Busy-ness, Creativity, and Motivation

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a lack of inspiration. This was also a problem of motivation. The poet in me might suggest is a problem of the soul. I have spent the past two weeks attempting to develop a sense of passion for my work again. My solutions have addressed issues of busy-ness, creativity, and motivation, specifically how I attempted to develop each in a constructive manner.

How to Keep Busy

Keeping busy is easy. Being productive is not. Challenge #1 in keeping busy is to make sure that what one does is also, in some regard, productive. Simple steps can help to address that factor of busy-ness:

  1. Identify tasks that need to be done.
  2. Pick one according to (a) need and (b) energy levels. Energy constitutes both physical and emotional energy, as well as a regard for willpower and the required effort for a task.
  3. Allocate a minimum amount of work for a certain amount of time.

That’s easy. Doing that, I managed to organise my bedroom/workspace (the joys of having an office for a bedroom and a bedroom for an office). And doing that, I was able to find materials necessary for addressing creativity and motivation.

How to Generate Creativity

Creativity, unlike busy-ness, is a challenge, and something of a catch 22. The more creative you are, the more creative you become. Thankfully, years of (a) writing and (b) procrastination have taught me some tools for “generating” creativity.

  1. Write down ten ideas every day. I did not do this every day for the past two weeks, but I did it a couple of times, on days when I struggled to fit anything else in. Many of the ideas are silly, boring, useless, or some combination of the above, but they help in getting the brain working.
  2. Work on a project you’re passionate about. This is where my room-cleaning became useful: I found the original script for The Rest is Silence, the play I wrote in 2011, that was produced by the Mater Dei Drama Soc in 2012. Finding that led to me working on something related to it, and feeling a greater connection to the project.
  3. Introduce new stimuli into your life. The pros: new ideas, a new opportunity to release precious neural chemicals, and something new to talk to other people about. The cons: a risk of “wasting” time, the need to place greater constraints on oneself, and the chance of not working. In my case, I watched Steven Universe for the first time, and slightly fell in love with the show.


How to Become Motivated

Motivation and creativity can be linked. The script for the play helped with my desire to work, and gave me something to work on that I really cared about. However, through writing, college and plenty of experience having to self-motivate, I’ve picked up a few other tricks for motivating oneself when there is no one present to force the work to happen.

  1. Make a list of the smaller tasks you need to do, and tackle as many as you can in quick succession. Tick them off. By getting smaller tasks done, you can “trick” your brain into believing you are in Work Mode, and that helps to keep working. I sometimes start a writing session by writing haiku, to help get the creative juices going, and tricking my brain into believing it is time to start thinking about words more carefully.
  2. Remove the distractions of social media. Self-explanatory, really. People are distracting, even when they’re boring. (And a lot of social media is boring.)
  3. Slightly cheating, but works for long-term projects: get yourself an accountability partner. This person will be the one you check in with, the one who makes sure that you are doing the work you say you were going to. It’s an especially important person to have when you work for yourself, and meed to work to get paid. (This is the beauty of NaNoWriMo. Everyone is an accountability partner. )
  4. Do something exciting in your work life. Me? I went into Forbidden Planet in Dublin and asked them to stock my books. Now they’re on the shelves with the other Irish small press titles – mostly comics, but with a couple of books of prose thrown in for good measure.

forbidden planet bookshelf

How to Deal With Personal Stuff

I won’t pretend personal stuff didn’t play a part in my struggles to work lately. Obviously, I won’t be giving the details, but I do know one thing about personal problems when it comes to working: learn to recognise how important something is, how much you can do about it, and how much it will actually influence your life if you cannot do something about it. By removing your focus from something that’s on your mind, you can work more effectively. (It also helps to be able to talk to people about something happening in your life, which is why I recommend regularly spending time with someone whose company you enjoy, who you can talk to about anything, and whose good news you can be happy about.)

What next?

I originally intended to post weekly here. I will attempt to increase that, especially given I missed a week. In the meantime, I’ll be working on some fun projects, concentrating on some stuff for the future, and trying to keep myself creating. And, of course, I’ll be at the Geek Mart on October 1st, which is always a fun opportunity to see some friends while (hopefully) selling some books and prints.

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Inspire Me

I received a comment on my last YouTube video which alerted me to a startling fact: at the time of commenting, it had been 72 days since I posted my last video. During that time, I can say that I was busy with my new job. I can say that I was working on several other projects. I can lie.

