Creative Motivation

I have a tendency to procrastinate. Sometimes.

Okay, all the time.

Example. In true procrastinator fashion, I texted a friend the night before this blog post was due saying, “Help! What should I write about?!?” Angel that she is, she pulled through with not one, not two, but three different ideas for me, plus a promise to send more if she thought of any.

And that is how this blog post came to be, because there are two things that never fail to get me writing: a deadline and someone to hold me accountable.

First, deadlines. You know how your teachers always told you that cramming before a test was the worst, most ineffective way of studying and you should never ever do it? I was the crammer. From spelling tests up through college essays, I was always finishing the night before. My procrastinating habits made for lots of late, stressful, overly-caffeinated nights, but you know what? I always got it done.

Sometimes, my creativity needs “this is worth 50% of your final grade” level motivation.

As a rule, I’m a terrible self-motivator. I can decide in the morning that I’ll spend an hour writing at night, but 9 p.m. usually finds me tired from a long day, watching TV with my brother or curled up with a book. I tell myself the writing can wait until tomorrow. But if I know that my critique group is expecting me to send them 1,000 words by the first of the month, then I’m going to get it done—even if it means I’m writing 850 of those words the night before.

Which leads to my second necessity for creative motivation: accountability. Deadlines only work if they mean something. For me, a critique group of my peers keeps me accountable. We’re a group of four who stayed together after our first creative writing class and promised to keep each other motivated since we’d no longer have our brilliant, tough, grade-wielding professor to do it for us. Not one of us lives in the same state, but we’ve devised a system that works. We’re there to create prompts, enforce deadlines (with varying degrees of threatening email subject lines), and urge each other to continue. “Keep going,” said the same angel from the beginning of this post when I last sent a two-page something, “there’s a story here. I want to know what happens next.”

So find someone to hold you accountable. It can be a critique group or a friend. Your partner, an agent, your unusually smart dog…Whomever you choose for your accountability buddies, make sure they push you and challenge you. Above all, make sure they don’t let you quit. Then, together, set a deadline and stick to it. Don’t say “write every day” because that’s not going to happen and your friends can’t enforce that rule. But “finish draft by January first” or “send short story to _____ contest” is a good place to start.

I hope that you’ll find the creative motivation you’ve been looking for.

This post first appeared in almost exactly the same version on The Loft Literary Center’s Writers’ Block Blog. Irony of all ironies, I’m doing this repost partly because of procrastination…but also because I’ve just moved and my new apartment has no wifi. Also the piles of boxes have claimed my attention more than thinking about this blog. My sincerest apologies. I’ll be back at it with fresh material next week!

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