Ug. I'm dropping in motivation, guys.
I need to continue to plug away on the Hard Long Story that is officially out of the glorious and worry-free first 10K words and into the 'oh god what am I doing' zone.
How do you guys motivate yourself when things slip into the 'less fun' part of the cycle? And yes, I know that you have to put in the time, that all first drafts suck, and that what is on the page never matches what is in your head.
I'm more looking for actionable suggestions-- do you have a routine that works for you? A reward for yourself for effort put in?-- rather than the usual "just do it" advice. :)
Break it down until the parts of the problem are approachable. Over the years, I've discovered these things work for me:
1. When I don't know what goes next, I do a lot of off-the-page writing, usually by hand. I try to psychoanalyze the characters and their motivations and what isn't working on the page right now. I write about characters' relationships to one another, how they feel, little descriptions and reflections. I might write mini scenes, which may or may not make it into the book. Sometimes I write about my own feelings toward the process, what I find frustrating and what I may be afraid to write and why. The act of writing helps me keep focus on the world of the novel, and it's all low-stakes off-the-page stuff, so I don't have to sweat it.
2. Try to bounce characters off of one another; create tension and conflict. The hardest part of fiction for me is to come up with the right dramatic actions that reveal what's going on. Riffing and descriptions are relatively easy. The series of dramatic actions over all the chapters is the narrative arc; there may be several arcs for a big complicated novel.
3. That said, I must allow my characters a degree of freedom; they're not just pool balls I can bounce off of one another in a deterministic fashion. I'm very bad at pool. Characters must be allowed to be as surprising and contradictory as the people I know, or else they're not very interesting.
4. If a word, a sustained metaphor, character, scene, chapter, or storyline isn't carrying its weight, I will get rid of it. Sometimes it's painful, and I have to put the work away for a long time to see what isn't working. Pruning is part of the work of writing. As is revising. Sometimes I have to re-write a section a few times to get the storyline right before going on.
5. I've stopped using punctuation; sentences are fluid to me, and I like to be free to move parts of them around. I rely on line breaks and my ear to sort things out. After I'm completely done with, say, a 20 page story, it takes me about an hour to put in all the punctuation because I can hear in my head how the sentences should go. Right now, my novel is hundreds of pages with very little punctuation, but it's manageable.
6. If I can't think of the right word or phrase, I will write a string of words or phrases approximating what I'm trying to find, and this process sometimes leads me to the right words. Sometimes I never find the right words.
7. I use Freedom to turn off the internet. In the past, I've also unplugged the modem.
8. I'm a homebody writer. I like to pace back and forth, take books off my shelves and read a few pages, and say certain lines aloud. I find music and other people talking distracting. My day job gives me more than enough interaction with others. During a period I wasn't working, I took my laptop to the public library to write for a while each day: human faces, but in a quiet environment.
9. Try to improve my understanding of the medium. I'm constantly looking up words, even words I know, to further understand their shades. I also read in my genre and have a sense of the big books that come out every year: it's incredibly stimulating to see what other people can do, and reading is the only way to develop a sense of how narrative works.
10. I rarely get stuck anymore, but I sometimes do get thoroughly sick of working on a particular section. Sometimes I have to say good enough for now and move on to another section of the book.