Today’s post is an excerpt from Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing. This is from a chapter titled “Motivation,” which provides techniques for cultivating writing motivation.
The more inspired you feel, the more motivated you will be to write. But there’s a subtle difference between feeling inspired and being motivated. Inspiration is about ideas; motivation is about doing the work. You could lounge around for hours, daydreaming poems and stories—without ever putting a single word on paper.
I remember the first time I wrote a poem of my own volition. The experience was magical. I wanted to do it again and again. So that’s exactly what I did. Then one day I didn’t feel like writing. I wasn’t in the mood. So I occupied myself with other activities. One day turned into a week, which stretched into a month. Eventually, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d written anything.
I was under no obligation to write. I hadn’t made a commitment to write—to myself or anyone else. It was something I did because I enjoyed it. So why should I do it if I didn’t feel like doing it?
But the fact that I hadn’t written in a long time irritated me. I found myself in a strange state of contradiction: Even though I wasn’t in the mood to write, I wanted to get some writing done. I kept waiting, day after day, for the mood to strike. But it didn’t—not until I sat down and forced myself to do the work.
Within minutes, my mood for writing was reignited. Apparently, I just needed to settle in to it and get warmed up. I hadn’t lost interest in writing after all. I just needed some motivation.
Motivation is a close cousin to inspiration, and many of the same things that block inspiration also cause us to feel unmotivated: We’re tired, lazy, not feeling well, hungry, moody, distracted, or stressed. But I’ve found that motivation is even harder to summon than inspiration. I can be full of inspiration but still lack the motivation to sit down and do my writing.
So how do you get motivated and stay motivated?
For starters, many of the things that bring about inspiration will also motivate you to write, especially reading and engaging with art. But getting motivated often requires pushing yourself harder.
Set Goals and Make Commitments
If you’re the slightest bit goal oriented, then setting goals will be a major motivator for you. The sheer act of deciding what you want to accomplish with your writing—even if it’s only finishing a poem or drafting a short story—and then mentally making a commitment will boost your motivation.
Small, measurable goals are especially helpful if you need to get motivated. Try making a list of tasks that you can complete in a few minutes each day.
If committing to your goals is not enough to motivate you, then committing to others might work better for you. You can find a writing partner or join a writer’s group, and get the added benefit of receiving feedback on your writing. Or ask a friend or family member to hold you accountable. Speaking of accountability, a lot of people find that making a public commitment, often via a blog or social media, is highly motivating.
We often push our hobbies to the bottom of our priority list. We go through life hoping we’ll have time at the end of each day to do a little writing. But by the time the dinner dishes are washed and put away, we’re worn out. It’s a lot easier to veg out on the couch than to sit at a desk, writing, especially if we work at a desk all day.
Our priorities tend to motivate us. Consider the importance that some people place on their favorite TV shows. They will not miss an episode. When an entire season drops, they block off a whole weekend on their calendar for the big binge. That’s prioritizing! And it’s very motivating.
If you make writing a priority and give it both prominence and importance in your daily routine, you’ll find yourself more motivated to get your writing done.
Track and Reward
Lots of writers keep track of their productivity in order to keep themselves motivated or focused, especially when trying to develop good writing habits or reach specific goals, like finishing a book.
Tracking works wonderfully with goal setting. You could set a goal of writing at least 250 words per day, five days per week. Use a spreadsheet to track your progress, and reward yourself when you meet your weekly goal.
Interact with Other Writers
Creative people often feed off each other. Whether we’re discussing our writing schedule, sharing details about our projects, or just talking about the craft, it’s a lot easier to stay motivated when you’re connected with others who share your interests and passions.
You can find writers in your community by taking a class or workshop, joining a writer’s group, or looking for some kind of meetup where writers gather. Consider attending open mics for writers or even book-signing events. Conventions are another way to meet writers, and you can attend panels and lectures on the craft.
You’ll find most of these opportunities replicated on the internet but with an even bigger pool of writers to connect with: online classes and workshops, online writers’ groups, and even random writers on social media who are open to connecting with others.
Timing and Routines
Some writers find that they are most motivated in the morning. Others like to write at night.
Planning some time for writing and making it part of your daily or weekly schedule can have an enormous impact on how much writing you get done. It also cultivates a habit. Whether you do it first thing in the morning, at lunchtime, or in the evening hours, building writing into your regular routine might be the motivator you need.
I’ve gotten the best results with a combination of these efforts. I tend to be most motivated when I’ve set a clear goal for myself. I then track that goal by breaking it into smaller steps and then monitoring my daily word count and checking off the milestones I’ve reached in my project. I add writing sessions to my daily schedule, giving them priority on my to-do list. I’ve also found that regularly reading books on the craft of writing keeps me motivated, so when I’m not feeling the urge to write, I often crack open one of these books and read a few pages to get myself fired up.
Some other combination of these actions might work better for you.
The best way to stay motivated is to figure out what compels you to get your writing done. Find the things that make you want to write and make them a regular part of your life. And when you combine your motivators with whatever inspires you, your entire experience of writing will be improved.
What motivates you to write? Do you write only when you’re in the mood, or are you able to gin up motivation when you’re not feeling it? Have you ever written even though you weren’t feeling motivated? What happened?
Do you want more creative-writing insight like this? Pick up your copy of Ready, Set, Write: A Guide to Creative Writing today.
Great post! As for me, I write because I feel like it’s something I need to do, even if I don’t feel like it. Writing makes me feel great about myself.
“You know you’re a writer if you can’t not write. Avoiding it makes you a miserable monster. The only thing that sets you straight is to get what’s within you out and onto the page.”—F a i t h F r e e d
When I read this quote, I realized that I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. Now I know I’m a true writer, even if I didn’t published a thing and that’s my motivation to write, because that’s who I am.
I don’t think the need to write — the compulsion to write — is the only thing that makes someone a writer, but it’s definitely something that afflicts many of us!
I didn’t feel like writing today but I had to.I have a goal of writing 5 days in a week on my social media platforms and that is what keeps me motivated.Thanks for this post.It made me realize that setting a weekly goal of writing has what has been motivating me.
I too find that goals are instrumental in getting my writing done on a regular basis, especially when I’m busy, distracted (usually by the news), or just feeling unmotivated or uninspired. Keep it up!
I’ve found that one of the best ways to motivate myself is to do some free writing, especially if I challenge myself with a writing prompt, often selected from a book of prompts that I have thumbed through at random. We do this quite often in the writing class I usually attend, although this has unfortunately been suspended due to the Covid emergency. It looks as if these will not start again till January, although the teacher has kindly agreed to comment on submissions by e-mail.
The conferencing software did not work very well when there was an attempt to run classes digitally and it proved frustrating to do a class this way.
It’s surprising how simply writing in response to a prompt makes you realise that you know more about that idea than you think you do and how all sorts of memories and associations occur to you which can be developed as raw material, although inevitably some has to be discarded and a lot of editing has to be done before anything worthwhile emerges.
I find writing magazines helpful too. Having a bash at some of the competitions is certainly worth doing even if the results don’t feel like being worth entering. It keeps you writing.
David, I share your disappointment. I had just started attending a local writing workshop when the pandemic struck and it was canceled. It was a weekly workshop, and I was enjoying it immensely. I’m sorry to hear your teacher or school wasn’t able to get the class to work online. I hear there’s been plenty of success with Zoom for conducting classes online, although people have had to work through tech difficulties. There’s a learning curve, I suppose.
I share your fondness for free writing and prompts. You can find some prompts and other exercises here at Writing Forward. Also, when a class or workshop isn’t available, I have found books on the craft to be a good supplement. Keep writing!