Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Find your motivation!

When December rolls around, I always find myself running behind on just about everything. We were out of town for a week over Thanksgiving, which is when we usually put up the tree and decorations. We finally pulled out the boxes last weekend, but the decorating remains only half complete, and I haven’t even started on the annual Christmas letter and cards. As for Christmas shopping? Oops!!!

How do you stay motivated to keep writing when holidays, family crises, illness, or other interruptions interfere? It isn’t easy, but if you have a strategy in place, your writing life can survive.

And one of the best strategies this time of year is to stop feeling guilty for what you aren’t getting done--whether it’s shopping, baking, sending cards, keeping up with e-mail and blogs, or--yes--even pounding out the pages of your next book manuscript.

Easier said than done, but I recently read a great little book that’s full of big ideas on how to stay motivated and prioritize your life: 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself: Change Your Life Forever, by Steve Chandler. Here are a few of the sections I found especially inspiring:

#4. Keep your eyes on the prize. Chandler points out that a huge obstacle to success is letting our worries and fears distract us from our real goals. Anyone here guilty of that?

#6. Simplify your life. I always intend to simplify, but somehow things keep getting more complicated. Chandler’s advice? Make a list of every small task you need to get done in a certain period of time, like over the weekend. Then do them all in one concentrated burst of action--a “manic blitz.” Don’t put anything off, just get it done.

#40. Find your soul purpose. You’re not going to be much good to others unless and until you’re happy with yourself and excited about your work, so take the time to discover what really makes you happy.

#59. Upgrade your old habits. According to Chandler, bad habits can’t simply be broken. You have to replace the bad habit with positive action. Like eating a healthy snack instead of one heavy on calories and fat. Like doing a workout video instead of watching TV. (Hmmm, notice the connection between food and weight loss this time of year???)

#68. Get up a game. Competition can be healthy--as we “contest crazies” here in Seekerville can testify! Competition forces us to reach deep inside ourselves, helping us grow and improve. The real victory comes not from besting someone else, but from bringing out the best in ourselves.

#73. Use the 5% solution. “Great things are often created very slowly,” Chandler writes. What if you brought 5% more purposefulness into each day? What kinds of changes would you see in your life?

#74. Do something badly. We’ve all heard the old adage, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. But what if that isn’t necessarily true? Whether it’s writing that first draft, baking Christmas goodies, composing a Christmas letter, or cleaning house for company, maybe we don’t have to be perfect. Maybe we should give ourselves permission to do something “badly.” Can you let go of perfectionism enough to just get started on some task that’s facing you?

#85. Replace worry with action. Worry only increases the problem, but when we get busy and act on our worries and fears, we regain control.

#101. Teach yourself the power of negative thinking. This one might well be my favorite. Saying no can be a powerful thing. It means standing up for ourselves and our beliefs, taking a stand against things we simply won’t tolerate. Ask yourself what you really don’t want in life, and experience a burst of energy to turn that into positive motivation!

Anything you’d add to this list? What are your biggest challenges during the busy holiday season?


  1. I would love to start the exercise stuff mentioned. I need to do something as I've already gained enough weight since Thanksgiving.

    Yes, I started some coffee.

  2. Wow, those are some great tips! I don't know what I'm going to do. LOL I might have to come back and revisit this post. Heehee.
    Thanks for the coffee Walt!

  3. We simplified our tree -- it never was a design masterpiece but always decked out in the kids' latest creations.

    We got a kitten this fall who has already knocked it over once. (How can a 5-pound cat do that? I guess it's leverage or momentum or something)

    This year we put only strings of lights on the tree so ornaments don't get broken.

    I would like to get up earlier and write before the kids get up, but don't know if that will work or not.

  4. When we moved from Michigan to Georgia this summer, we simplified--got rid of everything we haven't used in at least a year. There's something freeing about having just what you need--though there are times when I look around and wished I hadn't gotten rid of a certain pan or a book or something.

    And this year, we're simplifying Christmas. The girls are grown, and Dan and I are hoping to buy a home the first of the year so we've limited presents to one or two small ones a piece. I'm loving that because everything is bought and done which gives me time to write or spend time with my family rather battle the mall. Which leads to my next thing--I did most of my shopping online this year which was GREAT!

