Tip #19 in the “Art of War for Writers” from James Scott Bell is: “The writer must rely on self-motivation.”

The writing life (and I suppose it’s true for any other artistic calling) is unlike any other vocation when it comes to getting down to work. Most jobs are regulated by external motivation. A time clock to punch. A regimented schedule. Appointments to keep. Deadlines to meet. Rush hour traffic to navigate. The writer gets out of bed, and…walks down the hallway to his or her office. Sure there’s a deadline, but it’s off on the horizon somewhere. (The catch is…same with his or her payday. It’s out there somewhere.)

And so the motivation to work, and schedule, and produce must be something that is cultivated from within. So how does the artist cultivate it?

There’s negative motivation, says Bell. Nothing like an looming mortgage payment to put the fear of God in you. But we don’t want to always operate with an ax swinging over us.

Bell keeps his eyes on the prize by having the photos of a few prolific authors hanging from his office walls, each one at work. Stephen King, dog at his side, feet on his desk. “This is my idea of good working conditions,” Bell writes. He also has a picture of John D. MacDonald, at his typewriter, pipe in his mouth.

For Bell, these photos urge him forward to work harder, and smarter, as a writer.

In my office hang the four paintings from Thomas Cole’s famous The Voyage of Life series. It reminds me to do as the Bible says, and “measure my days”. We don’t have all the time in the world to chase our dreams. That encourages me to keep the pedal to the metal.

How about you? What things prod you to keep at it, and use your time well?