Motivation can be fleeting, but real commitment is here to stay.
The WHY Behind Committment
Commitments come in different sizes. I am committed to big things (my marriage, children, and grandchildren) and I’m committed to smaller things (paying the bills on time, and brushing my teeth.)
Other things I do when I’m “motivated” (like spruce up the guest room when company is coming, or buy new shoes for some social event). But I don’t like to decorate or shop, so unless I’m motivated by something outside myself, I don’t do those two things. But I pay bills and babysit grandkids, no matter what else is going on in my life.
Commitments occur when something is truly gut level important to us. Some things I’ve always been committed to (e.g. my family and paying my bills). I would hate to be a bad mother or a deadbeat. Other things started off as “sometimes activities,” based on whether or not I felt motivated (e.g. cutting out junk food and eating vegetables); they only moved to the “committed” category when I encountered various health issues that demanded a change. It was amazing to me how my waffling attitude became committed overnight.
Reasons to Commit
What about our writing? As an ICL student and early writer, I was motivated! I loved the writing, being published, being paid, seeing bylines, you name it. I was excited by it all. During the single parenting years, the writing became a commitment. (Meeting deadlines was non-negotiable; it meant having food on the table.)
But the kids are all adults now, and my writing income isn’t required to keep a roof over our heads. I wonder if that’s why, in recent years, the writing commitment has slipped back into the “I need to feel motivated to write” category. Whatever the reason, I do NOT like it. I am determined to move my writing back to the committed side.
Some commitments come naturally to me (like with God, my family, and my country). Some commitments I make when I really want something (like giving up sugar and caffeine because I wanted my health back). I know that commitment is a choice. Is it just a matter of choosing to be committed? Is it the old Nike slogan, “Just do it!” [I sure hope not. I am sick of that route.]
Check Out the Obstacles
I think part of my problem is the shifting publishing scene. I love some of the new options, but some of it I really don’t. My old writing life, the one I was committed to for years, no longer exists. Publishing has changed that much, especially with all the marketing that has shifted to the writer’s shoulders, even if you’re published by a traditional publisher.
I think part of the problem has been re-defining what writing now means to me—and describing a writing life that I could truly commit to. What would it have to look like? What would the writing experience need to include (and exclude) for me to re-make a whole-hearted commitment to it? Each of us needs to answer that question for ourselves, and it will be different for each writer.
I DO know that I’m tired of the almost constant need to re-motivate myself. It takes a lot of time and writing energy. When I’m finally motivated to write some days, I’ve had a lot of fun. But I’ve used up my writing time. I’ve journaled (or done writing prompts and exercises) so long that there is little time left.
Of course, one sure-fire way of making yourself committed is to take on so many writing projects that the deadlines force you to write. Been there, done that—and I’m tired of writing with a gun to my head. There must be another way.
Steps to Committing
After doing a lot of reading and talking to some very committed writers, I discovered that they had at least four common traits. None of them required constant motivation to write. They were simply committed to it.
So…here are some steps that appear to be requirements if you want to make a commitment to your writing:
1. You must see your writing commitment as important. For some reason, we often find it easier to commit to things for other people. I think that’s why my middle years of writing were easier commitment-wise. I wasn’t just selfishly doing something I wanted to do. I was doing it to feed and clothe the kids. It moved the writing into a category of “things you do, whether you feel like it or not.” The same goes for health changes made in recent years. For some reason, I couldn’t see that taking personal time to get healthy (exercise, sleep enough, eat right) was that important—until I couldn’t keep up with my grandbabies. We’re so good at making commitments to others. It’s time to set necessary boundaries and make a commitment to yourself. You must see your writing as important, whether or not it directly benefits others at this time.
2. You must be careful about what you commit to. You will shoot yourself in the foot if you commit to the wrong things (or too much of the right things). I used to cringe when I received a new student whose goal was publishing his/her first novel with a traditional publisher within months. Equally difficult goals include output goals like writing 4,000 words every day. Few writers can keep that up day after day. You will find it easier to commit to goals like “I will write every day for a minimum of one hour” or “I will query five editors/agents each week until I get a request for my manuscript.” These goals are both more realistic and things under your own control. (And if you manage to do even more on any given day, you feel super successful!) You must choose your commitments carefully.
3. Committed people learn about what they want to do. They don’t just set goals or have wishes, then hope for the best. They take steps to learn all they can, and they apply that knowledge. They learn what they need to do to maximize their chances for success. Athletes learn how to build muscle and endurance, and what foods make the best fuel. Moms continually learn about child development, what makes a healthy diet for kids, and how to educate them. And committed writers are always learning about their craft and their markets, through books, classes, workshops and critique groups. You must outline your own personal learning program.
4. Committed people plan for success. “They plan to work, and they work the plan,” as the saying goes. Success doesn’t just happen, and committed people know this. They are very intentional about what they do. Athletes lay out work clothes the night before and plan nutritious menus. Moms continually incorporate learning activities into daily routines, always looking for those “teachable moments.” And (among other things) committed writers organize their desks and writing materials the night before, get off-line, and then get a decent night’s sleep so they can be alert in the morning. Another old saying is, “A fail to plan is planning to fail.” It’s that important. You must think ahead and design rituals that set you up for writing success.
In summary, committed writers who don’t rely on constant motivational “recharging” appear to follow these “rules”:
- You must see your writing as important, whether or not it directly benefits others at this time.
- You must choose your commitments carefully.
- You must outline your own personal learning program.
- You must think ahead and design rituals that set you up for writing success.
And then, after all this, committed writers “just do it!”