    Still wished I could get that exercise stuff in though--my weight has shot up quite a bit in the last few months. Guess my husband will have more to love!

  5. Great tips, Myra. I found I'm more motivated when I've had a good night's sleep. On those days when motivation seems like a foreign word, I set my timer for 15 minutes at a time to get jobs done...stole that idea from the Fly Lady.

  6. Myra, Great post and exactly what I have been working on all this year. So needless to say the holidays are going much better this year.

    We do double our "to do" load during the holidays. Extra shopping, extra parties, extra projects, shorter days (it always seems time to quit when the sun goes down smile)

    So its great advice to kick back and prioritize as Glynna pointed out before Thanksgiving.

    The best thing I did for myself was to stop mid-afternoon and take a power nap. Ten- fifteen minutes starting and ending with a word to the Big Guy. That has done wonders. Reminds me of priorities.

    Walt the coffee is great. Going to Einstein's today? If not, I've got buckwheat pancakes with pure maple syrup.

  7. Great post, Myra, and SO needed, especially this time of year. I have been learning the magical powers of "no" now more than ever, and it really has helped. Of course the best resource for this is my sweet husband whose life is disrupted if my life is disrupted, so he has NO problem helping me to say "no." And fortunately for me (and him), this is one area where I don't mind giving up the power ... :)


  8. Thanks, Myra, for the tips to handle our hectic lives and accomplish our goals at Christmas or anytime. I find myself putting off things I need to do. I'm going to remedy that, one task at a time, starting today.

    Thanks for the coffee, Walt, and the pancakes, Sandra! What a great beginning for this chilly morning.


  9. Yes, went to Einstein's. On Tuesday's, they have a bagel, schmear, and coffee for $2. They give yo a small coffee, but they have free refills.

    Bring your own mug to Einstein's and they charge you $1 for coffee with refills on anyday. It's not Heaven, but it's a good place.

  10. I feel like an odd ball but I seem to have more time now! My shopping is finished by Black Fri, and tree goes up day after Thanksgiving. When the snow starts to fall I tend to hunker down and enjoy the free time!

    I loved all the great tips!

  11. Trying to work on the weight issue. Also working on the "just say no" issue. After this week, I'm hoping things will slow down. I think I'm done with Christmas shopping. It's all the get-togethers and parties, which I always have to cook for, and kids' parties and concerts, etc. at school and church ... all that "stuff" that goes with Christmas that causes me, at some point every year, to say, This is why Christmas isn't fun for me! I don't want to do all this! But Christmas isn't about me, obviously. :-) It's about ... parties, I guess, and cooking those Christmas goodies that everybody expects. Oh, no, wait, that's not it, either. But it feels like it sometimes.

  12. Thanks for brewing the coffee, Walt. I'm always a slow starter in the mornings.

    We did a little more decorating last night--nativity scene, lighted village, etc. It's looking a little more like Christmas around here. Last year, after having to throw out our old fake tree, we downsized. Smaller tree, fewer ornaments, but even more beautiful!

    As for kittens knocking over your tree, Ann? At least so far our 95-pound and 50-pound dogs haven't caused a problem!!!

  13. I remember the Fly Lady, Lisa! Used to try to use some of her tips but never did a real good job of it. Seems like I tried the timer thing a few times, but then it was a battle of finding time to use the timer, etc., etc., etc.

    Christmas shopping--I definitely am doing more and more of that online. Hubby and I are planning to do a little local shopping today, though, so if I'm AWOL for a bit, that's why.

  14. Yummy pancakes, Sandra!!! I have never quite managed the power nap thing, but my husband is a pro. I find if I let myself fall asleep in the afternoon, I can't get myself moving again for a couple of hours.

    Kerri!!!! Shopping done before Thanksgiving??? You put us all to shame!

    Melanie, the grocery store deli usually has a nice selection of premade Christmas goodies. I avoid cooking every chance I get!!

  15. Hi Myra,

    I loved your posting this morning....it's so appropriate, especially during this hectic season.

    I, too, an a believer in simplicity.

    Enjoyed your inspirational tips. Thanks for sharing.


