By Julie Wright
I bought the book Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins and put it up on my bookshelf above my desk so I had to look at it a lot. I am not allowed to open it.
I really, really, really want to open it. But I'm not allowed to. Why would I buy a book I am not allowed to open? Because it is a present for myself--a reward for when I finish my current work in progress. Since my current work in progress remains incomplete, that book will remain closed on my shelf. It's a wretched sort of torture.
In this season of gift giving, I have set Christmas day as the completion day for the work in progress. That way I can give myself a really cool gift of reading. This is one the few motivational exercises that has ever worked for me and I know I've mentioned it before, but it's a concept that's worth repeating. It wouldn't work if I cheated and "peeked" into my present before I'd actually earned it. And I've found it doesn't work so well if I buy other books and use those as filler in place of the thing I really want. Motivation to write is tricky.
For some, the motivation lies in the carrot of publication. That carrot dangles temptingly before all writers. However, that is a carrot that cannot be counted on--not even for previously published authors. Sure there are the exceptions who can write what they want and know they're going to see it in print, but most of us write and hope. And work and hope. And submit and hope.
In the season of gift giving and perpetual hope, let me offer some motivational advice. Keep hoping. Don't give up on your dreams. But make sure you offer yourself a real gift for the completion of your smaller goals--the goals you can control. Offer yourself a small gift for making it to the hundred page mark, the two hundred page mark, to the words, "the end." Offer yourself a small gift for reaching ten submissions, twenty submissions, one hundred submissions . . .
I gift myself with books because I can afford them, and I really, really, really want them. You know what will motivate you. Make sure it's something you can really give yourself. Reward yourself and know you are moving forward with each reward. Publication is a great goal and a gift with its own rewards, but it's not something you can really control. But you CAN control ALL the steps that lead up to it. You can control your writing habits. You can control your submission habits. You can control whether or not you move forward even if rejection letters come your way, even if your manuscript comes back from critique group looking like a large animal had been sacrificed over the top it with all the red ink dripping from your pages.
And if you keep control of those things and keep moving forward (as Walt Disney says) you'll find one day your phone ringing with the excited voice of an agent or editor on the other end of the line. And that opens up a whole new set of rewards.