Maintaining motivation to write is tough. Maybe you struggle to stay focused or feel overwhelmed at work or in your studies. Whether the news cycle’s got you down or time burglars are stealing the hours, keeping up motivation for writing is a common struggle. Here are ten tips for getting back into the writing groove and rekindling your love for storytelling.
How to bolster your motivation to write:
Explore these steps and ideas to build motivation to write in any order – whatever works:
- Start with smaller, attainable targets
Smart goals that are realistic and time-based motivate. Hazy, unrealistic, or even impossible goals defeat and discourage.
- Build motivation to write using play
Writing prompts and word games provide fun ways to fire up your imagination and get back into the groove.
- Organize your writing space and story
Environment has powerful effects on motivation. Organize and experiment with yours to find what works.
- Remember why you’re writing
Think back to the first idea that fired you up. What is the statement, feeling, world you want to share with others?
- Form tiny writing habits to build daily routine
Use routine-forming approaches such as habit-stacking to make writing second nature, something you don’t have to will or coax.
- Explore rituals for presence, stress reduction
Try simple practices such as walking or exercising before writing, meditation, affirmations – whatever builds motivation to write.
- Journal without judgment
If the blank page feels daunting, pedantic, try journaling. Make your journal a place to be honest, raw, real, non-judgmental towards your words.
- Read something inspiring
Quotes to motivate yourself, snatches of a favorite author or poet, or a really good piece of journalism.
- Use music as a writing motivation aid
Many authors create playlists to write to (or even playlists for characters that reflect their personas or head spaces).
- Write your passion for deeper motivation
When you choose subjects, places, ideas you’re passionate about, curiosity drives the writing process.
Let’s jump in and explore developing a motivated writing process:
Start with smaller, attainable targets
Smart goals are realistic and attainable goals. Not all goals are created equal. Some lead you down the path to frustration because they are hazy and thus do not establish realistic expectations for your progress.
Motivation to write grows when you set yourself writing goals and discover you’re reaching them.
Reaching your goals is its own reward, but you can also set yourself small rewards (such as finally watching the latest episode of a show you love, or going for a walk somewhere uplifting – rewards don’t have to be flashy or costly).
Strategies to avoid analysis paralysis, stuck process
Goal, motivation, and conflict are the core of character development. They’re also core to the writing process.
You want clear goals, sustained motivation, but as little internal opposition as possible (though some struggle is inevitable – such as doubt, or the antagonist called Fretting About Overwhelming Choices, that voice reminding you of doors of possibility you’re closing as you open others).
To avoid getting stuck or overwhelmed by the task ahead, try:
- Chunking up tasks. The grandiosity of a long-form project like a novel, short story collection or thesis is daunting. Focus on the page you’re writing today (and write a sentence about where it fits into the larger scheme of things)
- Making goals measurable and time-based. When you know you have half an hour to write X words, that certainty is motivating
- Placing small writing goals on a timeline for completion. Weekly and monthly targets help you track which goals you reach on time (and adjust expectations of yourself as needed)
- Setting stretch goals. If you make a daily or weekly target easily, these are additional goals that will give you a further sense of accomplishment
Set yourself short-term and longer-term targets
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 seven 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
The longer-term goals (finishing your story or book, publication) will also feel closer with each defined short-term goal you reach.
What Now Novel’s writing coaches say:
Your first draft can be as messy as you need it to be. The most important thing is to get into the habit of writing as regularly as your schedule allows, and to see your writing as a very personal way to express yourself. – Nerine Dorman
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Build motivation to write using play
Motivation to write grows out of remembering to play, have fun, be that kid dribbling sand mixed with water into Gaudi architecture (even if the tides of editing or revision may wash away a wall of your story, you’ll build back better).Tweet This
Types of play to build your writing motivation:
- Answer writing prompts. If you’re feeling listless or unmotivated to write, a creative writing prompt may jog you back into daily writing practice.
- Play word games. Can you write a story without using a specific vowel? Or use five names for shades of the color red (scarlet, crimson, burgundy, brick, fire-engine) in one story? Can you use all your Wordle guesses in one scene creatively?
- Use goals and rewards. Tracking goals and rewarding yourself when you reach them (the way language-learning app Duolingo does) is a playful way to make the writing process feel motivating, even when the end goal is far off.
7 motivating writing prompts
Try one of these motivating writing prompts now:
- Think back to one of the best days of your life. Rewrite this day as a scene from a story. Fictionalize what you want, embellish, fib.
- List three things you love (e.g., ‘dogs, baking, classical music’). Now try to come up with three single-sentence story summaries combining all three. Which is your favorite?
- Take a favorite book and open to a random page with your eyes closed. Put your finger on a line and open your eyes and read it. Use it as the first line for a story (you can erase it later to make the story all your own).
- Describe a time you faced a tough challenge and how you overcame or survived it.
