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The Squirtgun Approach to Motivation

Donna Montalbano Uses the Squirtgun Approach
Donna Montalbano Uses the Squirtgun Approach

Many writers find it challenging to sit down and write at will. They might schedule the time in their calendar to write, but when the time comes, they suddenly notice the grimy buildup inside the stove (time for some steel wool) or they head to the fridge to fix themselves a snack–anything to avoid writing.

It can be even more challenging if you are writing a book that brings up emotionally challenging issues. My friend and colleague, Donna Montalbano, recently shared a terrific secret with me. After completing The Shop on Wickendon Street, her sequel to the local phenomenon (Providence and Rhode Island), The House on Benefit Street, Donna realized the sequel needed rewriting.

The problem was, it had been an arduous process to write the book through a challenging time in her personal life. The character’s experiences often wove together with Donna’s painful personal experiences. The last thing she wanted was to revisit such agony…and yet, she owed it to Angie’s fans, who begged for more.

At first, she tried the squirt gun approach to motivating herself to write: “If you don’t write now, Donna, your eyelashes are going to fall out.” Having experienced such effects from menopause, this actually did motivate her in the short run. Then she realized that her eyelashes didn’t fall out whether she wrote or not. Uh oh. Time for a new trick.

Donna decided to use her fan base for motivation. She serialized the sequel on her website. Fans come from all over the world–her biggest hubs of fans being Chicago, California and New York. Now she has to polish and publish a chapter a week or she’ll disappoint her fans. The motivation works.

You might worry that serializing your book could eat away at your reader base, but serialization can actually catapult a book to instant fame and blockbuster sales. A Gentleman’s Agreement came out in 1947, after being serialized in Cosmopolitan. The book sold out its first printing of 30,000 books in three days and was number one on the New York Times Bestseller list for weeks! Just one example in a long history of serialization success–from Charles Dickens to Stephen King.

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. Jackie Fein-Zachary says

    Lisa, I loved this blog since you talked about Donna. I did not know she had struggled writing her first book (which I really liked). She was always such a positive person with whom to work (and with whom I plan to work again). She wrote to me about her sequel … but of course I did not know the motivation for doing that. What a great idea.

    And yet another kick in my tush to keep working through my excuses … Jackie

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