To call yourself a writer, you don’t need to be published. You don’t need a qualification. You don’t need to have been writing a long time. The only thing you need to do to call yourself a writer is write. And yet…sometimes that’s easier said than done. On those days when you know you should spend time on your work-in-progress but can’t muster the motivation to sit down and actually write, your willpower may need a helping hand. There to offer said hand is a little bit of psychology. Here’s one simple way you can conserve your waning willpower and get yourself writing on days when you feel like anything but.
The first thing to understand is that self-control—being able to deny your impulses and say no to temptation—is not a limitless resource. If you do something that requires a fair bit of willpower, like coaxing yourself into going to the gym or spending a full day at work or school, then you’ll have less available to will yourself to write. So, if you can’t just cut out activities aside from writing that require a lot of self-control, what can you do to make sure you have enough willpower for writing?
Make writing so easy that not much willpower is required.
If you feel sapped of self-control, it’s tempting to just give up and put off work for the day, especially if you have to do a lot of prep work before you can even start writing. That prep work requires a helping of willpower—willpower you don’t have to spare.
The solution? Simplify the steps between you and writing. You could do this by reducing the number of these steps, making them easier, and removing obstacles that interfere with them. The environment you write in can simplify or complicate these preparatory steps. The less that stands between you and your work-in-progress, the less willpower is required from you, exactly what you need on days when your self-control is running low.
What can you do to simplify the steps to writing and reduce the amount of willpower needed to write? Here are two possible ways.
1) Prepare your environment ahead of time to streamline the steps to writing.
When you’re tired, stressed and lacking in motivation, can you be bothered with the hassle of setting up your writing space? Probably not. Instead, try setting up your computer/notebook and writing programme of choice ahead of time, so that it’s ready for when you decide to write.
If you’re particularly dedicated to working on your novel on a regular basis, you could go one step further and place writing reminders and motivational cues in easy to see places. When willpower is lacking, your environment has a far greater influence over you, so filling your surroundings with cues that direct you toward writing will make sitting down to write that little bit easier.
My favourite writing cues are the kind that act as memory prompts and motivational messages as well. For example, I have a blackboard with my writing goal and the number of days I’ve written for in my room. Whenever I see it, it reminds me to write, it motivates me to get further in my work-in-progress, and it acts as a cue on the days my self-control is dangerously low. You could also use sticky notes reminding yourself to write, motivational writing quotes, and a list of your personal reasons for writing as cues. Put them in places you frequently visit and let them subtly direct you towards writing and away from slacking off.
2) Remove things from your physical surroundings that might otherwise put you off writing.
If there are obstacles in your environment that take extra willpower to overcome, remove them ahead of time. For example, if your writing space is too cluttered to work, you have to summon the resolve to tidy up before you can even start writing. It adds steps to your writing prep and, remember, you’re trying to reduce those.
As with environmental cues that direct you towards writing, there are also cues that can lead you away from it. If distractions litter your surroundings, like the TV and the Internet, you could be cued towards these fiendish temptations rather than writing. When you’re already fighting the urge to give up, these could push you over the edge. Don’t put yourself in a position where they do. Hide the TV remote, turn off the Internet and remove any other distractions well before you intend to start writing to conserve the precious self-control you have left.
Don’t let a lack of willpower be your downfall. Immerse yourself in your story world even on days when you feel like anything but by setting up cues that direct you towards your work-in-progress and removing obstacles that tempt you away from it. Once you’ve optimised your environment to speed you on towards writing, it should be that much easier to sit down and indulge in your passion, kindle your motivation and shore up your willpower.
Just keep writing.
About Skye Fairwin:
Skye is a writer fascinated by the mind. She loves to dig into the heads of characters, readers and writers on her blog, Writerology, and explore the psychology behind habit-building in her e-course for writers, the Writember Workshop. When she isn’t caught up in the online world, you can find her working away at her steampunk work-in-progress, Her Clockwork Heart, or sipping a lovely cup of tea. (Did she mention she loves tea? Mmm, tea.)
Special thanks to the lovely Skye Fairwin for joining us today! Tweet her at @skyefairwin and be sure to check out Writerology. If you’re interested in writing a guest post for my blog in the future, email me at email@example.com with your pitch.