- Write about a person who has had a positive, meaningful impact on your life (or create a fictional character inspired by this person – what will you borrow? A phrase, saying, incident?).
- Write a short scene set in a place you’ve never been but would love to visit. Use Google Maps to explore it a little on street view for inspiration.
- Describe a dream you’ve had that you’ve always remembered or that left a lasting impression. Try to turn that into a story.
What prompt would you add to this? Share your own in the comments.
Organize your writing space and story
Environment has profound effects on motivation.
James Clear, who writes extensively about behavioral psychology, says of motivation:
Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. We tend to believe our habits are a product of our motivation, talent, and effort. Certainly, these qualities matter. But the surprising thing is, especially over a long time period, your personal characteristics tend to get overpowered by your environment.James Clear, ‘Motivation is overvalued. Environment often matters more.’, excerpt from Atomic Habits available here.
A space to write that creates a feeling of overwhelm (or a chaotic process without rhyme or reason) will easily stymy even the best laid plans.
Try writing in a more spartan or simply different environment than you might usually – is there a positive impact on your productivity?
Organizing your story also helps you stay focused and motivated, because the environment of the story – its parameters, sections, scope – is more structured and thus manageable.
Remember why you’re writing
Motivation to write must be renewed sometimes,, like marriage vows. Like a marriage, you may have already invested a lot of time and energy (and even money) into your story. When it’s not working, it’s easy to lose sight of the good times.
Think back to what first motivated you to start writing.
- What excited you about this idea?
- Why are you the person to tell this story (what experience or insight do you know you’ll bring to it?)
- Why would you love to share this story with others?
What Now Novel’s writing coaches say:
Remind yourself daily of WHY you are writing this story. Remember that spark that first inspired you to sit down and write, because that is what will keep you going when the going gets tough. – Romy Sommer
Use accountability to remember your motivations
Accountability is an essential part of motivation, and remembering your motivations.
When you say ‘I’m going to write a novel’ and proceed to do it, you’re staying accountable to the goal you’ve set yourself.
Problem is, we’re not always the best cheerleaders (or taskmasters) for ourselves. Habitual behaviors and thought processes get in our way such as:
- Negative self-speak: ‘I’m not good enough’
- Procrastination: ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’
- Working hard instead of smart: ‘I have to have read the entire history of 16th Century France before I can start’
To increase your motivation to write, you can:
- Get an accountability partner: This could be a writing buddy or professionals such as writing coaches who have done it before and thus offer experience-backed insight and guidance
- Use habit-stacking to make daily practice automatic: If you have to write before or after you do a routine task, you’re building accountability automatically – more on this below
- Create reminders for yourself: When you have a writing session that goes well, write down how many words you wrote or how you feel. Stick this above your work space to remind yourself of a motivating aspect of the process
Watch writing coach Romy Sommer on creating an action plan for your writing:
Form tiny writing habits to build daily routine
Making writing a regular part of your daily routine will help you make it second nature.
Self-talk is a factor in routine-building. Some practices go in the ‘I must’ column, some in the ‘I should’, some in ‘one day I will, when I have the time.’
Change self-talk from “I should write” to “I must write” and make it non-negotiable. To make writing non-negotiable:
- Build tiny habits. Fifty words per day is a much easier starting point than 500. You’ll soon overshoot the easier goal. That’s what behavioral scientist BJ Fogg argues the efficacy of in Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything (2019).
- Stack habits to what you do by default. We’ve written about BJ Fogg’s concept of ‘habit-stacking’ previously. Say ‘before I vegetate in front of the TV, I will write 300 words’.
- Steal time back. Time bandits steal writing hours, so it’s okay to steal time back for writing. When you’re in the car waiting on the school run? Whip out a notebook. Waiting in line or a doctor’s waiting rooms? Use your phone’s notes app. There are so many places to write, and mobile and desktop writing apps such as Google Docs sync between platforms in the cloud.
Building something as reliable as a routine starts small, with intention.
Many great authors have shared their writing routines in interviews. Their words give insights into the kind of good habit and discipline that gets drafts done.
Hemingway on motivation and writing routine
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.
Explore rituals for presence, stress reduction
To build writing motivation, also make self-care a non-negotiable part of your practice.
Author and writing educator Natalie Goldberg makes the great distinction between ‘waiting’ and ‘procrastination’, counselling writers that the first is often necessary.
Going for a walk, taking a break, can be a way of ‘letting writing work on you’ (see our complete guide to writing process for Goldberg’s full quote).
To be present and have a clear mind is motivating because there is not the distraction of stress, being elsewhere. Try:
- Doing light exercise before you sit down to write. Even a few stretches or yoga poses or star jumps could clear your mind.