Here is the truth of the matter, spelt out simply and clearly: I have been uninspired to create stories.


Let’s rewind. 72 days ago, I put up a video about starting a new job. I had good intentions of creating some “directed” content. That was a word I used in the video. At least, according to the comment. I haven’t watched back on the video to be sure, but I trust that the commenter was quoting me verbatim. She’s a friend, after all, and she found it funny that I hadn’t yet put up any of the videos I thought I might. And, I suppose, it is funny.

Except for the circumstances of my Content-Free Lifestyle, my lack of follow-up is humorous, and the circumstances are too much of a private affair to talk about online.

July was meant to see a CraicCon video show up. I was also supposed to write a fair amount. I had good intentions. I always have good intentions. Follow-through is a problem sometimes. I said I can lie, and I guess that might suggest that I wasn’t busy with my new job, or working on anything. Well, that’s not accurate. I was busy with work, largely trying to get used to it while other things were happening in my life. And I was working on other projects; I’ve been doing a bit of research for a book, writing some reviews for Comix Ireland, and I had a blast at Dublin Comic Con. I even released a new paperback for the September Geek Mart.

And I started planning some comics.

And there’s the except again… no follow-through.

grey selfie

Follow Me Follow Through?

I want to say that I’ll work harder. I think what I really mean is that I want someone to make me work on something.

I am good with deadlines. I have always been good with deadlines. And I think that’s my issue, right now: I have none. Not really. I do well with NaNoWriMo because it has a deadline. I do well with essays and assignments, because they have deadlines.

So, I need deadlines. More importantly, I need people to call me out on my deadlines.

But this isn’t school, and my deadlines aren’t for my employer. So my options are limited. I can recruit a bunch of people to demand stuff from me. I can find myself an accountability partner, who suffers from the same problems in follow-through. Or I can do it myself, because I’m supposed to be a responsible adult, and I’m usually quite good at it.

Because I did work these past few days. I worked before the Geek Mart in September, too. Now I just need to make sure that I do more of it – and that’s the problem I always stumble over. How to keep on working.

stepping forward selfie


Inspiration is difficult. You literally cannot make it up. But I can do some things to help myself with it. (This is one of those blog posts that’s going to be extremely beneficial to me, that maybe will help somebody else.)

1. I can remove things that block my access to my work materials. My laptop is often under some papers that need to be moved. The floor where I would stand to record a video is filled with bags of things, mostly magazines, too, but that’s not as big an issue as the laptop. I literally cannot work with the laptop to begin with.

2. I can set myself daily challenges, and create a weekly schedule. Remember the days of weekly flash fiction stories? Remember the months of daily blogging? I even remember the days of writing down ideas every day. Which is the big inspiration point…

3. I can force myself to come up with ideas. A trick I picked up in Tim Ferriss’s podcast was to write down ten ideas every day. No excuses. Not all good ideas. I did it for a few weeks, meaning I came up with a lot of ideas. At least three of them were decent. I can pick that up again. I literally have the notebook buried. (Note to self: stop creating psychological barriers to working by creating literal barriers to things I work with.) Which leads me to my final point in the Grand Scheme to Inspire Me

4. I can write every day. Even just a little. I have books to work on. I have actual days off that I spend poorly. Like a diet that always starts on Monday, I’m going to start this on the first Monday to occur – which just so happens to start in fifty-three minutes as I write this sentence, and which will be well underway by the time I hit “publish” on this post. I can write instead of doing unproductive activities for the sake of beautiful nostalgia. (Spoiler alert: I’m back to being obsessed with Digimon, because if anything I’ve read about my generation is true, it’s that we’re the nostalgia generation.)

One Week

I have a three-day work-week. That’s four days off completely to work, and two evenings – after a comics event this coming week – with which to plan, and develop momentum. I’ll use the next week to work up to something bigger. It’s all I can do, make a start at creating again.

You can track my progress on social media, if you’re interested. Shout encouragement/abuse, if you like. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to make myself busy.

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Time Management and Motivation: A How-(Not)-To Guide

time management and motivation

July was a great month for this blog. I had posts going out most days. Unfortunately, I wasn’t doing much else. When August hit, I had nothing scheduled. I also hadn’t made my CraicCon video (with that event at the start of July.) I hadn’t written a new story in a long time. I hadn’t planned any work, or recorded a video. I was unmotivated, and I wasn’t managing my time in such a way that I would get something done. So now, more than half-way through the month, here’s my how-not-to manage time and motivate yourself post.

