Motivation for Writing

I’ve been re-reading Bill O’Hanlon’s book “Write is a Verb,” and found that Chapter 2 really shouted at me.

Chapter 2, “Writing Begets Writing,” points out what should be obvious — sitting down at the computer/legal pad and scratching out words will eventually result in getting your writing done.

But many writers are procrastinators. We excuse ourselves from the task for a variety of reasons — we don’t have a huge block of uninterrupted time, for instance. Or there’s something else — running the kids to lessons, cooking dinner, exercise class — that demands our attention.

Perhaps we fear we’re not “good enough.”

Perhaps real life is interfering. Some of us do have other jobs; most of us have families.

Time is always an issue (sadly, no one has figured out how to squeeze more than 24 hours into a day!)

O’Hanlon says that if you want to be a writer, you will write.

A plumber, he says, doesn’t appear at your house fretting over failure or “plumber’s block.” Neither should writers.

Plumbers don’t wait for a perfectly quiet house in which to work, or spend time and money going to and from a gazillion plumber’s conferences, or read countless books on how to be a plumber.

They dive right in, and so should we.

O’Hanlon advises writers not to give feelings too much attention. Feelings, he says, often are wrong and tell us we can’t write.

“So, thank those feelings for sharing and then tune them out. Get on with it. Don’t wait for the Muse to visit,” he says.

Anything that takes you away from your goal — writing and publishing — can be considered a distraction, no matter how “necessary” or “helpful” it might be. That includes writing exercises (“stop practicing and start producing”), making detailed outlines or doing extensive research, checking and re-checking e-mail, “having” to be in the mood to write or be surrounded by the right music and a scented candle.

O’Hanlon says, “If I had to choose one thing that separates the wheat from the chaff, it would be persistence. It certainly isn’t talent. I’ve coached some people with amazing talents who remain unpublished because they have not persisted.”

The bottom line? Put your bottom in the chair and start writing!

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28 thoughts on “Motivation for Writing

    • Thanks, Kathy. Yes, O’Hanlon doesn’t pull any punches. Reading this, I’ve found myself on every other page, especially in the excuses department. We only have a limited amount of time — why waste a minute of it?!

  1. Absolutely Debbie. Persistence in writing, as with so many things, begets success. We can only wait so long for the soup to cool, for the icicles to drop, for our hands to get after the keys or grab the pen. Hesitation wastes too much time. Sounds like a great book.

    • O’Hanlon provides a much-needed Kick in the Pants for those of us inclined to dawdle, make excuses, and procrastinate. I certainly see how I can’t very well call myself a writer if I don’t write!

  2. Standing in front of the fridge pulling off old tape and business cards, cleaning light switches, getting unbelievable sleepy are just a few of the ways I procrastinate. I don’t know why since I love to write, or maybe I’m in love with the results when I achieve “good enough” after inserting butt in chair. Everything looks better than writing (even cooking) before I start. I wonder why? Sounds like a great book! I will check it out. Thanks for sharing. BTW, my 16 year olds room is really clean today right down to the light plates :-)

    • We must be kindred spirits! I love writing (or perhaps I love having written!), but I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to avoid writing. I clean closets, groom the Sheltie, take extra-long walks on pretty days, and waste lots of time online — all things I also enjoy that need to be done (or so I tell myself). That’s why this book is so good for me — somebody needs to glue my butt in that chair! With Domer coming home for Thanksgiving, I’ve spent plenty of time checking the weather reports, tidying up his room, making sure his favorite foods are in the house, etc. I know, I’m guilty of procrastinating! Look at me NOT writing even now ;)

  3. There’s something to just writing. Some of the things I’ve gotten the biggest reactions to are pieces I fired out quickly. When I dwell over something too much it doesnt work as well.

    • You’re fortunate. I happen to be one of those persnickety writers who agonize over every word, pondering the fate of every comma and trying to make sure everything means just what it’s supposed to mean. Slow going, I know, but putting it down right in the first place actually saves me time in the editing (or so I tell myself!). I’ve also found that the longer I avoid working on my novel, the harder it becomes to dig in and tackle it when I do have time — you’d think I’d learn!

