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Fall is the season when many writers I know take on a crazy little challenge called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). This is the contest that asks writers to pen a 50,000-word work in the month of November. This October, I’m providing a prep series to help folks get ready. You can check out all the other articles here. Today, I wanted to give a peek into the series because I think this topic is of utmost importance for all writers.

As we wind down the series, I want to explore the critical area of motivation. Specifically, we’re going to take a look at what motivates you to write, what might derail you and how you can get back on track. First the fun part.

Your Motivation

Why do you write? Write down your answer.

It inspires you? Why? It fills you up? It calls to you? Why? You feel it is imperative? Why?

Dig deep here. What is it that would be missing if you didn’t write? How do you feel when you are writing? Why do you suppose you are feeling that way? What satisfaction does writing bring you?

Think this one through. Try to give yourself 100 words. 250 is better.

That’s it. Just tell yourself why you write. Save what you wrote. If ever you feel a moment of flagging energy during November, if you’re asking yourself why you’re doing it, or feeling like you just don’t have it in you, pull out that piece of paper. Remind yourself why you write.

Got it? Great. Now, I want to focus on a darker subject: why you don’t write.

Why You Don’t Write

In my experience, there are three main reasons writers don’t write during Nano:

1) Struggling to find the time

2) Running out of content

3) Distracting themselves with a fear of what others will think

For the time element, refer back to my article on Time Management.

If running out of content is your issue, check out my article on Outlining. And heed this advice: if you find yourself stuck along the way, unsure what comes next, stop and take the time to do some planning. That may feel a little counterintuitive but having a plan to follow drives momentum. If you’re not sure where your plot is heading, plan to do some developmental exercises (see below). This is Nano after all. Most of us are just trying to produce content that we will massage later. Don’t worry about whether what you’re writing will make the final cut.

Here are some exercises to get your gears in motion:

  • Character development: tell us more about one of your main characters, what are his motivations and fears? What would he be doing if the events of the story hadn’t unfolded this way?
  • Tell us some backstory
  • What does the main character want to do now, but you’re not letting her? Let her explain to you why you should let her. (This one comes from Donald Maass in The Emotional Craft of Fiction.)

Now, let’s tackle your concerns about what others would think. Worrying about what anyone else thinks is a state of fearful writing. As William Kenower describes in Fearless Writing, fear is problematic because it takes you out of Flow. Flow is a quality of attention. You’re there when you’re following your curiosity. You are completely engaged in your writing and it is flowing out of you because you can’t wait to see what happens next or to see how deep you can take things.

You can tell whether you’re in the Flow by the way you are feeling. When you are jazzed, you are there.

“Writing is all about feeling,” according to Kenower. “This is the first reason I pay attention to how I feel. This is what I’m selling in my stories: a feeling. I am a feelings merchant. Stories, poems, and even essays are merely vehicles for transferring feeling from one person to another.”

Cultivating Flow

The way to cultivate Flow is to focus on your feelings and when your feelings tell you are that not in Flow, make a deliberate shift. I outline practices for doing this in Feeling is the Real Secret. Kenower also offers several prescriptions for finding your way back to Flow. Two of my favorite are:

  • Recognizing that there is no right or wrong in the Flow. This idea will liberate you. Whatever your instinct is, follow it. Let your feelings be your only barometer.
  • Releasing your concern for what others think. Others will be moved when you are moved. If you want to produce work that others will like, forget about them. I know that sounds paradoxical, but you are in possession of the greatest GPS device ever conceived: your feelings. Trust them.

The Flow: Don’t Write Without It

Kenower advocates that you don’t write when you’re not in Flow. If you’re not there, stop to cultivate it. Here we confront the crux of the Nano challenge. In order to succeed you’ll need to churn out a heck of a lot of words.

As I explored the last two days in my internal debate about whether or not you should write a Shitty First Draft, the ideal would be to insist upon finding the Flow before you write. This might not be practical to do with the demands of Nano, however.

So here’s what I suggest. Think of Nano as a practice, a practice in which you are constantly seeking Flow. You might even want to track your Flow state. Journal about it. If you’re a numbers geek like me, quantify it. Try writing with and without it. Learn. Adjust.

And come back here and let me know. What works best for you? How do you find your way to Flow?


Kenower, William. Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence

Maas, Donald. The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

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