I’ve always been a responsible person. I was a conscientious student from preschool, completing extra worksheets at home with my mom just because I wanted to. This personality train persists today, and is essential for my success as a writer. After all, no one is telling me I have to write a blog post each week other than me. No one has set any deadlines for the rewrite of my novel. It would be next to impossible to write without some amount of self-directed motivation and accountability, and though these seem to come naturally to me, I know they’re really hard for some people. I decided to intentionally consider the roots of these habits and how I cultivate them.
At the heart of all of it, is motivation. If you don’t know why you’re writing, you won’t keep writing. For me, it’s a few things: Stories come up from somewhere inside me and I can’t think about anything else until I get them out. The stories need to be told. I want to be recognized as a writer– to have people read my work and be moved, to feel like it speaks to them. I want to hold my own books in my hands. And of course, now that people are waiting for my book, the desire not to disappoint them is a motivator too. If you don’t know why you write or paint or study, or do whatever it is you’re trying to do more of, spend some time thinking about it. Verbalize it. Imagine it. Really let yourself picture what it would feel like to achieve it. Studies show our brains respond the same way to things that are vividly imagined as they do to things we really experience. Get used to the feeling, so that it really feels possible, and come back to it any time your motivation is low.
I give myself deadlines and I treat them like external deadlines. I only let myself compromise on them in rare circumstances. Writing down goals is essential for me. I write “write” in my planner every day and cross it off when I meet my goal. If something comes up and I don’t get to my 1000 word goal in the morning like I planned, I stay up that night until I do, even though I’m the only one checking. Investing in yourself requires holding yourself accountable. Don’t give yourself excuses. That being said, make sure your goals are reasonable. They should be challenging yet realistic. If it’s a struggle to meet them every day, they’re too difficult. If you’re meeting them easily every day, they aren’t hard enough.
Don’t be afraid to bribe yourself. Before I started the rewrite for Rock of Ages, I made a list of milestones in the book and how I would treat myself when I reached them. Everything from coffee at your favorite place to bigger gifts can do the trick.
Is self-directed work hard for you? How do you keep yourself motivated and accountable? What would you do if you could just make yourself do it?