Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Staying Motivated: My Buddy and Me

After recently celebrating our Second Blogiversary, I asked readers to submit questions they would like us to address. In response, Sue Ekins posted this comment:
"I have trouble motivating myself to write. How do you do that, especially when you are (or were) working a day job?"
I've struggled with this same issue even though, technically, I don't have a "day job" because I only teach part-time. As one of my students likes to say, "writing is hard." And some projects are more challenging than others. A few months ago, I shared a bit about my difficulties finishing a historical young adult novel that required a great deal of research. I'd tried to motivate myself in a variety of ways with mixed success. Then in January my co-blogger April Halprin Wayland posted about how she is inspired by her "tribes(s)," and she shared a brilliant Writing Workout. Here it is again:

April's Writing Workout: Working with Someone in your Tribe
  1. Grab a buddy from your writing tribe.
  2. Both of you write three commitments for the coming week. Don't set yourself up to fail. Don't commit to writing a novel in a week. Start out easy and see what you can realistically accomplish in seven days.
  3. Set a deadline.
  4. Select a "salary" you will pay yourself. The important thing is to pay yourself every week whether you've completed all three commitments or not. Don't business execs get paid even when they've had an unproductive week? It happens. This is not about whipping yourself. This is encouraging yourself. Put the whip away and take the paycheck.
  5. Read your commitments to each other.
  6. Check in with each other at the end of the week.
After reading April's post, I solicited a member of my critique group, Leanne Pankuch, to be my Writing Buddy. Unlike me, Leanne has a full-time "day job," so she has to be creative when it comes to finding writing time. Leanne and I followed April's guidelines with one minor modification to step 5: instead of reading our commitments to each other, we email them at the beginning of the week. In that email, we also set a time to connect by phone the following weekend.

I found it very motivating to put my goals in writing and to know I'd have to be accountable to someone at the end of the week. I didn't want to disappoint Leanne by not living up to my goals. That is precisely what I'd hoped would happen. But the rewards didn't end there. April's strategy also taught me how to set realistic goals that truly motivate me. For example, this was my first week's Commitment to Me:
  1. Spend at least 6 hours revising my young adult novel—this includes thinking and planning time, but not research time.
  2. Get to bed by 10:30 pm at least 3 nights so that I can get up early and focus on my writing before being distracted by other things.
  3. Consistently log how I spend my “work” time.
While making this first commitment to myself was helpful, I wasn't as productive as I'd hoped that week. After discussing the results with my Writing Buddy during our check-in, I modified my goals for the following week to include one that read:
  1. Add at least 500 words/day on at least 3 days for a total of 1500 additional words. (Current word count is: 61,022.)  
For me, a specific word count goal was much more motivating than a time-oriented goal. When Friday afternoon rolled around and I hadn't reached my word count, I resolved to get up early on Saturday to accomplish it before my check-in with Leanne. And I succeeded!

Another surprising plus: our weekly phone conversation ended up being more than simply a time to report on our progress. Leanne and I also talked about our process. We shared not only the day-to-day challenges that threatened to derail our writing goals, but also the difficulties we faced with the writing itself. Talking through my plot and character dilemmas with Leanne led me to finding solutions to those problems.

Partway through drafting this post, it occurred to me to ask Leanne how having a Writing Buddy has influenced her. Below is what she wrote. (Keep in mind, she had no idea what I'd already written about our relationship.)
My Writing Buddy and What She Does for Me

Carmela isn't judgmental.  She isn't cruel.  She also isn't a cheerleader and she doesn't give gold stars.  She is my equal--my colleague.  She encourages me to choose realistic and attainable goals and I--quite simply--don't ever want to tell her that I couldn't accomplish goals that were definitely within my reach.  For example, if I set a goal that I will add 1000 words a day to my new novel--that would be a very unrealistic goal and, consequently, I would have plenty of legitimate reasons for missing my total.  However, if I think about my week--as Carmela tells me to do--and figure out how much quality time I can realistically make for writing, I might set a goal of 1000 words for the entire week and then add a couple of supporting goals and  "voila!" there is no reason why I can't make all three goals.  So, I write on the train/bus rides during my commute from Aurora to Chicago and back, and I write during my lunch hour, . . . . And when I write, 20 words at a time, 30 words, 10 words, then I can make my goals.

