Find your writing “why”

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When I made a career change and launched into a full-time, non-writing job seven weeks ago, my mother, a writer, said that this would be a defining moment for my writing life. Whether I make the time for it now would likely dictate whether I continue showing up years from now—and continue to be a writer. Gulp. Dose of reality. (Why is my mother literally
always right? It’s maddening. Love you, mom.)

This unsolicited advice didn’t come from nowhere. My mother knows me well. She knows my tendency to procrastinate and let my soul-sustaining habits—like writing and exercising—fall by the wayside when the rest of life feels all-consuming. So then I did solicit her advice on finding the time and motivation for writing, even though I knew exactly what it would be. “Ass in chair,” was her Anne Lamott-esque response.

My mother walks her talk. Her years-long routine of 5 a.m. writing sessions before heading off to work while raising three daughters still has me in awe. If she can do all that, certainly there’s no excuse for me.

Like me, many of you are not full-time writers. Or for some of you who are, what you write at work doesn’t elicit the same passion that your at-home writing does. To varying degrees we likely all experience stretches of productivity, but periods of inactivity can creep up fast and lead to major guilt feels. But guilt has no place in writing. Guilt doesn’t put words on the page. Guilt doesn’t get books published.

Guilt has no place in writing. Guilt doesn’t put words on the page. Guilt doesn’t get books published.

At work, one of the owners gave a class and spoke about the importance of finding your “big why”—the thing that motivates you to show up and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it. The same can be applied to our writing. What keeps you coming back? If you struggle to stick with writing, you’re gonna have to get more specific than “I need to.” What, specifically, are you doing it for? What’s the desired outcome of a day’s or year’s worth of writing?

It helps, too, to have your own writing metric to strive for and attach to your big why. One that’s ambitious but realistic and that suits your definition of a successful writing week, not someone else’s. Many published authors insist that you must write every day, and while that would be ideal, I don’t believe it’s realistic or helpful to impose that standard on every writer. Instead, your metric could be a page count or number of writing hours per week. Whatever works. That part you’ll have to figure out, possibly through trial and error.

Author Karen Russell said it well in this interview:

“I know many writers who try to hit a set word count every day, but for me, time spent inside a fictional world tends to be a better measure of a productive writing day. I think I’m fairly generative as a writer, I can produce a lot of words, but volume is not the best metric for me. It’s more a question of, did I write for four or five hours of focused time, when I did not leave my desk, didn’t find some distraction to take me out of the world of the story?”

Many of us have big goals like, say, to write a novel. Big goals are fine, but to be successful and ensure you’re going to make the time to write—especially on those crappy days when you don’t feel like it—you have to break the big goal down by months, weeks, and possibly days. Think of National Novel Writing Month: The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month, or 1,667 words per day. Without breaking down that large goal into smaller chunks, do you think so many people would actually “win” at NaNoWriMo?

Whether you write daily or not, revisit your big why daily. Meditate on it, write it on a piece of paper and stick it on your bathroom mirror, say it out loud.

Then lose the guilt. Make the time. And write.

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Comments

  1. Love this, Cassie. It’s a never-ending process, and I definitely feel that procrastination, followed by guilt, quite often. And your mom sounds like a rock star. =]

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