  16. I am evaluating each and every thing that comes up to do and asking myself questions like, is this really necessary, is this what I really want to be doing, etc. It's really helping me stay centered.

  17. I love the idea of upgrading our old habits. I tend to think I need to squelch bad habits, but replacing them with a good habit makes it that much harder to revert back.

  18. Such a wonderful, uplifting post, Myra! I feel empowered already : )

    You are absolutely right, it's easy to dip into despair when all the trappings of the Christmas season aren't completed. Stuff just piles on top of you until joy is a distant concept in the over scheme of the holiday.

    Enjoy! Do something badly! Just say no! I love it!

    Great tips, Myra. EXACTLY what I needed to hear today : )

  19. Hi, Myra! What a perfect post today. I really like the bit of advice to allow ourselves to do something badly. Perfectionism sucks the joy right out of a project for me. If I enjoy doing something, I am more apt to go back to it again and again and hone my skills just by sheer repetition.
    Your decorations sound lovely.
    : ) And speaking of big dogs, my two Newfoundlands can take out the tree with one swing of their dino-tail. Never a dull moment!

  20. #74 Do something badly.

    This is almost and OATH I've taken. I find myself avoiding a scene I know will be a lot of work to get right. Particularly action scenes and physical comedy scenes. I know I can't do it right the first time. I HAVE to do it wrong first. I tend to drag my feet (fingers) I go back, do revisions, develop other scenes. Sometimes it even takes me a while to catch my avoidance and force myself forward.

    So I HAVE to do it badly first and fix it. It is something I cling to, honestly.

  21. Great tips for any stressful time, Myra! We used to get all our Christmas shopping done at the summer craft fairs and be done by October. Then we had kids. :-) We still try to do that as much as we can. And online shopping -- nothing beats a good food gift from places like Wolferman's.

    It helps to give yourself permission to NOT get things done, sometimes. If we didn't have time to get the lights up on the house -- well, it saves on the electric bill. Last year we didn't even put up a tree, but the presents were just as appreciated and the food was still just as good even if it wasn't a major feast, and the neighbors were just as happy to have us visit even if all we brought was cookies. This year we are battling all kinds of emergencies, from health issues to a change in activity schedules to some major repair work for a shower that sprang a leak somewhere, and we're kind of taking the attitude of "if it gets done, it gets done, if not, it's still Christmas." After all, it's not about the trappings so much as about the feeling, and family, and about remembering Whose Birthday it is.

    And at least cats and dogs just knock the tree down -- rabbits EAT it! It's going to be fun keeping our new little bunny girl from gnawing on the trunk...

  22. Hi Maya:

    I have a motivational problem right now that I have never experienced before. I have my WIP 90% completed and I don’t want it to end. (I wrote the last chapter first so it should be very easy to complete the book.) I just like my characters too much. As long as I am writing the book, those characters are alive with potential. Since it is a romantic comedy, it’s also very entertaining to write as I usually do not know what is going to happen next.

    When it ends, I’ll have to spend at least a year on revisions which I compare to doing KP. I hate to say it but I have not written a word since Nano ended. Do you ever have a problem of not wanting a WIP to end?


  23. Walt.

    Finish the sucker. Seriously, Dude, you and I aren't on borrowed time. We need to get it done, leave something for posterity because at this stage of the game, tomorrow isn't exactly a guarantee.

    And save that go-get-'em energy for the next book, the sequel. Or the stand alone title sure to delight millions of readers.

    Do it, Dude. You know I mean it. Don't make me come to Oklahoma and do a face-to-face. Ask Myra.

    They're SO not fun.


    Okay, I'm not nearly as fierce in person as I sound in print, so I'd probably give you and the Mrs. a big ol' squishy hug and then I'd grab your cheeks, roundly scold you, and send you off to finish the book.

    Every day you don't produce, is a day wasted.

    You can't buy it back.

    No way, no how.

    As for the Christmas thing, yes, I take time off. Not as much as most because, oh, yeah, just read above.

    A gazillion and a half point three people are waiting with baited breath to take my place.

    I'm not giving an inch.


    I do love the peace of the holiday season...I find a quiet center and use that to remind myself of why I do what I do. Why I praise God. Why I smile.