- Practicing guided meditation. The late Thich Nhat Hanh (a major influence on Western practices of Buddhism) has a beautifully simple practice, such as saying, in your mind, ‘Yes’ as you breathe in, and ‘Thank you’ as you breathe out. This breathing meditation is a great, centering and comforting practice to combine with walking (Ed’s note: I have often used this at times of sadness, illness or stress myself.)
- Posting positive affirmations or reminders around your workspace. Writing may be lonely, challenging, frustrating at times. Surround yourself with motivating things that make you say ‘yes’ to the muse.
Journal without judgment
It’s so easy to judge your own writing or compare yourself to other writers. Motivation to write dims easily when we switch from saying, ‘I love this author’s work, it inspires me!’ to ‘I’ll never be as good as them…’.
Those authors whom you love could also never tell a story with your voice, passion, or lexical fingerprint.
To get away from judging what you put down, try journaling. Make it a space to be as cringeworthy, sentimental, obvious, clumsy, as inelegant as you like. Curse if you need. Make it as raw and as real as the moment dictates.Tweet This
Part of building a motivated practice is self-acceptance – ugly, sad, silly, bad, everyone’s all these things at times.
Says Chris Mackenzie on Octavia Butler’s path to publication (and the power of journaling as a source of motivation and determination):
Octavia Butler was the first science-fiction writer to win a MacArthur Genius Grant. After her death in 2006, the Huntington Library inherited a number of her notebooks and materials. One notebook from 1988 shows just how important determination and self-confidence are to an aspiring writer. Among the passages handwritten on the back were the following: “I shall be a bestselling author .[…] My books will be read by millions of people. So be it, see to it!Chris Mackenzie, Behind the Book: Eleven authors on their path to publication (2018), p.79.
Read something inspiring
Writing and reading are a continuum. Sometimes there’s a lull, and then you read something so inspiring you think, ‘I have to get writing.’
To build motivation to write, keep a journal of great lines, ideas, writing quotes you come across.
Build your own quote compendium tailored to what moves and motivates you. It could be quotes about the process, or else exceptional lines of description, narration, dialogue.
Motivating quotes about the writing process
Here are words of wisdom from authors, reminders of reasons to write no matter how good the output now:
Ursula K. Le Guin on the benefits of writing
Le Guin says:
Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.Ursula K. Le Guin, via Goodreads.
Toni Morrison on writing when and where you can
Toni Morrison says, when asked, ‘Could you write on the bottom of a shoe while riding on a train like Robert Frost? Could you write on an airplane?’:
Sometimes something that I was having some trouble with falls into place, a word sequence, say, so I’ve written on scraps of paper, in hotels on hotel stationery, in automobiles. If it arrives you know. If you know it really has come, then you have to put it down.Toni Morrison, interviewed by Elissa Schappell & Claudia Brodsky Lacour, in ‘Toni Morrison, The Art of Fiction No. 134’, The Paris Review, Fall 1993.
Julia Cameron on leaving behind perfectionism and learning
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, says:
Perfectionism doesn’t believe in practice shots. It doesn’t believe in improvement. Perfectionism has never heard that anything worth doing is worth doing badly–and that if we allow ourselves to do something badly we might in time become quite good at it. [It] measures our beginner’s work against the finished work of masters.Julia Cameron, in Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance
🗣️ What is a quote, line or idea that motivates you to write? Tell us in the comments.
Use music as a writing motivation aid
Music is another way to boost your motivation to write (and inspire writing that fits a specific tone/mood).
Author Michael Chabon told The Jewish Chronicle how listening to records as he wrote was both inspiring and helpful for a more ergonomic approach to taking breaks:
Much of the impetus for Telegraph Avenue comes from the music referenced in the novel which Chabon listened to while he was writing the manuscript. He had rediscovered his old turntable and he started playing vinyl while he wrote. It has been good for him both creatively and for his posture. “If you listen to record when you’re working, every 20 minutes or so you get up, go over to the turntable and turn the record over. That is exactly what ergonomics experts say you should do. I always listen to music when I work. I find that I’ll be listening to something for years, then I change project and it doesn’t work anymore.Michael Chabon, ‘How listening to jazz funk helped Michael Chabon create utopia’, in The Jewish Chronicle, September 2012.
Other authors swear by listening to white noise, café sounds, or the sound of rain. Find what works for you, be it silence or sound.
Write your passion for deeper motivation
Often writers want to hop on a trend, write something relevant to the current (or last year’s) news cycle.
Not writing about what you’re passionate about but instead chasing trends (which could date your novel or make it read as a cash grab) may lead to a less motivating writing process.
Said award-winning author and Now Novel writing coach Arja Salafranca when our co-founder Brendan McNulty chatted to her:
Write what is your passion. Write that story that won’t die, that keeps on living. Look at the characters that won’t let you alone at two in the morning and come along knocking on your door and say, you know, ‘Come write us’.Arja Salafranca, interviewed by Brendan McNulty.
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