When I resigned from my teaching job four years ago, I resolved to do things around the house that I hadn’t had time for while I was working, like tackling our “garage of doom.” Our house, built in 1979, was showing its age, and our heavy wooden garage door looked shabby and decayed. I told my husband the garage had to be cleared out before we could order a new door.
Now, we’ve lived in our house 30 years. When we moved in, we had four kids, the oldest of whom was nine. My husband started his new job the next day, while I cared for the kids and started unpacking. We immediately became pregnant with child number five, and that was the end of my energy. The fact that we live in the Arizona desert, where six months of the year it’s too hot to work in the garage, and one month it’s too cold, didn’t help.
Boxes moved from our old home in New Jersey waited in the garage for unpacking, to no avail. They were soon joined by other stuff we couldn’t find storage places for. Eventually, the entire garage groaned waist-high with displaced treasures. The job of cleaning it out seemed insurmountable.
The first two years of removing hundreds of bags of garbage, recycling, and donatables didn’t even visibly reduce the mountains of debris in the garage. But we kept plugging away, and just before Christmas 2017, we pronounced the excavation done. You can read about our Garage of Delight here.
It’s hard to keep going when the job is so big you can’t perceive any progress. You have to visualize your goal and then remind yourself that every focused effort you make is getting you closer to the target, whether you can see it or not.
The same thing is true when you’re working on a large creative project, like a novel rewrite. It’s a daunting process. It helps to identify exactly what it is you’re working on—a story that will delight your readers. (Sometimes, if you can make your endeavors about others and not about yourself, it can take some of the pressure off.)
Six Ways to Keep Your Momentum Going:
- See the big picture, the forest rather than the millions of trees. What are you working toward? A manuscript ready for submission, one that will keep agents, editors, and readers up all night turning its brilliant pages.
- Divide the work into achievable step-by-step tasks. What needs to change in this scene to drive it toward the next one? What foreshadowing can you insert to hint at a future development? How can you show your main character’s frustration without saying, he was frustrated?
- Work on the project every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. If you’re stuck waiting while running errands, write some notes on a scrap of paper or on your phone. Surprisingly, you can accomplish a lot with snippets of time over an extended period.
- Instead of beating yourself up over the length of time your project is taking, concentrate on the people who will benefit from the fruit of your labor. While cleaning the garage, I imagined our cars in the garage for the very first time, and my husband and I not having to raise a heavy wooden garage door. For the novel, think of your readers and the new worlds they’ll experience via your words. They are worth your effort.
- Strive for excellence, rather than perfection. Yes, you want your work to be outstanding, but don’t set your standard so high you can never achieve it. Perfection is God’s domain. Humans can settle for the best they’re capable of at the present time.
- Reward yourself. For the garage project, our reward was a new garage door complete with automatic lifter. For the novel rewrite, maybe treat yourself to a professional author headshot.
What helps you keep motivated? Share in the comments below.
Guest post contributed by ARHuelsenbeck. Former elementary general music teacher ARHuelsenbeck blogs about the arts and the creative process at ARHtistic License. She is currently writing a YA mystical fantasy and a Bible study guide, and submitting a poetry chapbook, with mystery and MG drafts waiting in the wings. You can see some of her artwork, photography, and quilts on Instagram.