What makes you want to write? What makes you finish writing what you started? For me, the best motivator is deadlines. But when the project is self-imposed, when no one ever cares if I finish or not, a self-imposed deadline just won’t do (I’ve lied to myself to often to trust me). So what then?

In a “pep talk” for last year’s NaNoWriMo, Kate DiCamillo suggests that we use our anger and willfulness to fuel our productivity, flipping a giant cosmic bird to all the haters out there. She relates the following story from when she was a book picker:

Bob wanted to be a writer, too. But he wasn’t writing. Every morning we had the same exchange.

Bob: “How did the writing go?”

Me: “Fine.”

Bob: “How many pages did you write?”

Me: “Two.”

Bob: “Do you think Dickens wrote two pages a day?”

Me: “I don’t know how many pages Dickens wrote a day.”

Bob: “Yeah, well let me tell you something, you’re no Dickens. So what’s Plan B, babe? What’s Plan B for when the writing doesn’t work out?”

For this question, I had no answer.

I turned my back on Bob, pulse pounding, fists clenched, and climbed the stairs to the third floor and started picking books.

When the alarm went off at 4:30 the next morning, I thought about Bob and that is part of the reason I got out of bed.

So what gets you out of bed in the morning? What you love or what you hate? “What’s Plan B, babe?” It makes me violent, and I don’t even know Bob!

Blogger C. Jane Kendrick considered this on her blog yesterday as well. Her post was aimed specifically at how to deal with haters. Her suggestion is that we stop trying to block out all the negativity. Instead, see it as an opportunity for growth. Use what’s useful in it and disregard the rest. Like Herbert’s “Litany Against Fear” from Dune, we face the hate, we allow it to pass over us and through us, and when it goes past, only we (and our art, hopefully) will remain. I think there’s merit to this idea. As writers, it is essential that we have access to a whole range of human emotion. Blocking out negativity may end up hobbling us after all. And it’s one thing when we face criticism head-on when we can’t escape it (family holidays come to mind), but focusing on the negativity on purpose? Deciding consciously to take it all in, and then turn around and make something good out of it? Wow. That takes guts.

When I think about what got me started actually writing novels (as opposed to just wanting to write novels), it was largely in response to a challenge: “You told me you wanted to be a writer, but all you ever do is sit around the house and mope.” (I was in a toxic romantic relationship at the time, and between you and me, if you’d been in that relationship, you’d have moped a lot, too.) Delivered like flung dagger, I took the very next opportunity to start writing. It was a terrible fantasy novel set in a swamp that I never bothered to finish because it was too, too awful to be salvageable. Also I had some better ideas. So, sure, let’s say resentment got me started, or a need to prove to whoever was watching that I really was who I always intended to be. Maybe I just wanted to prove that always keep my promises, unlike some people. Those aren’t very positive reasons to create. Is it any wonder I gave up on that novel? Resentment is exhausting. I’m too lazy not to forgive someone. And then where is the energy for my writing? Gone.

No, for me what works best to get to the finished project isn’t the need to prove I’m better than someone else, or to prove that I can achieve my dreams in spite of whatever the world throws at me. I’m pretty comfortable not being the greatest person in the world, and, you know, not every dream actually is achievable in the time allotted to us to live (still holding out for teleporters though). For me, it’s still deadlines. 30+ years old, five years since grad school, and I still need a deadline. Sure, it’s often self-imposed, and sure, I know I’m a big fat, liar, but I have to start somewhere. A deadline and an interested audience can take me pretty much all the way there. Who would’ve thought that the antidote to hate would be not love, not apathy, but a checklist?

I’m hoping to get past 10,000 words tomorrow. Here’s hoping they’re better than today’s excerpt. 🙂

She took the kids home, hopped up on sugar and Grandma-love, and put them to bed. Some mothers might be cowed by shrieking, tantrums, vows of eternal hatred, or simmering resentment, but Stefanie was not one of those mothers. “I love you very much,” she reminded her children, tucking them in, “Even when I don’t love your choices.”

Chase, who had been facing the wall when she said this, rolled over and looked at her. “Me too, Mom. Please don’t make me cheat again.”



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