Reproachful software and other motivational writing tips

My new version of Word has this cute little feature. When I open an existing document a message pops up asking if I want to start again from where I stopped last time. It’s quite handy, but if it’s been a while since I’ve worked on the book, that little message can seem more reproachful than helpful.

Welcome back. Pick up where you left off: Thursday?Thursday! But it’s Monday now! Aargh!
Yes, folks, guilt has been motivating Catholics everywhere for over 2,000 years, and it can work for you too. It’s a powerful force. (Though Protestants should not despair, as there’s always the Protestant Work Ethic to fall back on if you can’t manage Catholic Guilt.)

But of course guilt is interdenominational and, ridiculous as it seems, this perky little message from my software does make me try harder not to leave it so long between writing sessions. Pick up where you left off: 2 hours ago?gives me the warm fuzzies and certainly ensures speedier progress.

My constant battle to triumph over the perky “pick-up” feature led me to wonder what other weird things could be motivating. We procrastinators writers are always looking for tips on how to actually, you know … write.

To-do lists are another thing that work for me. What’s so weird about that? you ask. To-do lists are mainstream. Everybody’s doing them.

Very true. Most people have at least tried them, and for the right personality the satisfaction of ticking those suckers off can be highly motivating. What’s weird about them, for me, is that even when the to-do list isn’t writing-related, the sense of achievement I get from ticking off mundane chores makes me feel all accomplished and cheerleady. You wouldn’t think paying bills or organising an in-tray would put anyone in a real yes-you-can-do-it frame of mind, but that’s how it appears to work. Buoyed up by little successes, tackling the revision seems a challenge to be enjoyed rather than something fearsome.

Two key factors with to-do lists:

1)      Keep the items small and do-able. Finish the book is too big a chunk to bite off; it’s more likely to lead to drowning your sorrows than making any progress. Write 5,000 words this week or Revise three scenesis better, and will keep you happily busy at your desk instead of throwing yourself off the nearest cliff in despair at the enormity of the task ahead.

2)      Tackle the thing you’re dreading most first. It’s tempting to leave something difficult or uncomfortable to deal with till last, but then it just hangs over your head, blighting everything else and causing unnecessary stress. Bite the bullet and get it over with, then enjoy the feeling of sweet relief at having it out of the way. Usually, once you do it, it turns out not to be that big a deal anyway, and you wonder why you were so worried about it.

And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get everything ticked off in the allotted timeframe. You may not have accomplished everything you’d hoped to, but usually just setting those targets means that you’ll accomplish more than you would have without them.

So what about you? Do you have any tips on getting things done?
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