Scaling Mount Motivation – The Kiva Way

Everest & Lhotse by James C Farmer, on Flickr
Everest & Lhotse by James C Farmer, on Flickr

Do you ever struggle with motivation? Lord knows, I do. [1. Let’s face facts: I’m the kind of person who needed to launch an annual month-long, world-wide challenge to get me back to writing short stories!]

It’s October. The mornings are dark. The novelty of the kids being back at school has turned into the grind of early breakfasts and fights over homework. I’m having trouble writing new words, or sticking to a healthy eating plan. Frankly, even the breakfast dishes are looking like a bit like Mount Everest right now…and I feel just as likely to conquer either.

(OK, this is the strangest opening I’ve ever written to a pep talk. Let’s hope things pick up from here, eh?)

How To Move Forward?

So: bad week.

But this morning I got an email that changed my perspective.

A few years ago, a friend sent me a $25 gift certificate for Kiva.org. (Bear with me.)

If you don’t know: Kiva is a micro-lending program that works with people all over the world, to help fund their businesses and entrepreneurial ideas. You choose and person and project and contribute towards their goal. They pay you back gradually.

This morning I got an email about my two most recent loans. Chin, in Cambodia, is a 61 year old mother of five. She’s using her loan to build a latrine for her family because her house has none [2. If that’s not enough to make me stop and count my blessings, I really AM a lost cause!]. Her first repayment came in this morning.

KivaLoan10-14

Do you see what I got?

$1.04

All she paid to me was a measly $1.04.

But she’ll keep paying my $1.04 regularly until she has paid off the entire $25 that was my portion of the loan.

Her total loan amount is $750. That must seem like a Mount Everest of a number (or at least Phnom Aural). But she’s paying just under $32 every month for 26 months to pay all her funders. By paying that small amount ($1.04 of which comes to me) she will pay off all her debts.  Dollar by dollar, she’ll get there.

Are You Paying Your Creative Debts?

Think of all the ways we borrow from our creative lives. We put off writing to do laundry, to do our day jobs, to be nice to our family and friends, to give to charity, to do anything but invest in our art.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth coming back to the desk if we can’t give ourselves a big payday. It doesn’t seem worth it when we’re only adding a couple of hundred words at a time, or writing our Morning Pages.

But if we just follow Chin’s example and keep chipping away, day after day, month after month, we will achieve the impossible. Chin will pay off her $750 loan. We will create a life that includes our art. We may even create some art that touches other people.

What could you do today if you didn’t have to finish $750’s worth of writing all at once?

  • What if you only had to write $1.04’s worth of it?
  • Could you manage that much?
  • And could you come back and write $1.04’s worth tomorrow? And the day after that? And do the same next week?
  • Even on your worst day you could manage that, couldn’t you?

Incidentally, my loans? Look at the default & delinquency rates:

KivaDelinquency

Women living hard lives in Peru, Cambodia, Mexico and US have all committed to investing in bettering their lives. And they have not quit. They have never even shown up late.

Take a tiny bite out of your creative debt today

  • Write a Drabble (100 word story)
  • Write a haiku
  • Read a short story (check out the Tuesday Reading Room series for some suggestions)
  • Sketch out the ending to a story you’ve left hanging
  • Write a sensuous description of something in the world of one of your unfinished stories (how does it smell, taste, feel, make your character feel?)
  • Write three pages of stream-of-consciousness blah-blah, to warm up your writing muscles (rip up the pages when you’re finished)
  • Take the plunge and submit that finished story to a contest or publication (who cares if it doesn’t win? All judgement is subjective, but you gain something valuable simply by putting it out there!)

Let me know what you did — or plan to do — in the comments. Heaven knows I’ll need the inspiration next time I hit a slump!

What If I Don’t Feel Like Writing?

You love to write, right?

Except when you don’t.

2006_05.28 Isaac tantrum

What’s a writer to do on those days when your inner writer is being a cranky toddler, plumping it’s big fat bottom down on the floor, screwing up its face and wailing,

“I dun wanna wri-i-ite!”

Today I bring some tough parenting love for your inner child-writer. Next week: seven practical strategies to jump-start your writing on the days when even The Mommy Voice won’t cut it.

Tough It Out

D’ya think the dairy farmer always leaps out of bed before dawn, whistling and praising the winter wind that whips away his breath on the way to the byre? Nope, but you need milk for your coffee, so he drags himself out of bed.

Readers, no, the world needs your stories, so get your fingers on the keyboard.

But Julie, you say, writing is a creative pursuit! How can I be expected to turn out something wonderful if writing feels like work?

