Writer in Residence

On Motivation

By Fawn Parker

I’m a person who gets called “very prolific” a lot. I won’t get into what I think about that or whether I agree or if I think it’s even remotely good for my mental health or personal relationships. For the sake of this post I’m going to assume it is positive and desirable. It is true I write a lot and publish a fair amount and juggle lots of other things in my life, like a PhD and freelance gigs and I never live in one place for more than a few months at a time.

At the most base level, I do this by always prioritizing writing. Of course that’s not always possible, so I’ll outline some other ways I stay motivated and continuously produce a relatively large amount of work:

Keeping Other Work Flexible

Most of us can expect to have what you might call a job-job alongside our creative practice. My studies are funded, meaning I set my own schedule most days. My best writing happens first thing in the morning, and my lifestyle allows me to prioritize this. This can be true of other jobs and not only something so related to my creative work as a PhD in literature. In fact sometimes it can be easier to do something unrelated so you're not draining your creative stores in your other work.


Working consistently might sound like a no-brainer but for me it always feels like I’ve gotten away with something when I realize I’ve nearly finished a project and never really agonized over it, pulling all-nighters or blowing off friends so I could spend all day at my desk. Working a reasonable amount every day will get you to the end of your novel, or whatever it is you’re working on. When I was a kid my parents bought me this book—I can’t remember the title—about completing large projects by working on something for just ten minutes every day. It really changed how I thought about my artistic practice. I'll admit I put in more than ten minutes every day.


I try never to ask myself the big questions when I’m working on something, and I’m always working on something. I try not to wonder if what I’m doing is “actually worth it,” or if  I’m “actually any good,” and I don’t do market research or compare my advances to other writers or obsessively google famous writers’ ages at time of first publication. I take all of the time I might spend doing those things and work on my writing and hold on to my unexamined and immovable idea that writing is a good idea. This helps me in my life outside of writing, too. No good comes of wondering why I appeared one day on this planet.

Larger and Smaller Scale Goals

A little more realistic than that last point is having a mix of large and small goals. I think the balance is important so you don’t get lost in the future or stalled in place. For example, my small goal right now is to continue making notes on my dissertation, to write poems when ideas come to me, to say yes to any writing-related travel opportunities, and to stay active in the writing community in the city where I live. My large goals are to maintain a writing practice throughout my lifetime, to land an American publisher, and to always try to achieve a balance between what I get from the writing community and what I give back. Sometimes I become so wrapped up in a single project the stakes get too high, and I risk burning out or getting depressed. It helps me to remember that there will be other books and that what’s important to me is to always write. Similarly, if I think only of the long term I can feel impatient with my current project and feel like each individual step along the way is just another hoop to jump through. 

Taking Risks

The most important lesson I’ve learned from working on larger and longer-term projects is not to spend so much time strategizing. I’ve brought a lot of unnecessary anxiety into my writing practice by planning too far ahead, breaking things down, and enforcing artificial deadlines. I realized my work was starting to feel more and more like work and I wasn’t enjoying even the aspects that initially drew me to writing. I felt like things were reignited when I started to let myself get lost in the process again, giving my full attention to the work at hand and forgetting, at least for periods of time, about the bigger picture, and other life pressures. Even just the illusion of freedom can help. For example right now I'm writing this before even consulting my to-do list for the day.

The Love of the Game

This isn’t really advice so much as explanation. I love writing, like, so much. It gives meaning to my life and connects me to many of my closest friends. It’s how I express myself, how I (try to) understand the world, how I form and maintain and challenge my identity and beliefs. I like going to readings and I enjoy being a grad student and I love books, but none of that compares to how much I enjoy the practice of writing prose. This can’t be taught or forced, but if you’re reading this you probably feel similarly.

That's all for my e-residency at Open Book! Thank you for reading!

xo F


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The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Fawn Parker is a Giller-nominated author of five books including What We Both Know (M&S 2022), Soft Inheritance (Palimpsest 2023), and the forthcoming Hi, it's me (M&S 2024). Fiction and poetry have appeared in The Literary Review of CanadaThe Walrus, and Maisonneuve. Fawn's official website has been surrendered to the great artificial intelligence and she is not in fact a gambling expert or addict.