16 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Write

cropped-fi-mt-rainier.jpgIn my blog posts up to this point, I’ve discussed my reading and writing. (If you scroll back in time, you’ll find several posts on books – “On reading 100 memoirs in order to write one.”)  I’ll  twist here to discuss teaching. One of my favorite classes is Jumpstart Your Writing. I love to help students who are stuck, either because they lost their mojo or because they were too afraid to start their writer’s life. Here are 15 tips that help me and I hope my students as well.

15 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Write
1.) Set your alarm for 45 minutes. Anyone can write for 45 minutes. Almost always, I keep writing long after the alarm sounds
2.) Believe in the power of revision. We can’t begin to revise until we have something down on paper. From there, our job is to revise and revise and revise. Jennifer Egan said she revised A Visit from the Goon Squad 57 times. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.
3.) Turn off your inner critic. When your mind says, “This is trash. This is horrid, say to yourself, “It doesn’t matter how good it is now, because I’ll rewrite and rewrite.”
4.) Only show your writing to someone you’re comfortable with –who may or may not be your partner, your spouse, your child.
5.) Connect to a writing group, either in person or on-line

Gig Harbor Library 1

Gig Harbor Library, Gig Harbor, Washington

6.) Read 100 books of your genre
7.) Figure out your own writing bio-rhythm. Are you a night writer or a morning writer? Do you prefer writing at home or writing at the library or coffee shop? Do you need to write one hour a day (more or less) or do you prefer to write hours and hours at a time?
8.) Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer? Or both? The more you know about your personal writing style, the easier it will be to write.
9.) Schedule writing time on your calendar.
10.) Learn as much you can about writing well. Takes classes, go to conferences, go to workshops, watch instructional or author panel You Tube videos.
11.) Develop a tough skin. Realize everyone gets rejections. Share your rejections with supportive people. When you receive a comment in a rejection (as opposed to a form letter) consider it a success. Respond to the comment and resend the query or manuscript.
12.) Participate in Nanowrimo in November through your library, Richard Hugo House, or other locations around the Sound.

Camel Riding 2

Outside of Urulu, Australia

13.) Make a personal commitment. How do you do that? Decide your own manner of making the commitment.
14.) Throughout the day, write notes on your phone with writing ideas for stories, scenes that you’ve watched on the bus, street or wherever. Write each of the scents you notice throughout the day.
15.) Write affirmations and post them around the house. “I finished my book. I published my book. I have an agent. I won the Pulitzer prize.”
16.) Watch other artists—singers, comedians, painters, in their struggle. Being an artist is a brutal business, so we all need to support each other. Be a good literary citizen: attend author and poet events, write reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, read interviews and learn about resources on http://www.writersconnection.org, and drop a note to a favorite author. Believe in yourself. If these artists can do it, you can, too.

Why would anyone write a memoir?

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I sometimes wonder why on earth I wanted to write a memoir. Why would anyone want to delve into personal tragedies, pain, struggles. Or, be honest. Be vulnerable. Who wants that?

When I first pitched my story about living off the grid in the mountains of southern France, an agent said, “Oh no. It must be more – how you grew; what you learned from your experience; what it meant to you. So I dug and I dug and today, six years later I am so sick of this f***memoir.

So, again, why write a memoir? Purging is no reason. Information dump is not a memoir. At the very least, hopefully, one can grow from another’s experiences, learn from other’s mistakes, and feel a sense of empathy from another’s words. And aren’t we all figuring out that empathizing, the “walking a mile in another’s shoes,” is about as important as anything we can do?

“Was it worth it?” my friend Pam asked. “Reading one hundred memoirs in one big surge?”

Absolutely. Mostly, because the project led me to stories I’d never have read otherwise. Take, Tobias Wolff’s Pharoahs of the Army, a collection about war. But, actually, it’s not about war; it’s about people. People who react humanely in an otherwise inhumane setting. It’s about people with war all around them.

Like every school child who grew up during Vietnam, I watched the nightly television news and saw gruesome images of severed arms, bloodied legs, napalmed children. I did not wish to read about war. Any yet, I can’t recommend Pharoahs more strongly.

  1. The Voices in My Head by Emma Forest
  2. The House of Sky by Ivan Doig
  3. My Life with My Brother by Nicholas Sparks
  4. Finding Grace by Donna Van Liere666
  5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson
  6. The Road to Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam
  7. Boys in My Youth by JoAnn Beard
  8. I’m All Over That by Shirley McClaine
  9. Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See by Mike May
  10. The Sparkled Eye Boy by Amy Benson
  11. My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
  12. A House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  13. Drinking by Caroline Knapp

Stepping into the Morass: MFA vs. non-MFA

Cape Cod Pochet boardwalkMemoirists in blog: Nestor, Sparks, King, Conroy, Patchett, Grealy, Beard

Now that I’ve  Read 100 Memoirs in order to write one, I’ve begun to understand the range of memoirs in America’s literary world. I’ve also seen divisions, a blurred definition of “literary,” and people asking if memoir has any value as a genre at all.

