You’d think loving writing, the joy of seeing a finished sentence, paragraph or page, would be enough to keep us motivated. But many writers struggle to keep motivation to write. Try these 7 strategies to set goals, establish good habits and finish your story:
1. Set attainable goals
Because writing a book is a mid- to long-term project, it’s easy to focus on the end goal (getting published, making your first sale) before you’ve taken the first steps.
While big picture goals are important, short-term ‘small wins’ are key to staying motivated. An athlete has to learn to enjoy the many small wins in training sessions on the road to the Olympics, not only the main event.
Set yourself short-term targets such as:
- Writing 500 words of your draft every day for 7 days
- Writing a two-line summary of what could happen in each scene for the next 3 scenes
- Creating a character profile for your protagonist and one other secondary character
As this article on the psychology of motivation at Alleydog reminds us, motivation is ‘is defined as … desire and action towards goal-directed behavior.’ So make sure you follow through on your desire to write a book with small goals – such as writing for 15 minutes every day – with action.
2. Stay curious
A new idea has the shiny, alluring spark to make us curious, so that we want to know more. We’re motivated by its mystique and sense of untapped possibility.
It’s easy in the creative cycle to get stuck on creating new ideas and become demotivated, then chase after a new idea. It’s a familiar path when that initial luster wears off.
To keep motivated as you write, keep asking questions. Curiosity is an intrinsic (internal) motivation that successful authors are able to sustain. Ask questions such as:
- Why did my character say that?
- What does my character want more than anything in the world?
- Where will the next scene take place and why?
If you find developing a story idea challenging, try the simple, easy step-by-step Now Novel dashboard. You’ll build an outline as you answer simple questions and tease out story elements.
3. Establish good writing habits
It’s tempting to tinker away as you write, fixing SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar), beautifying descriptions, and making other tweaks. Yet this instinct to edit also easily becomes procrastination.
Sometimes, to finish writing a book, you have to make peace with ‘bad’, sloppy writing for the first pass (or even the first two or three passes).
It’s not always a question of how to get motivated, but how to stop bad habits that chip away at focus and productivity. Try to foster habits such as:
- Writing a brief list of what you want to achieve this writing session before you start
- Writing until you reach a milestone such as a chapter ending before you start tweaking anything
- Taking breaks at regular intervals (especially to move and get blood flow going)
Many great authors have shared their writing routines in interviews. Their words give insights into the kind of good habit and discipline that keeps creative people productive. For example, Hemingway shared this in an interview for The Paris Review with George Plimpton in 1958:
When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.
Ernest Hemingway in The Art of Fiction No. 21, full interview here.
4. Build on success to keep motivation to write
Building on prior success is a key activity to keep motivation to write. Hemingway alludes to this in the interview above when he says ‘you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.’
What Hemingway describes is a process of becoming vigilant in the process of writing. Knowing where you’re going. When you know it’s a great place to end your writing session for the day, since you have a success (reaching a point of clarity). Pause on a win – use it as a launching pad for your next writing session.
5. Focus on your dream
For many now-successful authors, focusing on the dream of telling their story kept them going through publishers’ rejections; through fire, wind and flood.
Although attainable goals are crucial (as said above), perseverance through times where goals appear elusive is vital too.
Staying positive by focusing on your dream of finishing will bolster motivation. You could:
- Print out inspiring quotes about the writing process to paste above your writing space
- Watch illuminating author interviews where authors discuss their own roads to becoming writers
- Journal your everyday wins, frustrations and learning as your story develops
6. Create reward incentives
Reward is a powerful motivator. When we know a good thing is coming if we adhere to actions that feel difficult or challenging, we find it easier to create solutions.
Find simple rewards to acknowledge your productive days and writing sessions (or reaching word count targets). When you finish a chapter, listen to a song you love. Take a walk somewhere inspiring. Have a drink or dinner with a friend.
Scheduling fun and affirmation around your writing process will create the positive cycle of work > achievement > reward that sustains intrinsic motivation.
7. Get objective and supportive help
Everyone benefits from some form of support, at some time. There’s a popular misconception that ‘writers will write’ and that anyone who needs help is not a ‘born’ writer. Yet writing is learned like any other skill, and support is helpful in many creative fields, particularly more solitary ones like writing.
Many writers who have chosen to work with a Now Novel coach have surprised us with their impressive acumen. Award-winning journalists, business executives and even experienced writing educators who dissect the craft in other works daily but struggle with their own motivation.
The diverse make-up of people seeking writing support reminds us why novels often have ‘Acknowledgements’ pages. It sometimes takes a village – to find or choose direction, quell doubts, achieve clarity – and there’s nothing wrong with that, whatever your experience level.
How do you get motivated to write? What (if anything) inhibits your motivation? Tell us below.