The thoughts presented here originated from a WriteHive 2020 panel, also titled “Scheduling Your Muse,” that some of our moderators and team leaders organized. It was moderated by Brian, with Hesketh, Gabriel (Neonflare), Devin (Rallis), and Puck as panelists.
Motivation & Inspiration
First of all, what do we consider motivation and inspiration? All our panelists seem to agree that motivation acts like a need. We are pulled towards writing by some mystical force. It excites us, it makes us productive, it makes us want to drop everything except for the pen, but, being a need, if we don’t satisfy it, we are miserable. We begin to think “If I don’t write this down, I cannot be satisfied with myself.”
Inspiration ties into this. It is the spark that ignites the flame. It is the idea that makes us want to write in the first place. It creates motivation. Later, we will consider other ways to fan the flames of motivation. For now, let’s consider how motivation and inspiration are helping the panelists in their writing:
- For Gabriel, inspiration led to motivation and that, likewise, led to the desire to write his book, Neon Red. He has since published it, and says that it was an incredible journey, one he surely wouldn’t have taken without that initial spark of inspiration, and neither without the motivation to carry through.
- Hesketh, faced with the question, simply screamed into her microphone. After our ears recovered, we deduced from her reaction that motivation is very important to her writing process in a certainly visceral way.
- Devin’s motivation didn’t get him across the finish line (and he has gotten across the finish line multiple times, so there must have been something else there, hint hint!), but it certainly got him to start.
- Puck, on the other hand, relies mostly on motivation to write.
In summary, we can certainly say that without motivation to write, none of us would write.
As the headline is “Scheduling Your Muse”, discipline is certainly an important concept in this article. For Gabriel, discipline is doing something every day, pushing through even if he doesn’t have the motivation to write, and being satisfied with what he wrote even if it wasn’t his best day. Hesketh wants to finish what she started before being distracted by other shiny things. Disciplined writers are a source of inspiration for her. Devin emphasizes that discipline is all about writing every day, making it a habit, and that it’s the gas tank for your personal flamethrower that keeps the flames of motivation going.
So in summary:
- Discipline means turning writing into a habit, preferably daily.
- Discipline means finishing what you started.
- Most crucially, discipline fans the flames of your motivation (or, if you prefer, keeps it going through the power of fuel combustion). It can empower you to be happy with writing every day. If you stick to it, you can schedule your motivation and inspiration.
Aha! So there’s the title. We will come back to this soon. For now, let’s consider how our panelists apply discipline and what rewards they have reaped:
- Gabriel writes every day, period. Even if he just gets down one word, it’ll be one word closer to the finish line. Keep moving no matter what. This is, undoubtedly, the way he managed to bring a book to self-publication.
- Hesketh’s first book took ten years to write. Her second eight months. Now she hopes to finish the next one in six. She tries to write every day and tackle the story in bite-sized chunks. She also emphasizes the need for an audience early on, such as a critique partner who is asking for new chapters regularly. She draws discipline from these relationships and implores you to try it out, too!
- For Devin, discipline keeps him moving when the task seems too big or when he’s in the mucky middle. It keeps him accountable to his audience, too. His first two novels took him six months to write, the third fifteen. We all have these slumps, when inspiration is waning after a long time of working on a project, but discipline is undoubtedly what allowed him to finish that third book in the end.
To make daily writing easier, our panelists emphasize one crucial idea: don’t worry about the quality of your draft. This is probably one of the most repeated pieces of advice in writing circles. It certainly is on NSTB; I can’t count how often I have given this advice. The ultimate blocker to daily writing is worrying about its quality. It makes us pore over a single paragraph for an hour. Crucially, it takes away the motivation we feel for writing our story and replaces it with anxiety about its quality. You can apply as much discipline as you want, if you feel anxious during the writing process, you won’t enjoy it, and that’s a motivation killer. So hit that inner critic with the frying pan, then apologize to it once you need it. Maybe invite it to dinner or to the movies.
Scheduling Your Muse
This brings us to the crucial part of this article. Scheduling Your Muse means combining discipline and motivation to get the most out of writing. Motivation is, in many ways, necessary to write something that is truly great. But discipline is what will keep you writing, and what will keep you motivated. They are not opposing forces. They go together hand in hand to give you peak writing power.