Some cite St. Augustine’s Confessions as the first true memoir. My own introduction was Theo Nestor’s hopeful How to Sleep Alone in King-Sized Bed, which begins when she puts a chicken in the oven for a traditional family dinner. By the time she takes it out, her world has turned upside down. Not only is King-Size Bed  a must for anyone going through a divorce, it engages readers with its easy slippage through time. We’re  moved by Nestor’s life, but also inspired, that we can overcome our own challenges and crisis’ in a topsy-turvy world. This, I believe, is what the best memoirs should do.

Though Nestor has an Masters of Fine Arts , she writes a compelling story. “Though?” My premise is that many writers walk away with their MFA not knowing how to write a story. There is a split in the literary world between MFA and non-MFA. The question, does a writer need to earn an MFA  to write compelling stories, has been covered in a slough of articles – (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2010/11/mfa_vs_nyc.html by Chad Harbach; http://www.thereviewreview.net/publishing-tips/mfa-or-not-mfa-question Robin Black; http://dismagazine.com/discussion/32434/brad-troemel-mfa-critiques/ Brad Troemel, for example. Many articles were written in 2010. Is that when people woke up with a jerk, realizing they were $40,000 in debt with no job in sight? And that the $40,000 wouldn’t go away? It would grow over time?

Anelise Chen compared–again, in 2010 –the authors admired versus those who actually sold books. http://therumpus.net/2010/10/on-blowing-my-load-thoughts-from-inside-the-mfa-ponzi-scheme/ Anelise Chen

New York Times Hardcover Fiction Top Five -2010-Week not identified

  1. SAFE HAVEN,      Nicholas Sparks — No MFA
  2. FREEDOM,      Jonathan Franzen — No MFA
  3. WICKED      APPETITE, by Janet Evanovich — No MFA
  4. THE GIRL      WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST, by Stieg Larsson — Swedish, therefore, No      MFA
  5. THE HELP,      by Kathryn Stockett — No MFA

Versus New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 List with Age and MFA Breakdown

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32 — Johns Hopkins
Chris Adrian, 39 — Iowa
Daniel Alarcón, 33 — Iowa
David Bezmozgis, 37 — No Writing MFA
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38 — Iowa
Joshua Ferris, 35 — UCI
Jonathan Safran Foer, 33  — No MFA
Nell Freudenberger, 35  — NYU
Rivka Galchen, 34 — Columbia
Nicole Krauss, 35 — No MFA
Yiyun Li, 37 — Iowa
Dinaw Mengestu, 31 — Columbia
Philipp Meyer, 36 — Michener Center
C. E. Morgan, 33  — No MFA
Téa Obreht, 24 — Cornell
Z Z Packer, 37 — Iowa
Karen Russell, 28 — Columbia
Salvatore Scibona, 35 — Iowa
Gary Shteyngart, 37 — Hunter
Wells Tower, 37 — Columbia
My own addition: Tao Lin, 27 — Disowned by NYU

Clearly, the literati are drawn to MFA’s and Iowa and Columbia in particular, while the general population prefers something else.

As a result of my Don Quixote quest to Read 100 Memoirs, I read many books I wouldn’t have glanced at ordinarily. Takes, Nicholas Sparks, #1 on this list. I read Sparks memoir, Three Weeks with My Brother, having never actually read a Nicholas Sparks novels in my life.

Besides being entertained and moved, I learned of Spark’s his absent professor dad –absent  first, because of night school and work, and second, absent staying late grading papers. I also discovered how Sparks succeeded as a writer. He worked at his meaningless day job to pay for food, rent, shoes for the kids, as well as therapy for his child with a disability. And he wrote at night. Like most writers, his first book landed in the garbage. His second book was a collaboration, and his third book, his first published with sole authorship, hit the big time. The Notebook  became Sparks first published book.

Consider Stephen King. Again, I don’t read his books ordinarily, or the horror genre, but I devoured his memoir, Memoir on the Craft of Writing.  I’d recommend Sparks and King’s memoirs as inspiring for writers as well as interesting reads. How did Sparks and King become best-selling authors? They wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote, and read, read, read, read. They fed their kids. They did not get an MFA

Why discuss MFA versus non-MFA? Because many of the memoirs I read scream MFA in that they don’t have a story. One of my favorite writers, Pat Conroy, wrote in his memoir, My Reading Life, that we live in an era where books do not need to have “story.”

I hate to dis any authors because we have all worked so hard and many of us have failed to write the book we wish we’d written. A moving voice does not a story make. If the purpose of a memoir is to like the author, to empathize with her, to feel her feelings, I am left cold. I like Pat Conroy’s stories “better.”

Am I saying I like men’s memoirs better than women’s? I hope not! I loved Ann Patchett’s story of her relationship with Lucy Grealy in Truth and Beauty. And Lucy Grealy’s memoir about her own disfigurement in The Autobiography of Face. Patchet and Grealy were both roommates at –yes, Iowa! The MIT of writers. So I’m not against either women memoirists or MFA’s or the best of them all, Iowa. I’d just like to keep “story” in my books. You know—wonder what’s going to happen next? Be emotionally aroused? Laugh, cry, think deeply. And for that, you need to write well-not earn an MFA.