Writing, historically speaking, is a lonely game. Novel writing is a lonely, demotivating game. A game of survival. The strongest, the smartest, the bravest … they all fail.
Only those without Facebook accounts or internet access can ever pass the test.
Or at least that’s how it seems.
Writing is hard, and mustering motivation to do hard feats is harder. But one person can change that and keep you moving forward despite the trials.
That person is not you. That would be too easy.
That person is your friend. He has the power to shape you into a real writer. He can transform your Netflix sessions of bingeing Food Network shows into hours of productive writing time. But you must help him pull it off.
How can your friend aid you? These three ways:
1. Stimulating Excitement
To finish your project, you must be enthusiastic about it. But maintaining that fervor over the warlike months of the writing process is nearly impossible.
Your friend, however, isn’t in the daily battle. He checks on the project when he feels like it, and he ignores it when he’s busy (the lucky duck). His energy will not be drained through your long nights of beating yourself over the head with a writer’s block. When you are tired of your story, sick of writing, and ready to give up, he will be peppy. He will wonder what happens in the next chapter and wish to talk about what happened in the last chapter. He will still believe the story idea is wonderful and that you are a gifted writer who can finish strong.
Long story short, gusto is contagious. Let your friend’s rub off on you.
2. Pushing You Forward
One of the crazy things about this world is that hours turn into days, days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months. While time is elapsing, you tell yourself, “I’ll write tomorrow.”
Check your calendars, people; tomorrow is today.
You need to write now. This isn’t new information. We all realize we need to write today if we’re going to write at all. But a gap spans between knowledge and action that writers (and people in general) struggle to fill. Your friend can bridge that gap.
I just started college and we do this funny thing every week called turning in homework. Every week. Or you flunk the class. As I look at my assignments and the amount of work required, my inner procrastinator tries to kick in. I kick it out. Not because of some superhuman resolve I possess, but because I know someone will be asking if I completed my assignments.
What if we had this accountability as writers? What if someone were to touch base with us every day (or week) to see how we’re progressing—to ask if we met our small goals for the day and how we’re coming on our big goals? I bet we’d write a lot more.
Warning: this step also hurts.
To receive this type of help from your friend, you’ll have to be honest. You’ll need to show them that you’re struggling to produce on your own and emphasize how important their constant prodding will be to you. Urge them to stay in contact, whether it’s through a daily email, morning meeting at your American Lit class, or short phone call. Encourage them to interrogate you about your writing.
If you anticipate the question, you’ll be motivated to have an answer you won’t be ashamed of.
3. Sparking Inspiration
Sometimes a story idea is like an ingrown toenail. It was great when you conceived it, but since then you’ve tweaked it so much that it doesn’t resemble the original plot bunny anymore. But instead of letting the story break free from its roots and reach new heights, you let it grow in on itself until it dies.
Sad little toenail.
Perhaps the best service your friend could ever do you would be to cut your story loose. Once he’s read your story, he’ll see it from a viewpoint you will never enjoy: the reader’s. His imagination is your gold field. Ask him about your characters. Send him long emails with lists of plot questions like, “Why do you think this occurred?” Or story-world questions like, “How would you describe the political relations between countries X and Y?”
Once you gain his fresh perspective, your story will come alive in your mind too. You’ll think about it again. And maybe even start liking it.
Finding the Right Friend
You are a super cool, popular, social person. Or you’re not. Doesn’t matter. Either way, you probably have friends. At the very least, you should be involved in a creative community. (Give the KP forum a try if you haven’t yet!)
But now you’ve read what I said a few paragraphs ago and you’re excited (also nervous). You wonder which of your (many) friends can help you most in your writing career. Do you enlist all of them? Probably not, because that would be a horde of scary people. You need to pick one person you trust and can ask a favor of.
But which one?
I can’t answer this. You know your friends better than I do. But you should seek someone with these characteristics:
- Caring. You need to recruit a close friend (maybe even a family member) who wants to see you succeed. You’re going to expect a lot from this person.
- Close. He’ll be reading your writing, so you need to be comfortable sharing imperfect soul-bearing with him.
- Dependable. If your best friend is one of those (amazing) happy-go-lucky, live-for-the-moment people, he probably can’t help you. This job involves your friend holding you accountable, which only works if you don’t have to hold him accountable too.
- (Brutally) honest. Most of the people in your life who are close enough and caring enough will be too nice to hold you to a standard of excellence. They realize how much your writing means to you, and they won’t want to hurt your feelings by telling you that it needs revising. But if you write lame fiction, you need to be called on it. Nothing destroys motivation like a lousy product. Choose a friend who won’t hesitate to point out your story’s weaknesses and ask him to be gentle but honest.
Once you’ve found a friend who fits the mold above, ask him if he will be your writing accountability partner. Explain what that means up front to avoid any misunderstandings. (Maybe send him the link to this article?)
Then, the terrifying part. Send him your manuscript. Whatever state it’s in, pack it up and ship it out.
If you’re about to click away from this article, please don’t. You’re reluctant to share your raw, unkempt, blood-and-tears-on-paper with anyone, but your friend can’t keep you motivated unless you reveal this part of your soul.
Many professional writers don’t allow anyone to read their first draft—or second. It’s precious. Their caution is understandable. But you are not handing your manuscript to a disgruntled, slush-pile editor. Your friend is not one of those judgmental cool people who thinks he’s better than you. Your friend loves you, is probably eager to read what you’ve written, and nine times out of ten (the odds are actually better than that), he will enjoy reading your blood, sweat, and tears on paper.
I hope all your best friends don’t hate me. I hope you don’t either. Writing is difficult, but it doesn’t have to be lonely or exhausting (all the time). Keep it light. Keep it fun.
Keep it moving.