Keep your motivation alive – Part 3: The Open Road, or, How to treat writing like sex

“Revel in the process & you’re more likely to make it to the finishing line.”

Open RoadThe previous article looked at measuring the miles and setting process goals – but that’s only half the story, for the process.  Imagine our marathon runner, on the open road, scenery sliding past, entering the running trance… She runs for the love of it, not because she likes seeing numbers go by.  Otherwise she may as well stay home and watch a digital clock.  (Yep, still sticking with the marathon metaphor here; I’ll get to the sex bit soon.)

Goal-setting is great for an initial boost, when you need to commit to something new, map out the project, and clear space in your calendar.  But once you’re in process, goal-setting can actually become harmful.

Goal-setting can hurt your goals

Keep your motivation alive: treat writing like sex.

In How Goals and Good Intentions Can Hold Us Back on 99U, Christian Jarret wrote about a new study into goal-setting and motivation. Half the study group focused on their exercise goals; the other half on the experience of exercising.  The goal-focused group felt more motivated – but the process-focused group did more.  (They followed this up with testing on origami and dental flossing, in case it just worked for exercise.) Jarret writes,

By focusing on the ultimate goals of an activity, we risk destroying our intrinsic motivation all by ourselves.
So, whether you’re about to begin a diet, embark on a novel, or start on a new French course, the lessons from this research seem clear. By all means visualize your goals to help get yourself started in the first place, but once you’re underway, try to let your long-term mission fade a little into the background. Revel in the process and you’re more likely to make it to the finishing line.


So how do you keep your motivation?

The trick here is changing your thinking, not your behaviour.  At every stage of the writing process, think differently.

  • mapping it onto your weekly calendar: think about what part you want to work on (not “finish”) and imagine the content. Not “Write Motivation Blog 3″ but “All that lovely research into process”.
  • seeing it on the calendar or approaching it: think about the experience of working on it,  not The Thing To Tick: think of the papers spread on your desk, the smell of the fresh coffee at your side, the look of the document on screen, the juggling and weaving ideas…  Not “Go upstairs and write post” but “Open notebook, leather desk top, the look of the blog, shaping reality…”
  • in the writing moment: see the time as space cleared for writing, not a scheduled block to get writing done.  Focus on what you’re doing, not how much you’re doing.  Resist the urge to wordcount – at the most, allow one wordcount per session, at the end, and don’t value writing purely by word count. (Lorem Ipsum can churn out word count.)  Think in terms of ideas and content, instead.

You need to retrain your thoughts.  CBT yourself: cut goal-oriented thinking short and deliberately replace it with imagining the process.  This can feel weird, simply academic, even a bit esoteric… What, you do exactly the same thing but you “think differently”?  Okay, so think about sex.

I’ll let you apply the sex metaphor yourself.  (Come on, I’m British, what did you expect? Just be grateful I’m not stammering like Hugh Grant.)  Read through the post again: the goal-setting approach of wanting to finish… ticking off a list… how much am I doing…  Or the process approach.  Add some thoughts on motivation (erhemm) and quality (phwoar) and, um, what constitutes success.  It’s the metaphor that keeps on giving.  And then you see: the process vs goal mindsets make all the difference in the world.

Suddenly, Follow the fun isn’t blithe, indulgent, chuckle-headed advice so I can post funny pictures of rodents: it’s the heart of success.  So, quick cold shower, and think about The Joy of Writing.


6 thoughts on “Keep your motivation alive – Part 3: The Open Road, or, How to treat writing like sex

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