Friday, January 28, 2011

Rachel Brady, Master Trickster

I’ve been reflecting on what motivates various people. This started about a week ago when I read a fitness-related article. Its premise was that some people are externally motivated to improve their health—lose weight for a wedding or reunion, win an office bet, etc.—while others are internally motivated. This second group simply likes healthy food and enjoys exercise. Our task (the article was written for instructors) is to try to encourage a shift, so that what begins as an externally motivated fitness prioritization will transform into an internally driven one, thereby resulting in a permanent lifestyle change and results that will stick.

All kinds of tips and advice exist to help with the initial change. I call these the “tricks.” Examples include:
  • Eat well for six days. Splurge one day a week.
  • Break up exercise into shorter sessions.
  • Reward yourself . . .
You get the idea.

Thankfully, I enjoy healthy eating and look forward to exercise. Where fitness is concerned, I’m internally motivated.

Thing is, I’m an externally motivated writer, looking for my own “tricks” to change me into an internally motivated one. You may remember this idea that, like most tricks, worked for a little while and then lost my interest. I have other variations. They go something like this:
  • Write for six days. Rest for one.
  • Break up writing into shorter sessions.
  • Reward myself.
Sound familiar?

I imagine that, for various reasons, almost all of us have played similar tricky mind games with ourselves at one point or another. It seems to me like it’s an attempt to identify an external motivation and practice it long enough that it becomes internal and habitual. Well. That is so much easier said than done.

Lots of writers say they love to write, can’t wait to sit down and get back into their story, and that their characters talk to them.

Not me. I want the story in my head to turn into a book by a means similar to a download. USB cable. Brain. Finished book.

Where is the button for this?!

In very special moments, I have experienced internal motivation to write and completed the task for the pure joy of it. Most of the time, I’m the “Mo-om, are we there yet?” kind of writer, but in those lucky writing sessions I’m the “It’s the journey, not the destination” writer. I’d love to be that person all the time.

I have a new trick this week. It’s very Franklin-Covey-esque and goes like this.
  1. Make a list of all the tasks that compete for attention in my head.
  2. Label them as important (long term goals) or urgent (short term requirements)
  3. Spend an hour each day on the urgent stuff first.
  4. Spend an hour each day on the important stuff second.
Why only an hour on each? Because the rest of the day is full of “life” and all that goes along with that.

Right now my list looks like this:
  1. Finish a writing project I promised to an editor (urgent, due 2/1)
  2. This post (urgent, due 1/28)
  3. Work on the WIP (important)
  4. Answer an email from a Blogger guy (important)
  5. Read the panelists I’ll moderate at Left Coast Crime (important)
  6. Send in my Malice Domestic Nomination form (urgent, due 2/7)
  7. Make a call about my credit card (important)
  8. Make a call to my bank (important)
  9. Make some CDs for my Spinning classes (important)
  10. Renew my driver’s license (important)
That is my head-noise, right there. When I list all my stuff out like this, I see that I only have a few urgent things and a lot of long-term stuff. Sometimes, the ratio goes the other way. My problem is that I can spend a whole night on one sort of task and never do the other. I put off writing the book because writing is hard and calling my bank is easy.

It’s just a trick. I keep looking for one that will flip the permanent external-to-internal motivation switch.

Anybody out there relating to this, or have I just revealed further evidence that I’m weird?


  1. Rachel, you're not weird. (So says your roommate from the hyperbaric chamber.) I have a Franklin-Covey paper day planner into which I write every single task I have to do every single day, checking off what I complete. It's the only way I can stay organized. Some tasks drift from day to day to day, but eventually get done. After all, there are only so many hours in a day, right? Maggie

  2. Excellent blog, with lots of good advice. I'm a big believer in lists, and that checking things off as we go can be motivational by itself. I especially like your idea of prioritizing the tasks; I think we've all worked for at least one boss who would classify every task as "urgent" without recognizing it defeats the purpose of prioritizing and leaves many people spinning their wheels.

  3. You're definitely not weird, at least in this. I would love to flip the switch to internally motivated too, but it's tough when you can't get rid of that list item, "day job (important)" also! Thanks for the tips. I'm going to try to make a better list than the scattered ones I have in three places and see if that helps.

  4. Rachel, I am a list-maker, too, and if I don't prioritize, I feel like I'm drowning. With my writing, I'm more of a note-taker. As I slave away on the last 85 pages of revisions for Little Black Dress, I'm accumulating a pile of notes for ideas for changes to chapters and/or new chapters. So I'm motivated everyday by these notes, egging me on, because these chapters want so desperately to get written so these characters can do and say the things they should be doing and saying. My husband calls it "crazy brain" syndrome. I don't think there's a cure. So I think by default, as writers, we're all weird in our own ways! Whatever works, I say!

  5. I'm a list writer, though I have to admit, they are on little post-its. I get great pleasure out of crossing things off the list.

    Today it was two blogs I need to write, fixing an inconsistency in a novel I'm editing, and I've got to read and review a romance novel, that will take a bit longer.

    I think it's something writers do to make sure we get everything in. Good post, Rachel.


  6. I love list, but I tend to categorize a little differently. I make a list for each type of task (house stuff, teaching, yard, financial, etc). Of course there are always lots of unchecked items, but then again, if we didn't have things on the lists what would we do with ourselves?

  7. Alan, that goes on the Activities or Recreation list ;)

  8. Thanks for chiming in, everyone. Alan, your post made me laugh. :)