1. Take on too much work. Ignore everything else.

In July, I wanted to write three stories. I also wanted to blog on a regular basis, begin interviewing people for Comix Ireland, and make a few videos – at least one a week. In the meantime, I started a new job. I actually had fewer hours in this job than in the one I left, but every new job comes with a certain amount of stress and uncertainty. I didn’t account for that when I set myself a list of tasks to complete filled every waking moment. I also didn’t take into account the fact that a friend who lives abroad was back in the country in July. Naturally, I had to put seeing her first. I won’t get to see her again until, maybe, October. If not then, Christmas.

2. Make excuses about how much time you have.

A month seems like a long time to get anything done. Unfortunately, that attitude can get you in trouble. I thought that I could miss a day and be fine with that. What ended up happening, however, was that I would miss a day and then realise that I had even more work to do per day. Having a month to do a project that takes a week is asking for trouble.

3. Prioritise television over creative projects.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time watching television lately. There are no two ways about it. I watched Stranger Things in one day. I watched dozens of episodes of Pokémon. I started watching Gotham. I had a couple of excuses this month for not working – a trip to Canterbury and Dublin Comic Con, as well as a headache so bad it verged on deadly (slight exaggeration, I guess) and post-con exhaustion. (Post Canterbury-work-con exhaustion, really.)

4. Bury your laptop.

A great way to get no work done is to put your laptop underneath a pile of objects in your room. Nothing too heavy – you don’t want it breaking – just enough that moving them becomes a chore. Having succeeded in doing this, I managed to keep my laptop there for well over a week. With (personal) deadlines to meet.


Today, I decided to fix things. I dug out the laptop. I watched only one episode of Gotham. I didn’t make plans to leave the house for no reason. (I actually had a reason to leave that I forgot about, but by forgetting, I managed to get work done.) I set myself a strict deadline – tomorrow – to get work done, and I shut myself away to get it done. I also focused on two tasks, for one project: the final edits of the book, and its cover.

Getting back to work on this project was important to me. It was also really important to do it today, because, as it happens, my friends have opinions on book covers. Thirteen iterations of the cover for the book later, and (as I type this), there’s still no clear favourite. Book cover banter.

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Beating Writer’s Block: Ask Another Writer

Ask Another Writer

If there’s one group of people that can help you with an issue you have with your book, it’s other writers. Other writers always seem to have been there and done that. Other writers have had the same difficulties you have had, and they’ve come out on top. All you need to do to get help from them is ask.

With a few exceptions, we’re a helpful community of people who are happy to provide other writers with the feedback and support that’s necessary in the Arts. Finding other writers is easier than you might think, too. When I was 16, Bebo launched its Bebo Authors section. In hindsight, it wasn’t great, but it did help introduce me to over a dozen authors in a group I founded, many of whom were my own age, and a few others who had more experience with writing, publishing and life in general.

The group unofficially disbanded a few years ago, but a few of us still keep in touch regularly. They were the first writers I knew who weren’t massively successful authors. It was some time later before I managed to get onto first name terms with some of them.

The point here is that anyone can set up a writing group. The reality is, you don’t even need to if you don’t want to. Twitter has thousands of writers active daily. So, too, do Facebook and Google+. You can find me on each of them. Through each site, I managed to find dozens of other writers who I’ve become friends with. One is a Canadian author who also publishes her own books online. Another is an Irish author who taught myself and a friend about writing synopses for books, using one her publishers hadn’t yet released as an example. I’ve met a Scot who gave me my first writing job, an English author who helped me along the path towards getting an article published in the magazine she wrote for, and dozens of authors from around the world with whom I worked on blog tours.

Every connection made was organic and real, and from day one there’s only been support going each way between each of us.

When you need help with something, then, it’s simply a matter of asking another writer, one that you’ve met online or at a local writing group. They don’t have to be published. They don’t have to be massively successful. They could just be a blogger, or someone with high hopes for publication. So long as they write, they have some experience that might come in handy. With that said, so do you. You can help other writers if they ask for advice. Look out for the questions writers ask online. You might surprise yourself that you have an answer.