  4. I fell like you wrote this to me, Debbie :) Yes, I’ve put off writing because I don’t have a block of time (I like to have at least an hour); yes, I fear I’m not good enough; yes, real life constantly gets in the way. I also agree that putting my bottom in the chair would do the trick…it’s just getting there is a problem :)

    • I’m glad my post resonated with you, Janna, but actually, I wrote it for ME! I’m so guilty of procrastinating, of telling myself something is good for my author presence (when it’s actually just a time-waster!). I, too, prefer an uninterrupted block of time to compose my thoughts and get them down, but busy moms just don’t have that! I admire women like JK Rowling, who wrote in snippets whenever and wherever she could — and still managed to complete a monstrous volume of work!

    • When my son was little, I always took a notebook with me to his lessons and sporting events so I could write. Now that he’s off to college, I fear I no longer have that time as an “excuse”! Perhaps I need to pretend I’m attending something like that, or maybe I could just lurk outside while other people’s kids play sports? Nah, sounds pretty creepy, doesn’t it?!

  5. Debbie, for the most part, I agree with O’Hanlon. Writing exercises, to me, are a waste of time. The way I see it, the same way poet’s have poetic license, writers have writer’s license. I’m not one to write in a grammatically correct way all the time. There are times that I want to evoke a mood or create a specific ambiance and that means breaking the rules. I’m also a fan of using cliches from time to time. That said, I have a hard time writing when I’m not inspired. It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s just that the work I produce is not of the same caliber. I need inspiration for ideas, for ways in how to create humor or simply for stringing together sentences that make sense. I can’t force myself to sit down and write. To me, that would turn writing into a chore and I’d quickly lose my love for it. Doe that make sense?

    • It makes perfect sense to me! I think O’Hanlon is suggesting that, if you know you want to be, and should be, a writer, you will write every day. Perhaps it won’t be as inspired as it would be if you were really into it, but at least you’re training yourself to write — and eventually you’ll produce something worthwhile (or so he seems to think!) I don’t do “free writing” or writing exercises, either; however, sometimes I use my blog or commenting on others’ blogs as “juice” to get me in the writing mode, if you know what I mean! And I have found that if I let a couple of days go by without writing anything (even a shopping list!!), it’s that much harder to get back into the writing mode. Thanks for weighing in.

    • Ooh, great quote! Personally, I think I’d beg to differ with her, though. There’s something almost rote or formulaic about writing sentences in a recipe, whereas novels require so much more — plotting, characterization, etc. And then there’s the great wide middle to slog through!

  6. Debbie, I love writing. When I’m traveling, as I was this past week, I largely depend on my iPad. I have lots of apps on my iPad but the one I use the most (aside from email) is Pages, which is like microsoft word. It’s the only one that’s a must. I can entertain myself for hours using Pages to write and write!

    • Sounds like you’ve found an ideal solution, Monica — technology can be so accommodating, can’t it? Hope you had a marvelous trip, and I can hardly wait to read all about it!

  7. I went to an author even this summer, and so many in the audience were asking the author about how she wrote, whether it was in the same place, the same time, or when the muse hit her. She writes amazing books, and she said she is not a ‘good’ writer…that she is a good editor! I get that. She says she writes like it’s a job, which I guess for her it is…every day for a certain amount of time, and that yes her life interrupts, her kids, her spouse..but this is her job and she does it.

    I think that’s important, to make time to do it regardless of whether you feel like it or not.

    • I think you’re right, Dawn. Which of us works in a vacuum? I mean, even those of us who don’t write solely for a living still have other jobs — and how often do we get interrupted there (by the boss, by clients, whatever)? Rolling with the punches sounds like great advice!

  8. This is such good advice. I find that the more I procrastinate, the more days that go by between writing, the harder it is to get started again. Sometimes it’s hard to squeeze in the time to write but when I do, I’m almost always happy that I did.

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