It's long been said that the journey of a thousand miles beings with a single step. Well, that or the wrong destination. For writers - and especially in these social media saturated times - there are two gears whirring in the creative machine.
On the one hand, we're merrily (sometimes wearily, dejectedly, or triumphantly, depending on what else is going on) working on our current literary creation. While, on the other, we have a distant eye, like Cú Chulainn himself, trained on the far horizon of future possibilities. Thus, one book becomes a series, a short story becomes an anthology, or a working writer becomes a brand.
A mixture of aspiration, inspiration, perspiration and belligerence powers this engine. Whenever a writer has faced that first blank page she or he is pursuing their very own questing beast - a nameless, indescribable creature that stalks the forests of their imagination, leaving clues and occasionally bestowing bounty.
Like many writers, I am occasionally asked to comment on other people's work. Nowadays, I'm much more guarded with my comments because I know how little it can take to bring the whole machine crashing to the ground in a tangle of twisted machinery and tears. Writers care about their work because their writing matters to them, which is just as it should be given the amount of time and toil it will take to get the job done.
So, how does one stay motivated?
- Be healthy
- Commit to developing your craft
- Have realistic goals (typically, time or chapters)
- Write regularly so that the muse knows where and when to find you
- Track your progress
Sustaining momentum on a piece of work is a tricky thing to pin down. Sometimes losing the thread (or the plot) is a great opportunity to re-evaluate the piece and see where it isn't working. There's also the real possibility that it isn't working because your heart's not in it anymore.
It has taken me months to get to 21,000 words of my latest novel. Novel number five, in case you were wondering. The critic and doubter in me has asked 'why bother?' if books one and two of the series have yet to be contracted. And yet, that very lack of external validation (there's still time, dear agent) is also a liberator. I'm once again writing for me - not a market, not an imagined face behind a desk, and most certainly not for a targeted audience. If ever there was a test for motivation and momentum, this is surely it.
My plan is to complete the first draft by the end of the year - somewhere around 100,000 words. NaNoWriMo should help with that focus.
It's important to recognise that we can give up writing at any time. No one would blame us - certainly not other writers. In fact, I recommend it.
Petulantly or otherwise, down tools for a week or so and lose your pen. Do you feel better for it? If not, then that's the very itch your pen scratches. That's why you do what you do - because:
a) It fulfils some creative part of you.
b) The stories want you to bring them to life on the page.
That was true before social media, writing masterclasses and strategies came along. Just you, your incredible imagination and the page. That's all you need to keep up the momentum.