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What Gets You Writing?

November 19th, 2013 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
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It sometimes pays to take things back to basics. So this post is simply about what gets me writing.

I have been thinking about this site, how useful it is to people, and reminiscing on its purpose – why I set it up.

For those who don’t know, it started mainly as a way to get me writing. For a start, I would be writing a post every week. The pressure of knowing the site needed updating, and (hopefully) people had waiting for a post would keep me writing regularly.

just write

The about page of the site is still relevant if you want a gander.

I also wanted to help others get writing by sharing what I had learned. Moreover, there would be discussion amongst people who visited the site and sharing of ideas, tips and techniques.

With that in mind, maybe you’d like to get in on the discussion – the comments section is below this post. Perhaps you could encourage your friends to join in too.

The first part – getting me to write every week, has certainly been a success. Get Me Writing has had a post every week (bar one week in Christmas) for the full five years it has been running (not on my own I might add – Craig has helped a great deal, and Dave early on – thanks guys!)

It’s true I may not be writing fiction at all if it weren’t for this blog – I used it as an impetus, and it has encouraged me to keep going.

What Gets me Writing?

So now to the main event! I have learned about myself along the way, including what gets me writing.

These things can loosely be categorised in inspiration, natural motivators (i.e. those things within me that make me want to write), and techniques I employ when I’m not feeling particularly motivated.


Light the fire! Image courtesy of Jason Dirks.

Light the fire! Image courtesy of Jason Dirks.

The wonderful fire in the mind that begs for escape.

Inspiration is, I suppose, a thing that naturally motivates me to write, and therefore goes in the next section. But it’s a large and diverse enough motivator to warrant its own heading.

Here are some examples:

  • Podcasts
  • Books. Regrettably I do not read enough books.
  • Videogames
  • Movies
  • The internet. Now here is some reading I do plenty of. I read about all sorts on the internet, but my reading about writing and science tends to inspire the most.
  • Restrictions/doing something crazy. I suppose this might be called “playing with the form”. Occasionally I will think of some restriction to place on my writing or some new way of presenting it, which can be incredibly inspirational.

On this blog I wrote about making a story from email spam; I have tried writing in diary form before (like classic horrors such as Dracula; I have had lurking in my mind for a while a story written entirely in toilet reviews, for some reason. I’ll probably never be able to push that one out.

Use junk mail for inspiration!

Image courtesy of Dvortygirl at Flickr

Things that naturally motivate me

I don’t have to force these. They got me writing in the first place.

  • Inspiration. See above!
  • The creative imperative – That urge to be creative. Creativity has always informed my play – making up adventures, drawing. Even now, though I enjoy some of the stories and characters videogames present, games that allow me to be creative really hook me in.
  • The feeling of having written – Sure, this happens afterwards, but knowing how that feels pushes me to write.
  • Boredom – This doesn’t happen so much now, but certainly when I was a teen boredom (combined with late nights and tiredness) often led to bouts of impromptu writing.

Techniques for when I’m not feeling motivated

We can’t be bundles of creative energy all the time, but we need to produce the goods!

  • Counting words – This naturally falls out of drafting, but I sometimes forget about it. If I know I’ve only a few words to go before I hit a high watermark for the month, that will get me started.
  • Goals and milestones – As discussed last week seeing a series of reachable goals laid out can provide a similar kickstart.
  • Artificial rewards – To be honest,this plays quite a small part in my motivation. But this is this probably to do with
    1. lack of discipline (i.e. giving myself the rewards anyway).
    2. lack of time to enjoy rewards(eg. it’s difficult to promise yourself a two and a half hour film, if you struggle to find that portion of free time).
  • The lure of positive feedback – This is noted as “artificial” only because I have to ask for it. But, yes, the knowledge someone may actually like my work and heap praise on it, does motivate me. I am at least a little vain.
  • Knowing I only have to do it for 15 minutes – Something I’ve mentioned before and credit to Mur Lafferty (a very useful tip, so maybe tweet it?), although she may have got it from someone else. I tell myself I only have to do it for 15 minutes, and if I really hate it, I can stop. I always go longer though, because starting is the bit I really hate.

Over to you…
It’s good to take a refresher and get back to basics. So what gets you writing? What things naturally make you want to sit down and write, and what do you do to give yourself a kick? Head for the comments below – let’s see if we can build a bigger list.

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  • Craig

    If I’m being completely honest, I’ve kinda lost – or shed – all of my motivators over the years.

    Maybe its because I’ve gotten older. That thin ray of hope that I could be a successful writer/creator/anything has dwindled as time has gone on, or maybe its my natural propensity to burn through things at maximum intensity that means nothing lasts very long.

