When you sit down to write, what metaphor do you visualize?
In my earliest years as a writer, I attended a writing conference. One of the speakers shared a metaphor that hit me hard. “There is nothing to writing,” he said. “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Often attributed to Earnest Hemmingway, there is actually debate as to its origins. Low and behold, more than one famous author seems to have come up with some version of that “inspiring” visual.
This mantra haunted me for years as I struggled to “bleed” and establish myself as a bona fide writer.
At yet another conference, one of our successful local members explained the process she took each day to produce her first published book. “Writing is like vomiting all over the page,” she said.
With these two images now in mind, I continued to struggle as a writer. I felt I lacked motivation. Motivation to manage my time so I could follow my dreams. Motivation to learn the skills it took to write a publishable manuscript. Motivation to write page after page and revision after revision and draft after draft. I searched online for famous authors and their motivators.
One popped up above the others. Mark Twain notoriously advised, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Yes. You’ve probably heard it. Good old Mark Twain, author of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and other famous tales.
Somewhere at this point in my writing career, I started having a hard time getting out of bed. Knowing I had cleared my calendar and scheduled an entire day free to write, I couldn’t face it. I dreaded the bleeding, the vomit, and worst of all…the slippery, slimy, croaking frogs for breakfast.
I needed different metaphors. Motivating metaphors.
As a children’s writer, the first motivating metaphor wasn’t hard to find. I love reading and writing children’s stories and poems about pirates so much that I penned the picture book, A Pirate’s Mother Goose (Albert Whitman).
Writing is like searching for buried treasure.
This became my new mantra. I pretended I was drawing up my treasure map while working on an outline for a new manuscript. As I created character sketches I imagined gathering up my crew. We set sail as I wrote my first draft and looked for treasure chests of diamonds and gold as I revised and tweaked along the way. Oh! What fun and adventures I now experienced as a writer. I could hardly wait to sit down at my computer in the morning.
I had unlocked a secret: the power of motivating metaphors!
Personally, I like to choose different metaphors for different writing projects. But all my metaphors have similar qualities in common: They motivate me to sit down in my computer chair. They get me excited about my manuscript. They energize and inspire me. They invite me to jump out of bed in the morning and write!
Here are several more motivating metaphors:
Writing is like training for the Olympics.
We set our goal: We’re going for the gold. We train and strengthen our writing muscles and our skills. We beat our personal best time and time again. And when we finally arrive at the Olympics and our manuscript is accepted for publication, we join our team of editors and marketing pros and illustrator. We transition from our own personal journey to being a team player in the best of the best in the world.
Writing is like being a griot.
Emblazoned and emboldened with the heart and calling of the storyteller, we pass on intrinsic messages to the next generation. Our writing has purpose. It has power. And there’s nobody else who can carry our responsibility and gift our treasures like we can. This metaphor adds depth and richness and hope to even the most mundane and challenging days we might face as a writer.
Writing is like attending an Elizabethan dance.
The anticipation of being invited to the dance! Choosing which dress or suit to wear, the perfect accessories, and how to style our hair. Each brainstorming session for our manuscript becomes a joy rather than a dreaded chore. On days we’re working on setting, we can imagine we’re in the setting of the dance…the manor of a wealthy neighbor? A stylish rented room in town? A castle? And the dance! The swelling of the music. The intimacy and hope. This was the perfect metaphor to motivate me during the two and a half years it took to write my middle grade nonfiction biography, Jane Austen for Kids (Chicago Review Press).
Writing is like inviting your best friend on a play date.
This is probably the metaphor that motivates me the most at this stage of my career. As a children’s writer, I get to “play” with my craft. With bright colors and paints, I decorate each brainstorming worksheet I fill out to develop plot, setting, elements of humor, and more. I pretend I’m a detective and interview each of my characters. I collect lists of delectable words and sparkly character names to sprinkle intentionally throughout my text, crafted to catch my reader’s interest.
The key to unlocking your own motivating metaphors is to find symbols that spark your imagination and energize your creative soul. What imagery can you visualize in your earliest waking moments that will get you excited to jump out of bed, hurry to your writer’s desk, and spend your day as the writer you long to be? What visuals bring a smile to your face, light up your eyes, and invite you to join the dance of being a storyteller for children?
As writers, the metaphors we meditate on influence our practice, our productivity, and our purpose. Choose wisely, and you’ll be motivated to follow your dreams!
What metaphor motivates you to write? Share with us in the comments below!
-Written by Nancy I. Sanders. Nancy is a bestselling and award-winning children’s author of more than 100 books. She’s an instructor at the Serious Writer Academy. To say goodbye to writer’s block and be inspired to write in the zone, sign up for her downloadable video class Getting in the Writer’s Zone by following the links at http://nancyisanders.com/workshopzone/ Click on Nancy’s name at the top of this article to learn more about her and her writing.
5 thoughts on “Motivating Metaphors”
I resonate with the buried treasure metaphor—finding kids in scripture and history who have made a difference in people’s lives. Great post, Nancy!
Oh how precious, Jarm! Thanks for sharing!
I love this idea! Right now I’m revising/tweaking and that always feels like weeding a garden–leaving room for my flowering plants to show off better! And next time I garden, I’ll think of other metaphors that apply to writing. Meanwhile, I think I’ll borrow yours. They’re great!!
Love the buried treasure metaphor. I always think finding new information is so cool.
I love this, Nancy! Those first metaphors were funny–at least the frog one–but not motivating at all, while the ones you’ve come up with are great. I think I especially like the one where we get to play, because that mirrors what I do in my teaching! Thank you for this inspiration to get us up in the morning and writing!