    And then I kick serious butt and get back to work.

    Drat that Martha!!!


  24. Back from round one of Christmas shopping. Fairly successful, thank goodness! The hardest one to shop for, of course, is my husband--and he'll say the same about shopping for me. We're at the stage in life where if we really want or need something, we just go get it for ourselves. And we can be pretty picky about our likes and dislikes, too.

    Vince, I do understand about not wanting to say goodbye to our characters. However, revision is one of my favorite parts of writing. It's the time when you can smooth all the rough edges, weave in the necessary foreshadowing and sensory details, and generally make the story shine.

  25. This discussion reminded me of the year our daughter got married on Dec. 18, two weeks AFTER we moved across the state. I had to drive back to our former hometown, where my daughter had rented an apartment, to finish up the wedding prep. Then I caught a cold just in time for Christmas. With our new house in various unpacking stages, we didn't do any decorating except hang a couple of ornaments on a droopy shefflera plant.

  26. I really struggle with perfectism--I want to do, be, write my very best. And like you, Mary, I put off writing a scene that I know there is no way I can get right the first time.

    I'm learning to plug through, but it's tough. I make myself stay in my seat until it's done--good, bad or indifferent.

  27. Those are great ideas for staying motivated. This time of the year is a time that I can get carried away with too many new story ideas. I need to get polishing up some of the ones I have.

  28. Great post, Myra! We used to simplify our lives or at least unburdening ourselves by moving every 5 yrs. compliments of the Navy. After Jim retired we still moved every 5 yrs. or so. We've been in our present home for 7 yrs. and our stuff has accumulated. I look around and get tired, but you've motivated me to clean out my closet and get rid of at least ten quilts and bedspreads I'll never use again!

  29. Myra, I was so busy haranguing our poor buddy Vince that I forgot to tell you I loved the 'say no' part because I have such a hard time with that.

    Super hard.

    And I TELL myself it's okay, then I wimp out.

    No backbone in person.

    See, Vince??? In person I'd be a big ol' marshmallow.

    I'm just a snark in print mode.


    And I still think you should finish the thing.

    Hey, I brought Snickerdoodles with M&M's ...

    Amazing blend.

    Try some. Totally Christmas.

  30. Yum, snickerdoodles with M&Ms! Thanks, Ruthy!

    Just drafted the annual Christmas letter. Oh, my.

    Cara, I could stand to clean out a few closets, myself. When the phone company used to transfer us every couple of years, we stayed on top of things better. But the last two moves were after at least 10-12 years in one house, so we let the stuff pile up.

    And, uh, Ruthy, get some backbone, will ya??? Don't go wimping out on us!

  31. I'm with Mary. #74. Oh, I can do things badly - like housework, cleaning out the closets, shopping (which I do only when the panic seizes me and I can't breathe). I'm a marathon shopper when the mood strikes, and I'm waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting.

    Maybe I could just come over and enjoy your decorations, Myra.

  32. This looks like my kind of book MJ.

    Adding it to my Christmas list :)

  33. Vince, wow, interesting problem.

    But if you finish it and sell it then it WILL TRULY NEVER END!!


    Tina at TinaRusso dot com

  35. Great post, Myra! Thanks for sharing about the book.

    I used to beat myself up if I didn't get my Christmas cards out on time. Then I had a year where I wrote a Christmas letter but ended up sending it mid-January as a new year's letter. And another year not long after, I wrote one but never got it mailed out at all. Of course, I beat myself up even more. AFter that, I made the decision not to even send them amymore. It was so freeing to just let that go. So please, no one feel unloved if you don't get one from me! I really do care. :)

  36. Yes, Tina, I think you'd like this book. It's full of very timely kicks in the pants! Just wish I could be better about implementing all the great advice. Maybe I need some, uh, motivation . . .

  37. Sorry to be so late, Myra! We had our Xmas concert last night. I was in the choir and jazz choir. It was stressful getting ready for it! : )

    These are some great motivational tips and at the perfect time! Lol! I am definitely going to come back reread this more times, I bet.

    Thanks for the tips!
    P.S. Has anyone read The Coffeehouse Mystery books?