathe better here, and I’m learning how to control my asthma. I think it’s a year I can be proud of.

How was your 2009? What are you most proud of? Least? What’s your verdict?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: My Adventures | 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: , ,

There’s No Magic Indicator

Is it worth it? It’s a question we see over and over in the writing world. And not just introspectively, but, as was discussed in the comments of Nathan Bransford’s blog today, when we should and shouldn’t encourage writing.

To that question, Sex Scenes at Starbucks said it best:

I wholeheartedly agree that no one should discourage a writer to write. Who are we to make that call? But moreover, I liken this very conversation (sorry Nathan) to when my kids tattle.

I always ask them, "Who are you in charge of?"

"Just myself," they say.

Through the comments section, I kept reading the likes of, “But I hope a professional would tell me if I should throw in the towel and stop writing.”

To that I say there’s no magic indicator. No one can know such a thing. And that’s a question typically asked at the beginning of their journey, which makes it one thousand times more difficult to answer.

First, writing is a skill like any other and it takes, at the very, very least, 10,000 hours to get to mastery. There is no telling, by how much your first efforts suck or don’t suck, where you’ll be in twenty years. Even ten years down the road, there is no telling how much you’ll grow in another ten years.

Worse, even when you’re great, you’ll still write a clunker now and then. (Sometimes they’ll even be published!)

There’s no way for someone else to ever say, “You won’t ever make it.” Worst of all, in this business, there’s no way for someone to say, “You rock. There’s no way you won’t be published.” (I’ve thought and said that about so many people who haven’t been, which sucks.)

We are such a success-focused society. It’s crazy. It’s like some people think someone’s choice to write is only wise if they get published one day. Getting published is not a big deal. It’s an ego rush for five minutes (hopefully only five minutes, but sometimes they can get out of hand), you get a check (and getting a check may feel great, but in the long run, doing something for money is far less fun than doing something for fun), and the IRS says you’re a writer and asks you to hand over half your income (which sucks).

Of course, when the going gets tough, we ALL wish a fairy godmother would come from the future and say, “Someday, this will all be worth it.” But we are grown-ups, and we have to make our journey worth it, no matter what the whole world may think or judge, because somedays may or may not come.

What think you?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Biz | Tags: , ,

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