Sophie Kinsella on Motivation and Where to Find ItMay 22, 2022
Writing a book is like having a baby.
This is a comparison that’s often made – and having written over thirty books and had five babies, I concur. There’s the same giddy journey of conception, hope, excitement, development, bloody hard work, even harder work, optional cursing… and then delivery! You did it! You’ve forgotten all that hard work as you cradle your manuscript/mental image of The End on your computer screen.
It's at the bloody hard work stage that motivation is required. Every woman in labour has thought, Why am I doing this? This was a huge mistake. Never again. (Or maybe that was just me.) Every writer has reached a stage in the draft where they feel exactly the same way. You’ve forgotten why your plot made sense. Your characters aren’t doing what they’re supposed to. Maybe you have come to despise your main character. Or your idea. Or the whole notion of writing.
So here are a few tips that I have learned over the years, for finding motivation at all the stages of your novel-writing journey.
Conception is the twinkle in an author’s eye. A precious fusion of ideas in your brain that sparks what I always think of as a what if?
This might be a single plot point, a character trait, a setting, or the idea for a new, ground-breaking genre. For me, the buzz of a new idea is the highlight of the process. Ideas are rare. Treasure them. Hopefully, right now, you’re energised by the thought of your brilliant idea and full of motivation. But if at this stage you lose it, maybe it’s because you’re rushing. Maybe you write a page or a chapter, it’s not quite working and you get dispirited. (Been there.)
Step back. Don’t try to force a new idea into anything as substantial as a ‘story’ until you know what you’ve got. Quite often, I sit on an idea for a while, wondering what else it needs before it can be a book. Although it seems counter-intuitive, being patient can be the best way to motivate yourself. Don’t think ‘I need to write this idea’. Instead think ‘I need to mull on this idea’. Check in on it every day and see if you have any new thoughts or perspective. Make notes. They can be totally random. They’re all useful even if it’s just to rule them out.
Don’t think ‘I need to write this idea’. Instead think ‘I need to mull on this idea’.
You have an idea but you’re not sure what to do with it? Try going to a bookshop. Wander around, think about the book you would buy as a customer, and try to relate your idea to that.
At this stage, I start planning. Some plan, some don’t. If you’re a natural planner, then don’t be fazed at spending a long time on this stage. Every bit of work you do now may well save you time down the line.
Of course, finding time is the biggest killer. For me, it’s vital to keep the end goal in sight, otherwise it’s just too hard to keep on at it, every single day. When I was writing my first novel, I was a financial journalist. I wrote in the evenings and at weekends, but I also wandered around bookshops practically every lunchtime and stared at book covers, just to remind myself: This is what I’m doing. I want to make one of these. Imagine if I ended up with a book in a shop!
Use your friends and family to motivate you. Chances are, you will have to rearrange your schedule if you want to devote serious time to writing. If you have supportive friends, they won’t mind your absence at the pub/Zumba class and their cheerleading might spur you on. If you have a confidante or sounding board for your ideas, then even better. If you are in a writing group and sharing your work-in-progress with people you trust, then this is going to be huge motivation itself. But this won’t suit everyone. In my experience, the minute you tell anyone a book concept, they instantly have a load of ‘good’ ideas which they will eagerly share with you. This might be helpful or might leave your brain spinning. Ideas are fragile and sometimes they need to grow without scrutiny. Again, this is personal choice.
If you’ve already started and are on chapter 7, hurrah! But…. oh no, here it comes. The wall. The sludge. Whatever you want to call it. It’s the middle of the book, all your initial impetus has gone and you can’t remember how it was going to get from here to the fantastic finale, which you can’t wait to write. It’s easy at this stage to give up. To think that other idea you had was much better. (Hmm. Possibly. Or possibly not.)
For me, the best thing to do at this stage is step away. Try to remember the initial idea, the initial excitement, try to feel the exhilaration, walk around book shops again, and talk to your confidante if you have one. Remember the big arc of your story. Maybe you’ve got bogged down in the detail. Imagine pitching it to someone. What’s it about? Has this changed while you’ve been writing?
Remember the big arc of your story. Maybe you’ve got bogged down in the detail. Imagine pitching it to someone. What’s it about? Has this changed while you’ve been writing?
Maybe you have gone wrong and need to retrace your steps back a little. That’s fine. You might need to dump some words and that’s a painful realisation for every author. Just know: we’ve all dumped words and lived to tell the tale. (But save them in a file for repurposing.)
Maybe you need to write your fantastic finale right now. It’s bursting out of you. So do it! Enjoy it! And when you’ve done that, you’ll have a clearer idea where you’re heading. You’re allowed to write this book in any order. And if you don’t know what a character is called, xxx will do for now.
All this time, I hope you’re rewarding yourself along the way. Come on. You’re only human. I can’t even contemplate sitting down to write without the ‘bribe’ of a cup of coffee. Other helpful little treats are chocolate, glass of wine, crisps… and little trades in my mind. I can have this bar of chocolate if I do not log on to the Internet for the next two hours.
The Internet… What do I say? You know. We all know. A quick peek at a useful research site: yes. Twitter… at your own peril.
And then, as you’re getting towards the end, hopefully everything is coming together. Knowing the end is in sight is the most fantastic, motivating feeling – I always end up typing screeds of words per day. Typing The End is even better.
Yes, there will be edits, changes, and the small matter of guiding your precious book through the tricky world of publishing, but that’s for another day. You’ve delivered a draft. Bravo.
Members of The Novelry can enjoy a recorded session with advice from Marilia in our Membership Library Catch Up TV Area.
Sponsor of The Sophie Kinsella Scholarship at The Novelry
Sophie Kinsella has sold over 45 million copies of her books in more than 60 countries and been translated into over 40 languages. She is the author of the bestselling Shopaholic series as well as ten standalone novels, a YA book, and novels written under the name Madeleine Wickham. Sophie is also the kind sponsor of a fully-funded place on The Octopus Scheme, our scholarship program at The Novelry, with huge thanks.