Have you ever had a great idea about a novel or a short story collection and all of a sudden you find yourself in the black void of nothingness, unable to move on with your project? Writing is a common dream for people. Yet most people who dream about writing do not commit to it. Some of them hardly even read. Meanwhile, writers who do actually earn a living from their work still struggle to stay motivated and keep writing. Faced with all these oppositions, both external and internal, how can we motivate ourselves to write and to keep at it?
One of the biggest mistakes I often made when writing my first novel was spending too much time on polishing the language before I understood the story’s plot. I was obsessed with the sound and aesthetics of the sentences and tried to perfect them, yet, I had no idea where I was going because I did not work on developing the story. I finally decided to place an ending to the story so I could then focus on the sentence and chapter structures. You cannot know if the words and sentences you are massaging support the story if you have no idea how it ends.
Alas, sometimes even if everything seems to go on oiled wheels, you might feel like your story is ‘dead’. You know the feeling – you stare at what you have written, questioning your own existence and the purpose behind writing, which now seems completely obscure. It has happened to me many times when writing short stories or working on my novels. I found that what helps me in these situations is to put the manuscript away for a while and start writing something else. I set aside the project of my first novel for 6 months and in the meantime, I wrote short stories for various competitions. I opened the file of the novel manuscript one day and started reading it from the beginning. To my surprise, I found that not only did I like what I had written, but I also saw where the holes were, and how it might end. In the end, my novel received a publishing proposal and my stories won me several contests.
Another useful trick I use when I cannot force myself to write is to set a timer to forty-five minutes. I start putting words on the blank page immediately and I do not stop until the timer goes off, even if I have to write about trivial things like the weather. When the time is out, I reset the timer for a fifteen-minute break. During this break, I do mindless things such as washing dishes or exercises or even checking emails. The reason is that in this way I will free my subconscious to tackle bigger issues in the manuscript. Hence, during the next forty-five-minute session, I will make breakthroughs without even trying. This should also serve to remind me that I should set goals that are completely within my control. Commit yourself to the amount of time you spend writing every day rather than the word count or pages.
Another mistake I had learned from is relying on a single reader. I always submitted my pieces to her, eager to get constructive criticism that would help me improve myself. However, when more and more people learned about what I was writing, and more of them read it, I received different types of feedback – all different and yet, useful. It was then when I realized that relying on only one critique might send me in the wrong direction. So, when you are ready, find at least three trusted readers who will review your draft at the same time. Do not read their critiques until you have all three. That way, you will not be frustrated if one person does not respond the way you had hoped, and you will be able to choose the suggestions that most resonate with you. Input is absolutely critical, but in the end, what you have is your own work and it has to be to be faithful to your own voice.
Given these points, write something that is unique to you. Do not think of it as being creative because then you will freeze up. Think of it as writing something that only you can write. Free yourself of perfection, of the critical voice in your head that starts to tell you that it is not good enough or that no one is going to like it. It is all about turning that voice off and just allowing yourself to write.
Nesrin Nazlieva is a Psychology student at Erasmus University. She decided to follow the example of her predecessors who, back in 1460, left the Karamanid beylik and immigrated to Bulgaria. Instead of Bulgaria, however, she chose the Netherlands. Her short story with a not so short title ‘The Story of a Wanderer Who Traveled the World in Search of His Hat’ earned her a second place in one of the most prestigious national literary contests in 2015. When she is not glued to a book, she spends time working out in the garden, learning Spanish, and trying very hard not to be the worst player at Ludo.