    Maybe its the fear. Now, I’ve never been one to submit to this much. Even my most half baked ideas I’ve had some sense of drive behind them – my main projects I’ve always believed in. But my latest project – the epic – has had me doubting more and more. If I step back and look at it, as it stands, and all the directions that its heading in, I realise that it is – or could very well look like to the outside eye – a (totally unintentionally) bad Mass Effect fanfic with all the character names changed.

    On t’other hand, thats all 50 Shades of Grey was, and look how that turned out. It spawned its own subgenre and got a whole section dedicated to it at Waterstones (for shame!)

    Sorry, this is all negativestuff that gets me not writing, isn’t it?

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      What looks like fanfic to you probably doesn’t to someone else reading your work – you’re too close to it and what’s going on in your head to be objective.

      And don’t forget that you bring your own stuff to the story. Something Mass Effect doesn’t have is you. But your story does – in every word.

      • Craig

        So what you’re saying is the adventures of space Commander Leopard and his ongoing fight against the Leapers is not inspired by Mass Effect in any way? Good to know!

        In seriousness, its not really in the big details, but some of the smaller stuff. And in my defence, its more things that I have absorbed by osmosis, or maybe just broader sci-fi tropes in general.

        Also, go play Mass Effect, its awesome.

    • KT

      Hi Craig, just chiming in to say I’m a huge MassEffect fan myself (and Dragon Age). Both series inspire my fiction writing as well.

      There’s nothing new under the sun, right? The solution, in my opinion, is to create compelling and relatable characters that present a trope in a fresh light, to the extent that it doesn’t seem like a trope at all. Even Shakespeare adopted conventional styles and plots but presented them in a new way (if I’m recalling correctly from my English Literature classes many years ago). And T.S. Eliot paid homage to both Shakespeare and Dante in his poetry. And all three continue to influence modern fiction along with Tolkien and Jane Austen and many others.

      I also think there’s a lot to be said for older writers. There are many bright, young talented authors out there to be sure, but older writers have the virtue of life experience and perhaps a deeper perspective on human nature, something that simply comes with time. This is a plus in fiction writing, imho.

      • Craig

        Hey KT, thanks for the response.

        I did actually write a reply last week, but it seems the internet has eaten it.

        The one thing I have come to realise with my own writing is that there is a fine line between being inspired by something, and being influenced by it. Inspiration is always a good thing, because it kicks off your own imagination and takes you to places where you may not have gone otherwise.

        Influence on the other hand can be an insidious beast, causing you to mimc or sometimes just plain copy the voice, style or substance of another writer. Which is never good for developing your own voice.

        • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

          Or, you might say a writer’s voice is the sum of their influences… maybe?

          • Craig

            I would hope that a writers voice isn’t *solely* the sum of their influences though! I’d like to think I have some aspect of my writer voice that is purely me…

  • KT

    Hello Matt, I really enjoy your site. I stumbled on it after doing a search on interactive fiction, and I’m so glad I did.

    What gets me writing… the lessons I’m learning from NaNoWriMo. This is the third year I’ve attempted it, and the first year I’m actually going to finish. It’s teaching me to show up at my computer every day, no matter how I’m feeling, and write, even if it’s the worst drivel I can come up with (which it usually is). I’ve started viewing the writing process as a journey, and as cumulative, which helps make the “off” days more manageable.

    I recently read “On Writing” by Stephen King. I haven’t read much of his work before because I’m not into horror (just a personal preference), but this book is a gem. King talks about a writer’s muse as a “basement guy,” who prefers to chomp on his cigar and admire his bowling trophies over sprinkling fairy dust on your keyboard. However, if you show up at your desk every day and work hard, he does have a bag of goodies waiting for you. I love that image; it’s all about grit and perseverance.

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      Hi KT! You can’t see, but I’m waving at you!

      One day, I will try NaNoWriMo. One day.

      I’ve read “On Writing” too! It’s pretty great isn’t it. I don’t really subscribe to King’s view that there’s one way to do this writing lark and it’s my way (at least that’s how it sometimes comes across to me), but there are some gems in there.

      I especially like the image of a story already existing, but buried – the writer is like the archaeologist, uncovering it a bit at a time. It sometimes feels like that.

      I’m thrilled you like the site – I hope it continues to be useful for you. If you want to be sure to see every post, I recommend signing up to the newsletter 😉

      • KT

        Hi Matt, I completely agree, there isn’t just one way to approach writing. And I also like that image of the archaeological dig. I’m in the early stages of a story right now, and every time I think I’m “done” with the foundational idea, I’ll find a new bone fragment or pottery shard that keeps me digging.

        I signed up for your newsletter, look forward to it.