Writing Tips: Staying Motivated

April 11, 2021

I checked in with a few of my writer friends this weekend to see how their projects were coming along. Every one of them expressed their difficulty with staying motivated. Some had even stepped away from what they were working on altogether. I know the feeling. Finding the motivation to continue through the struggle points of a writing project–or any creative project–can be a challenge, even in the best of times. In times such as these, it can be nearly impossible.

When it comes to finding motivation, I can’t tell you what will work for you. Even if I had the answer, that’s not how I give advice. But I can tell you what works, and doesn’t, for me. Hopefully, some or all of these methods could work for you, too.

Make It Fun

It’s an old and, sometimes, irritating platitude. But it’s still true. To paraphrase a particular movie nanny, it’s often easier to get something done when you enjoy doing it. It’s not always possible. I enjoy designing a great deal. That enjoyment doesn’t always extend to creating mundane things like documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. But doing those things pays my bills, and the bills gotta get paid. So when it gets tough, I push myself through it and get it down anyway.

I sometimes get that same “designing a spreadsheet” feeling when I’m writing. I’ll be bopping along until I hit a wall, unable to figure out the next thing that’s supposed to happen or the next line of dialogue a character is supposed to say. And t’s a short journey from agonizing over writing my next sentence to distracting myself by checking my Twitter feed. Before I know it, I’ve suddenly lost an hour of writing time.

To keep the writing process fun in those moments, I’ll fall back on turning it into a challenge or game. What’s the dumbest possible line of dialogue I can come up with? What’s the least likely thing this character would do next? What if these two characters just dropped what they’re doing and started making out? The results of these diversions can be silly and are frequently unusable. But coming up with the answers is fun and sometimes even adds a needed element of surprise to what I’m writing.

Practically Distract Yourself

When writing gets tedious or difficult, it can be a sign that you’re running out of fuel. Ask yourself if you’ve done the basics to keep yourself going. Have you eaten enough? Have you had enough water to drink? Are you tired and need a nap? When was the last time you got up and moved around? Getting up from what I’m doing and making the bed is a surprisingly effective way to regain my focus and motivation. Taking a lunch or snack break often gives my mind and body the rest and refueling I needed to get things back on track.

If those things aren’t necessary or don’t work, another option is to put down what you’re doing and work on something else. Do you still need to write a blurb for your project? Have you finalized your cover design yet? What about writing something else altogether? That’s one of the reasons I keep this blog. Sure, it’s a great promotional tool and gives me fresh content that I can share on social media. But it’s also a chance to keep me in writing mode without agonizing over that big project I’m working on. Writing some flash fiction or a blog post is a fun but practical diversion that doesn’t come with the same pressure as finishing the next chapter of my book. Plus, if you’ve set a daily writing goal, blog posts and flash fiction totally count toward that.

If you do resort to checking your social media feeds, head yourself off before it turns into an hour of doom scrolling by actively participating. Post something. Respond to someone else’s post or tweet. Don’t just like stuff. Interact with it. And if what you’re seeing is making you angry or depressed, or you’ve gone more than a few minutes without genuinely interacting, then it’s time to stop and do something else.

When In Doubt, Edit What You’ve Already Got

It’s always my goal to put out the best, most polished version of my writing that I can. That level of refinement varies depending on what I’m writing. For tweets, I just want to avoid silly spelling errors. It’s different for stories and books. I want each sentence to accurately and succinctly reflect the thought behind it with a minimum of flair and fluff in those. Blog posts generally fall somewhere in the middle.

I’m very much of the “write first/edit later” school of creating, so I can always find some work to refine and polish. And, more often than not, I’ll discover as I’m editing something that the reason I’ve gotten bogged down or stuck is that I’ve lost the thread of what I’m trying to say. Going back and reviewing what I’ve already written is a fantastic way to pick that thread back up again.

Set Manageable Goals

Writing a book takes a long time. Even if you write 5,000 words per day, it’ll take you more than two weeks of daily writing to get to 80,000 words. Bump that up to three weeks if you take weekends off.

But what happens when you get stuck? Meeting a 5,000-word per day goal means writing 800-850 words per hour for six hours. If you hit a wall, and it takes you an hour to figure out a way around it, you’re then faced with adding another hour to your schedule to avoid missing your goal for the day. Missing one daily goal can quickly spiral into missing another, then missing a weekly goal, and even setting your project back beyond your initial deadline.

If hitting a 5,000-word daily goal works for you, great! But don’t push yourself to meet a daily word count when it impacts the quality of what you’re writing. A thousand well-crafted words of snappy dialogue, gorgeous scene-setting, and tight action are worth a lot more than 5,000 words of fluff.

But a daily goal can sometimes seem insurmountable when you hit that wall. So set your sights on a smaller goal instead. If you’re ready to give up, push yourself to write another page before you stop. If that feels like too much, then just write another paragraph. Or just another sentence. When you’ve written that page, paragraph, or sentence, then write one more. And one more. Maybe you won’t hit 1,000, 5,000, or 10,000 words that way. But you’ll still meet a goal you’ve set, and that work will be there for you when you return to it.

And now that I’ve written a thousand-word blog post, I can get back to working on what I’ve been putting off, too.