‘Motivation’ is a word that comes up time and again when we survey readers and members on writing challenges. There may not be a single, exclusive solution for how to find motivation to write. Yet here are 5 ways to stay fired up and on track:
1. Focus on writing tasks that give intrinsic value
Doctor Kou Murayama, an educational psychologist and associate professor, shares interesting insights into motivation in an article for the American Psychological Association.
Murayama describes studies in which participants were rewarded for answering trivia questions. Rewards increased motivation when questions were boring. Rewards were less necessary when the questions themselves created interest and had intrinsic value (for example, by giving mental stimulation).
The link between intrinsic value and the motivation to write
How does this relate to writing? Often when we write, we focus on extrinsic value. For example, anticipated external validation or approval: ‘I can’t wait for publishers to read my manuscript.’ Or, ‘I can’t wait until I sell my first book download on Amazon’s Kindle Store.’
Extrinsic goals are important if you have ambitions for your story to reach a wider audience. Yet making the process itself rewarding and interesting, too, means motivation continues even when rewards are delayed. This is key to perseverance.
Writing tasks that create intrinsic motivation include:
- Setting a date and time for a writing session (and keeping it)
- Completing a task that gives you a tangible step towards your finished book (such as brainstorming a character. Create your first profile free in our story outlining tool)
- Putting the final full stop at the end of a chapter
Shifting your focus from extrinsic to intrinsic motivators helps you to persevere in the face of every ‘no’.
2. Make writing sociable and engaging
One of the challenges of writing is that it’s a solitary, often lonely activity. Writers often speak of ‘losing objectivity’ and the issue of perspective. ‘How do I know if it’s good?’
Writers’ groups have long been making writing a more sociable, less lonely act. Titans of epic fantasy, C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, were both members of a writing group called ‘The Inklings’ in their native UK. A group such as this gives a safe space to share ideas; get second opinions.
To bolster your writing motivation:
- Join a writing group (our critique forum is free to use, and you’ll find writers of all ages and genres trading critiques)
- Work with a writing coach who can be a mentor and guide and keep you accountable to your goals
- Remember to take breaks and engage generally in social time with family and friends. Many writers are introverts, yet being curious and listening to others’ stories is important for sparking ideas, too
3. Reward yourself for the duller parts
Some writing tasks simply are more boring than others. You might have a ball creating character profiles but completely dread the revision phase where you spot plot hole after plot hole.
As Murayama’s research survey examines, rewards do create motivation for boring tasks. Have you ever felt tired in the middle of mundane task (e.g. washing dishes) and thought, ‘I’ll make a cup of tea or coffee when I’m done?’ That’s extrinsic reward at work.
Find small rewards in your day to take a break from writing and remind yourself the tedious part will pass. Here are some things you can try too, if you ever really feel stuck or blocked.
4. Introduce positive competition
Competition is an interesting part of how to find motivation to write. In his article linked above, Murayama teases out the complexities of competition. He explains how, when a situation requires us to compete, we may either respond with ‘I want to do better than others’. Or, if more self-doubting, ‘I want to not do worse than others’.
When writing a large project such as a book, create the first type of competition. But with yourself. For example, you could:
- Try to beat yesterday’s word-count in a fixed period of time such as an hour
- See how many typos or grammar mistakes you can spot in last week’s pages in 30 seconds
Making more mundane tasks fun and challenging is a great way to turn writing into an interesting game.
Entering flash fiction and other short writing contests is also a fun way to vary your writing routine and add interesting (yet not too distracting) side projects (but only when you don’t have a pressing deadline – there’s a thin line between play and procrastination).
5. Have an action plan
When you’re feeling fired up to tell your story is a great time to sit down and knuckle down. However, there’s that old saying: ‘A goal without a plan is just a wish.’
When it comes to writing, everyone has a different idea of planning. For some, it’s daydreaming about characters and the events in their lives until they feel real enough to reach out and touch, then getting it all onto the page.
For others, planning also requires creating prior structure: Outlining, summarizing, taking notes on characters, plot points, settings and more. However you prefer to create a plan, Decide what task you will complete today to bring your end-goal – a complete, ready-to-print manuscript – closer.
Create a character profile, a scene summary (or several) – use our flexible story dashboard to brainstorm a clearer path through your story, step by step.