Tools, Habits, & Motivation

Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

Your writing space is set up. You’ve got your fluffy socks on. Your mug is full of steamy tea. You’re ready to go. Now what? What software tools will you use to get started? Which habits should you try to form to keep up with your writing goals? How will you motivate yourself to keep writing even when confronting the dreaded ‘block’?

The Author’s Toolbox

You can use any word processor that you have, trust, and love. Microsoft Word, Scrivener, Google docs, and many more are all going to have the basic tools you’ll need to write, edit, and save in the formats publishers require.

The one program I think all authors should be familiar with is Google docs. It makes it especially easy to share and collaborate on documents, so people in the publishing industry are increasingly using it for that purpose.

And not that I’m biased or anything, but a lot of the best tools to help you world-build and tell your stories can be found right here at StoryShop! Check out our articles like “Leveraging StoryShop World Bar” and “Leveraging SS Beats and Templates Mode” to learn more.

When it comes to research, you’re already on the best tool ever created. The internet is an endless library of data and ideas. Just make sure to look for multiple sources on any important information you use in your stories. And don’t forget about reaching out to real people online. It’s easier than ever to contact actual experts on history, technology, or just about anything else you might need.

There are many sites and apps designed to help authors generate ideas, stop procrastinating, and fight writer’s block. Some are free and some cost a few bucks. Check out reviews and see if they might be just what you need to jumpstart your creative engine or help you get writing.

Routines & Work Ethic

Writing doesn’t just happen. Inspiration almost never strikes like a thunderbolt and splatters itself across the page in pristine sentence after pristine sentence. It’s work, and the best way to consistently get good work done is to develop a routine and stick to it.

“But I’m not just anybody! I’m...a creative! You can’t force creativity.”

If you’re just writing as a hobby and aren’t concerned with your output or getting published, then there’s nothing wrong with that attitude. But if you are hoping to go further with your writing, you must take the process seriously.

Think Stephen King waits for inspiration to strike? Nope. He gets up and goes to work. He sets hours and doesn’t quit until the work day is over.

Of course, when it comes to the really creative portion of the process—writing and content editing—you do have to be in a certain mindset. What if it’s writing time and you’re not in that mindset? Firstly, you develop skills that help boost your imagination. You might spend part of the lead up to your writing time reading, listening to music, or getting excited about the story. But if it comes down to it and you still aren’t feeling creative, that’s ok. There’s always other work to be done, like copy editing, formatting, emailing, submitting, and planning the next stage or the next project.

Goooooal(s)!

How many short stories do you want to write this year? How many words do you want to write this month, this week, today? Write down your goals, and later on, compare them with what you actually accomplished.

When I was first starting out writing, I tended to set goals that were either impossibly ambitious or else needlessly low. I couldn’t yet feel out how much time and work a particular project would take. It’s something that gets easier with practice.

If you have trouble holding yourself accountable to your goals, have someone else help. Collaborating with other writers, being a part of a writer’s group in person or online, or developing relationships with alpha readers (those who read your work as you produce it and give feedback) and beta readers (those who read the finished product and give feedback) can help authors stick to their schedules.

Motivation & Responsibility

Most of us could be doing better, could be writing more and goofing around less. (I’m talking to you, George R.R. Martin!)

There are, of course, legitimate issues which can get in the way of writing: struggles with mental illness, physical disability or hardships, the demands of family and work, etc. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about those moments when you have the time to either: 1. Write that chapter you’ve been meaning to get to, or B. Fart around on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or Netflix.

The choice is yours. Nobody’s gonna punish you for choosing option B, and although we all need some downtime, ask yourself this:

At the end of the hour, at the end of the day, the week, the year, your life, when looking back, which choice will make you feel proud of yourself?

It’s all about trying. Even if you never achieve your writing career dreams, you’ll be out on the field, putting yourself out there, facing down failure. And that’s more than anyone sitting on the sidelines can say.

It’s never the fault of social media or tv shows or pornography or whatever your time-wasting vice may be that you didn’t write as much as you wanted. It’s your fault. Take responsibility.

Writer’s Block

When someone says they’re struggling with writer’s block, it typically means one of two things. Either they feel they have nothing to write about, or they want to write but for some reason, the words just aren’t coming out. The cause of both of these can be hard to pin down. Sometimes it’s laziness, pure and simple. Other times, mental health struggles are getting in the way. And sometimes you’re just not going about the process the right way.

If your problem is a lack of ideas, then go on an idea-finding adventure. Run outside and discover something weird you’ve never noticed before. Browse a corner of the internet you’ve never visited. Read. Read everything. New genres, new authors, new formats. Latch onto anything that excites you. Combine strange ideas. Or look online for any of the countless writing prompts that have been thrown out into cyberspace.

If you have a story outlined but can’t seem to get it written, sit back and ask yourself what isn’t working. It might be that you’re too attached to your outline and need to give yourself more wiggle room. Maybe you’ve picked the wrong POV character, the wrong historical era, even the wrong genre.

The technique that I find most useful when I’m stuck in a story is to meet up with other writers. I take a few writer friends out for coffee and just start talking about the project. (It helps if you have patient friends.) Something about the caffeine-fueled process of actually explaining the story out loud to captive listeners lets me look at it objectively. After that, the answers usually just come to me.

A Closing Thought

Every writer whose work you love and are inspired by, they’re no different than you. They started out with a blank page. They got rejected. They felt pathetic. They wanted to give up. They almost gave up.

The gods didn’t lightning-zap them with extra will power. They didn’t take a pill that made them more productive. They just wrote anyway, in spite of it all. They did the work.

So do the work! Get the story written down! Make the first draft happen, even if the writing is terrible. You can fix crappy writing, but you can’t fix a manuscript that doesn’t exist.

Now go write something awesome.

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Dave Kavanaugh

Dave likes to write about ancient aliens, newborn gods, and really big swords. He is the author of the serial "Age of Omicron" and lots of speculative short fiction. To learn more, head over to www.davekavanaugh.com.

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