The Words That Keep Me Writing
All writers struggle with lack of motivation at some point. For me, it’s always caused by self-doubt, which prompts an attack of imposter syndrome or comparison-itis – suddenly everyone’s writing is better than my own.
In such times of crisis, I turn to my favourite authors for advice. It becomes obvious that, no matter how famous, prolific or critically acclaimed they are, no writer escapes the demon of self-doubt. I find this comforting – we’re all doing better than we give ourselves credit for. Sometimes it takes an admission from a person we admire to make us realise that we can’t be motivated 24/7.
I thought I’d share some of this sage advice in case you need help with getting out of a writing slump, too.
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”
~ Robert Frost
The worst thing about self-doubt is that it makes you question the things you love. You wonder how anyone could possibly enjoy your daft story. Who cares about selkies? You start writing for the critical voices in your head rather than from a place of passion. Whenever I write with an audience in mind my writing becomes stale and lifeless. My own words leave me cold. The thing is, when you write from a place of passion about themes and characters that move you emotionally, that emotion will be felt by your reader. Sometimes I think the personal is universal – we can all relate to self-sabotaging underdogs who are motivated by their fears but a sassy, quip-filled heroine who never makes mistakes? Not so much (at least, not for me). I’m finding that the scenes and characters I emotionally connected with when writing are the ones my editor loves too!
“A writer, I think, is someone who pays attention to the world.”
~ Susan Sontag
The times I’m most confident and prolific with writing is when I’m regularly scribbling observations in my writer’s notebook or diary. As a reader it’s the everyday thoughts and details that make a book feel authentic to me, no matter how fantastic the plot. One that springs to mind is The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, where Werfel, a goblin archivist, is trying his best to make an arsey elven diplomat welcome in the goblin kingdom. Grounding the central conflict in Werfel’s human desire to be polite to his exasperatingly rude guest made the implausible relatable and real.
“To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.”
~ Anne Rice
I think we can all relate to fear of judgement governing our decisions sometimes. Sticking to what we know keeps us safe – it’s a survival instinct. Mine is so strong it’s stopped me from acting on things I’m passionate about – I didn’t start calling myself a writer until a year ago! The problem is, sooner or later feeling safe become less comforting and more like a trap. I love the motto, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”, and found that once I started pushing myself to ask for what I wanted in life I become happier and, ironically, more secure in who I was as a person and where my path in life lay.
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
~ Stephen King
It’s worth remembering that no one is good in the beginning. Every first draft must be rewritten (often multiple times) and that becoming good at anything takes practise and patience. Starting is the important thing. When I started taking my writing seriously, I set myself a goal to write a new short story every week. Those stories were terrible but it gave me material to work with. You can’t edit a blank page but you can give yourself something to improve on.
“Read a thousand books and your words will flow like a river.”
~ Virginia Wolf
Here’s Virginia Woolf’s reminder that books are the lifeblood of all writers. On the days when you truly can’t summon the motivation to scribble another word, set your writing aside, grab your latest read and a massive cup of tea and don’t feel guilty.