In answer I say: how will you turn out something wonderful if you aren’t sitting down every day and learning how to get through the reluctance, the fear, the slog? You don’t have to write something wonderful every. You do, however, have to write. Whether you feel like it or not.

Do whatever it takes to get yourself past the reluctance and into that happy place where the words flow. Stay in your chair until you are happy to be there. Your readers will thank you.

Rewards

If you are not writing for a steady paycheck and legions of crazed fans, you need another reward structure.

It IS hard to start and finish a story. It IS hard to face the revision process. You DO deserve a reward for putting in the effort – beyond the satisfaction of knowing you did it.

So, set up some incentives for yourself. Be generous, but canny. Your rewards should enhance your creativity rather than take the edge off.

Examples of creativity-enhancing rewards:

  • -a call to a like-minded friend,
  • -a new notebook,
  • -some guilt-free time contemplating a thing of beauty,
  • -a walk in the woods

Stodgy, counterproductive “rewards”:

  • -a half-pint of ice cream,
  • -two hours flipping through the channels,
  • -a free-flowing bitch-session about how hard it is to be a writer.

 

Goals

Yes, goals. Set regular goals and meet them.

Any or all of the following – especially when you pair them with the accountability of telling a more-bossy friend about them – can help you break through the barriers on a day when you just don’t want to write:

-a daily word count or ’scene goal’. Commit to write X number of words or complete scenes every day. You will progress, even if you end up revising heavily later.
-a weekly goal can make the whole ’goal’ thing less stressful than a daily goal. Struggling on Tuesday? Make up for it on Wednesday, Thursday AND Friday.
-write down mid-term and long-term goals: “finish three stories this month”, “revise and submit stories to ten markets by October”, “self-publish a story collection in 2013”.

Refer to your list as you sit down to work. Remind yourself it’s not just about the slog or the word-count: you have goals for your writing.

And if one of your goals is “support myself through my writing, full-time” then it’s even more important that you figure out, now, how to write even when you don’t feel like it.

Next week: seven specific techniques for getting yourself in the mood to write even when your inner child-writer is saying “I dun wanna!”.

Then, let me bust your writing excuses. No more excuses!

 

So tell me, what do YOU do when you don’t feel like writing?

Week 1 – Story A Day So Far

Thanks to everyone who responded to my questions about how your week is going. I’ve collected some of the responses…

We’ve made it to Day 7! Congrats to everyone who has written anything, or still plans to! And thanks to everyone who responded to my questions about how your week is going. I’ve collected some of the responses below.

When I had this idea to write A Story A Day, back in March, I knew I was going to need a crew to keep me honest, because I knew it would be hard. My non-writer friends a families gave me that ‘uh-huh!’ look and said things like “that’s ambitious”.

With the help of a few people like Debbie, Carol, Robert and Eden, and the Twitterati, word spread rapidly and I discovered that there are tons of writers out there just as hungry for an excuse to focus on their writing as I was. Tons of people who took “That’s ambitious” and made it a cheer, not a groan.

So now, I have — according to my Story A Day Dashboard — 77 new friends, who are all serious enough about their writing to want to do this challenge. Not everyone is writing every single day and not everyone is finishing a story every day they start one, but everyone is serious about their writing and that is such an inspiration to me.  (Sorry, I’m gushing)

FEEDBACK

Story length:

The shortest story people are laying claim to is 25 words. The longest is over 3000

Tips for keeping going:

@mapelba says  “As Ann Lamott said–butt in chair. It helps to listen or read an interview with a favorite author sometimes. Oh, and I’ve given up a lot of TV. That helps.”

@Cidwrites says: “The excitement of my friends who are doing this helps a lot!”

@KristenRudd says: “My trick so far is to mull my story all day, while I’m doing whatever it is I do. I think about the directions it could go, but I mostly think about how to open it. Then, when I can finally sit down after the kids are in bed, the dishes are washed, and I’ve done everything else that needs doing, I’m excited about the story that’s been buzzing all day. If I have the opener, I can sit down and just WRITE (That said, neither story went where I had planned. Characters kept popping in and announcing themselves, changing the story). Who knows if this will hold up – we’ll see! Ask us again in two weeks!

“My other trick was to sign up my kid. I have too much pride to be outdone by a seven-year-old, so I’lm guaranteed to write every day.” (I love this one!)

@Wendolin says: “I keep going because every day I wake up and the first thing I think about is . . . what will I end up with today? I go about my morning chores thinking about possibilities. I make this challenge the focus of my day, and though I have many other things to do, I keep the story in the back of my miind, cogitating, adding and subtracting, until at last, I just have to sit down and start writing, no matter how much laundry there is in the hamper.”

Thanks everyone! Keep writing!