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Productive Writer No. 9


Staying Motivated


"I sit in the dark and wait for a little flame to appear at the end of my pencil." 

   - Billy Collins


Poetic, but it's not very realistic. What if you never feel inspired to write? It's foolish, and seriously unproductive, to write only when you are inspired or ready. Instead of waiting for the flame to appear, try one of these motivational strategies:

  • Set a daily writing goal. Make it something you can accomplish in your scheduled writing time, which by now should be a minimum of a one-to-two hour block at least five days a week. Two pages every day. Or 1,000 words a day. Or outline a chapter and write one summary paragraph for each heading and sub-heading. Focus on a specific goal at each scheduled writing session. Whether you are motivated or not, you must meet your daily writing goal. It's an important job, and someone has to do it. That someone is you. Remember, you can't write a dissertation or a book today. But you can write three paragraphs or three pages...and move your project to completion. 
  • There is no writing, only re-writing, according to my former Columbia University colleague Steve Mintz. "Get it down, so you can clean it up" (Lamott, 1994). "There is no such thing as good writing. There is only good re-writing" (Shaw, 1993). If you need to think of your first draft as pre-writing ("It's not really writing; I'll write for real later") then you can make speedy progress on a rough draft before the serious work of writing (re-writing) begins.
  • Reward your progress. Some of us are adequately rewarded by the satisfaction of completing good writing. (We have an internal locus of control) Some of us need something more--a tangible, real reward. So reward yourself at points throughout your writing after you have completed something substantial. (No candy bar after each completed sentence.) Silvia reminds us to "never reward writing with not writing. Rewarding writing by abandoning your schedule is like rewarding yourself for quitting smoking by having a cigarette....Don't lose your good writing habits" (p. 45).

Did you meet your writing goal for today? 





Jan Allen, Associate Dean

Academic and Student Affairs

Cornell Graduate School