What you ask is, obviously, dependant on what your specific problem is. How you ask it is up to you. Some tweet out a question. Others use (or, used to use, I’m not sure anymore) Google+ to help organise a Hangout – a free group video chat – to help find a solution to the problem. You can choose who you ask for help, more privately, too. All that aside, you can also ask an author whose work you read. In the hunt for approximate word counts of books for children and young adults, several authors stepped forward, including Barry Hutchison, Maureen Johnson and John Green. It really does help to ask.

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Beating Writer’s Block: Talk to a Friend

Talk to a Friend

Have you ever had a problem with a relationship or with work that seems to go away or become more manageable when you talk to a friend about it? You don’t know how you feel about someone. You hate your job, or your job hates you. You complain, your friend listens, and then you receive some deceptively simple advice that, even if you don’t follow it, helps.

That also works for writers.

When I have trouble with a story, I talk to my twin brother. (Caveat: we don’t do it telepathically. Usually it’s while we’re having a cup of tea in the kitchen. Sorry to disappoint you.) We have a lot of the same interests, but he doesn’t write a lot. In terms of the genre of the different books I write, he’s the best person to talk to at short notice. It usually involves me telling me what I’ve written so far, and then concluding my summary with, “But I’m not sure what to do here.”

Now, I’m not going to pretend my brother even gets a chance to give advice. Usually I’m telling him what I want to do, with three or four different variations. This is a big problem when I haven’t planned something properly. (Specifically, when something in the book isn’t in the plan, because inspiration struck.)

The help you can get towards beating Writer’s Block by talking to a friend are two-fold.

On the one hand, you can think out loud. (That is, you can think out loud without anyone judging you for talking to yourself in public.) On the other hand, you have someone present to give you feedback. Add to this the benefits of working with someone on generating ideas, and you have a winner.

It has been pointed out frequently in the past that a pair of people do not merely bring two sets of ideas to the table. While each person in the conversation has their own ideas, they can also create a third set of ideas. The simple act of working together means that two minds can create as many ideas as three individuals. For a writer struggling with a scene – for anyone struggling with a problem, really – talking to someone about it is the best way of getting as many ideas as possible, through the combination of ideas and patterns of thought.

I personally recommend a face-to-face conversation for this sort of talk. This doesn’t necessarily mean having to meet up with somebody – especially difficult if they live across the country, or in a different one altogether – but it does help to get to see someone’s face, and for them to see that when you’ve stopped talking, it’s because you’re taking or reading your notes. It’s also much easier to communicate when you can look someone in the eye; simple audio doesn’t quite cut it most of the time.

If talking to a friend hasn’t helped, check out other posts I’ve done on the subject of Beating Writer’s Block. Alternatively, wait for tomorrow’s post: Ask Another Writer.

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Beating Writer’s Block: Define Your Problems

Define Your Problems

In this post, we’re not going to look at your work in progress. This post is all about you. It’s about what makes you tick, and what makes you stop.

In the autumn of 2013, I had trouble sleeping. I had finished college. Several of my close friends were leaving the country. I was stuck in the same weekend job I had had since 2007. I couldn’t sleep, because I couldn’t stop thinking about all the different things that were troubling me. Between the tiredness and the feeling of being overwhelmed by my life at that time, I couldn’t write. I had gone from writing every day for two and a half months – a poem and a blog post as a daily minimum for much of that time – to writing nothing.

Getting back into writing was difficult, but it would have been impossible to do so if I hadn’t first addressed what it was that left me feeling so poorly.

I’m not going to claim to be a self-help guru. I’m not an expert in fixing all the little problems in life. I can, however, tell you how I managed to overcome the troubles I was experiencing. While I can’t guarantee it will work for everyone, it’s a simple trick that should come in handy. All you need is a pen and a piece of paper, and a way to count down two minutes.

If you’re struggling to write, and you have a lot on your mind, this is the exercise for you.

Action Time! Start your two minute timer, and write down everything that’s troubling you.

Work, money, relationships, writing, a big event, a sudden change in your life, everything. Write them in a list down the page.

When the two minutes are up, look at each item on your list. Next to them, write down what you can do about them. You might find there’s nothing you can do for some things. I couldn’t change the fact that my September was going to feel emptier. I couldn’t change the fact that my friends were leaving. They were things that left me upset, but realising that they were a fact – unchangeable, out of my control – meant I could accept them. I still had my weekend job, but I knew from that moment on that I wasn’t bound to it. I could look for another job. I no longer needed to keep a job that gives me just enough hours to keep me going throughout the week. I didn’t need all that flexibility anymore, and instead of looking at the job as a dead end, I could look beyond it.