Many writers claim that you shouldn’t rely on motivation. What they actually mean is that you shouldn’t rely on inspiration. And we agree with that. But there are more sources of motivation than inspiration. A big mistake is thus thinking: inspiration is the only way to stay motivated. And maybe that depends on the definition of inspiration, but from our perspective, inspiration is just needed to get the ball rolling. Of course it’s nice when you get it in later stages of writing, but you shouldn’t rely on it.
Ultimately, then, it comes down to drawing on as many sources of motivation (and inspiration) as possible. You will enter a state where you can draw upon motivation when you want. It is not something that comes to you, it is something you seek out. Thus, with the power of discipline, you are banishing the randomness of spurious motivation from your life, and are replacing it with a scheduled muse that comes to you on call.
Here’s how to schedule your muse:
- Write daily. Often, once you have started writing, you rediscover why you wanted to work on your story in the first place and you’re entering a state of natural flow. Make it a habit. Habits make life so much easier.
- Have an audience. If you have an audience that wants to read your story, be it a single critique partner or tens or hundreds of people who are waiting for the next story, think about how much your reader will enjoy that next scene you need to write. Sometimes, while you’re in the mucky middle, you need to push through to get to the interesting bits again. Being accountable in a social way is a good wind to have in your back.
- Join a writing group. Apart from the ability to share your story with other writers, a writing group will also allow you to “compete” with your fellow writers. If they write every day, you also want to write every day!
- Finish your stories. Finishing will give you the confidence to finish more stories. It was once a big deal to me to finish my first drafts, now it feels like a natural part of my writing. Confidence is your immune system against anxiety. Don’t discount the ability of confidence to protect your motivation against bad thoughts.
- Write out of order. If you can’t find any love for the scene you’re writing now, write something else that motivates you.
- Draw on sources of inspiration. Inspiration doesn’t come to us in a vacuum. Often, simply reading a book in the genre you’re writing in is enough to give you an idea that will give you motivation to write. This is especially effective to rekindle the motivation for a project you’ve lost all interest in. But you need to seek out this sort of inspiration.
That doesn’t mean that you'll have an easy breezy writing session every day. Sometimes you need to push through even without motivation. But the tricks above will help you to combat a lack of motivation most effectively. Discipline, apart from its ability to generate motivation, will ultimately fill in those last gaps where motivation is utterly lacking. When your muse really doesn’t want to come out of hiding despite its schedule, push on without it for a while and soon it’ll be jealous and come back to you.
How we “do” Discipline and Motivation on NSTB
NSTB is a Discord writing community that’s all about disciplined writing, writing goals and finishing projects. You can sign up for our six-month story writing challenge, which tasks you to draft or edit (and finish) as many stories in six months as you can. Depending on the length of your story, you earn points for your team. In particular, finishing a draft doubles the amount of points you have earned with that project.
NSTB helps you with scheduling your muse in two crucial ways:
- We push you (gently) to finish your stories.
- We are one big writing group whose members love to engage in friendly and stressless competition.
The challenge, with its copious amounts of social interaction, creates discipline. As a part of NSTB, you are contributing to your larger team effort simply by writing more. The points you earn are a form of social proof in our community. (And your name color on Discord changes based on your project progress.) They might seem like fake internet points, but they motivate our members to write more. Some days I have, personally, only started writing because I wanted to earn more points. No kidding.
Here is what our panelists have to say about NSTB:
- Gabriel: “That almost addictive color change of your name, plus the fact that so many people try to aim for a singular goal, plus the actual relations to writers makes for a very positive cocktail.”
- Hesketh: “It has made the impossible seem possible. Plus it’s the most functional writing group I have ever been a part of, long-term.”
- Devin: “The six-month challenge brings a long-term writing community to daily writing. It gives you a deadline and a target to aim for, other writers to help support, encourage, and hold you accountable.”
- Puck: “The competitive aspect really appeals to me and has given me a good reason to get words down without worrying about how good they are in the first draft. The feeling of community I get from being on a team is also very supportive and helpful, as I'm coming from a background where most people outside of my family don't believe in my writing.”
So feel free to join us via one of the many join buttons on this website. We would be happy to help you with your writing and scheduling your muse.