And, if the week is winding down and I still haven't made my goal, then I'll sometimes even--gasp!--leave the shirts at the cleaners, tell my husband to make us some cream of wheat for dinner, leave the dishes for tomorrow and knock out those last few hundred words--
Just so I can tell Carmela I made it!

Having a Writing Buddy is like the push you need from your friend to get your toboggan going down the hill. It makes the ride so much better.  It's so good you're willing to climb back up the hill--legs burning--and let her push you again.

Thanks, Leanne, for sharing your side of the story, and for being my Writing Buddy!

With the extra "push" Leanne provided as my Writing Buddy, I finally finished the draft of my historical young adult novel on May 23! Hurray! Of course, the work doesn't stop there. Leanne and I and two other writers have exchanged copies of our completed manuscripts. Later this month, the four of us will get together for a self-directed whole novel critique session.

Meanwhile, Leanne and I continue to set goals and check in with each other on a weekly basis. I am SO grateful to Leanne for agreeing to be my buddy, and to April Halprin Wayland for sharing her Writing Workout with us. I think EVERY writer could benefit from having a Writing Buddy. If you need help choosing yours, see the Writing Workout below.

Blogosphere Buzz
  • Today kicks off a new feature in the Kidlitosphere: "Interview Wednesday." If you have a link to a Kidlit-related interview, or you enjoy reading or watching such interviews, visit today's post at Tina Nichols Coury's blog.
  • Speaking of Kidlitosphere round-ups, the May Carnival of Children's Literature is posted at the Playing by the Book blog.
  • It's not too late to sign up to participate in this year's 48-Hour Book Challenge being held this weekend, June 3-5, at the MotherReader blog. After watching from the sidelines for two years, I've actually signed up to participate. I'll be posting my reading log on my website blog.

Writing Workout:
Choosing a Writing Buddy

Here are some things to consider when choosing your Writing Buddy:
  • Would the person you have in mind be willing and able to make a serious commitment to April's 6-step approach listed above (or something similar to it)?
  • Would you be comfortable sharing your writing struggles with this person?
  • Would you enjoy chatting with this person once a week, or every other week, about your writing progress?
  • Would being accountable to this person help motivate you, either because you wouldn't want to disappoint her or him, or because you'd be embarrassed to fail in front of this person?
  • On the flip side, would this person be understanding and encouraging even if you didn't achieve your goals, for whatever reason?
If, like me, you're lucky enough to be part of a critique group, I suggest you look for your Writing Buddy among your critique group members. If you're not part of a critique group, are you part of any writing organizations, such as SCBWI, where you might find a compatible buddy? Still no prospects? Consider friends who may need motivation sticking with creative goals in areas other than writing, such as illustrating, knitting, cooking, etc.

I encourage you to read April's original blog post on the topic. Then, if the idea of having a Writing Buddy appeals to you, give yourself a goal of finding one in the next week or so, and report back in the comments below.

Good luck and happy writing!


    Doraine said...

    What an excellent idea! Thanks for sharing your journey with your writing buddy.

    Leanne Pankuch said...

    Thank YOU, Carmela, for being my Writing Buddy! I've written and accomplished so much with your help. :)

    Sue Ekins said...

    I am honored and grateful that you responded to my question so beautifully. Thank you. I have found a writing partner, and we are exchanging our first works by June 21.
    I love the idea of paying myself a salary and would welcome ideas for this since I seldom reward myself. Once, I "took a walk proudly." I got out of the car like a movie star and strolled outside, pretending that I heard applause. At other times, I've taken a bubble bath by candlelight.

    Carmela Martino said...

    Sue, my salary the first week went to renting a DVD just for fun. :-)
    Since then, I've been putting money aside toward a writing retreat weekend. You might consider using your salary to treat yourself to a trip into Chicago to visit a favorite (or maybe new) museum. Or maybe to see a play.

    April Halprin Wayland said...

    oh, my--you can see I'm behind in my blog reading...just read this and I'm blushing! So glad that blog post was helpful, Carmela...and I love your questions regarding how to choose a writing buddy. Fabulous!