There were others areas of my life that I worried about, yes. I had a list of five items in total, the other two more personal. One I could do something about, the other I couldn’t, and taking action where it was possible made all the difference. Acknowledging that some things are just how life is at the moment makes things easier to get on with.

This isn’t a quick fix to your problems, but it does help to clear the mind of doubt and worry every now and then. Change what you can about your life, and revisit the other problems further down the line. Something might have changed.

It took me three weeks to write another blog post. I managed to publish one every other week for the rest of the year. It was a slow start, and it was exactly what I needed. By the New Year, I was writing more every day than I had done in a long time, because I had addressed the core issues that were preventing me from thinking clearly and working effectively.

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Beating Writer’s Block: Write Something Else

Write Something Else

Sometimes, the easiest way to get past Writer’s Block is to write something else. I’m not saying completely scrap your progress on your book or poem or story; I simply mean that you put it aside for a period of time. Give yourself a chance to gather your thoughts on the project again. Quite often the problem is a lack of enthusiasm for something, because you’ve been writing it for a long time, and an increased amount of enthusiasm for another project that you can’t write at the same time. Pick one, and settle on it.

If even for one day you write something else, you’ll find that you can focus more fully on the projects that really matter to you. Now, if you have some financial stake in a project, dropping it at short notice is obviously the wrong thing to do (if, as most likely is the case, you have bills to pay.)

At the time of writing these articles (several years before they’ve gone up), I could have also been writing a novella. I could have been working on a longer non-fiction book, or a series of books that I want to launch. There are dozens of other projects I could have been working on. These articles – put together as a book – was my primary focus, because it was the one that could potentially help pay the bills. However, I hadn’t given up entirely on everything else. Through time management and the proper planning of work and goals, it was possible for me to maintain a prose and poetry blog, and my personal blog, and write an article a week for my website.

None of it is so difficult that I can’t continue on with it anymore, because I can write across several different projects at a time. Here’s your task for this post, to help you overcome Writer’s Block.

First of all, figure out how much time in the week you can devote to writing on a daily basis. Whether it’s ten minutes, an hour, three hours, or the whole day, you need to know.

Secondly, write down a list of all the potential projects you have to work on. At the top of that list, write the name of your current work in progress.

Thirdly, re-write the list in order of how much you want to write the project, and how much of a benefit it will be to you to write it.

Fourthly, put a line under the fourth or fifth project, if the list is long. Anything below the line isn’t necessary to write just yet.

Let’s look at my list, as I write this article:

  1. 25 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block (you’re currently reading No. 22)
  2. ParagraVerse poetry and prose
  3. Articles for my website
  4. My personal blog
  5. My novella, The Blood of Leap
  6. My longer book on writing
  7. My Science Fiction novel, which needs editing and submitting to a publisher
  8. My new fiction series
  9. A Fantasy novel I want to write

That’s just at the moment. There are other projects tucked away elsewhere in my files, but for now these are the nine I’m working on. While writing these articles, because it’s such a huge undertaking given the short period of time I’ve given myself to complete it, I didn’t touch number 5-9 until towards the end of the writing process. Even then, I only turned to the Writers’ And Artists’ Yearbook and Writer’s Market in the search for suitable agents and publishers for my Science Fiction novel.

Yes, the list needed to be re-ordered when I’ve finished the book. I needed to establish what was most important of the larger projects to focus on. That’s important, though, to regularly evaluate the work you have to do. I know that before I would have just continued with those projects that remained. I would have continued writing the prose and poetry, and the personal blog, and the articles, but I could have only dipped in and out of each other project. That doesn’t help.

So, when you’ve established what you’re going to work on, you’ll work on number 1 on your list the most. However, it won’t be the only item you’ll work on. Choose smaller projects to help create a balance in your workload. I ensured I’d written my daily target of chapters for this book before I touched any of the other items in my top four. Knowing that I have something else to turn to, though, helped to maintain my work ethic. I didn’t become de-motivated, I didn’t struggle with Writer’s Block, and I didnt’ miss out on my personal deadlines as a result. I worked within the hours I had available, and since taking the approach outlined in this chapter, I’d been productive. This was between going to work, minding my niece and moving around rooms in the house.

Write something else, and continue your main project at the same time.

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