Attitude Productivity Writer's Block

Finding Motivation for Writers

Alyssa Abel
Written by Alyssa Abel

Finding the right motivation for writers can be hard, especially when every blank page feels like an accusation. Whether this is your first creative project or if you’ve had years of practice, procrastination and writer’s block will rear their ugly heads when you most need to be productive, while words of encouragement may grow scarce.

You know the feeling. You’ll do anything to distract yourself from the gnawing discomfort of what you should be doing. Suddenly, it seems like the perfect time to take a coffee break, make a shopping list, or clean out your linen closet, and maybe even master the art of how to fold a fitted sheet.

How can you hit your word count when the gears just aren’t clicking? How can you finally write that great American novel, or at least create enough of an income stream to quit your obligatory day job? The good news is you can self-motivate, even when it feels like you’ll never reach that next breakthrough — here’s how.

Why You Struggle to Write

You’ve always loved writing, so why is it so hard to put the words on the page sometimes? Writer’s block often boils down to three key things:

1. You lack a clear objective. “I want to start a blog,” isn’t going to cut the mustard. You need a general topic and a memorable domain name. You’ll also need to generate ideas for content, but this part is super easy. A host of online tools exist to help you. If you’re writing a book, what chapter are you working on? Pro tip: outlining clarifies your objective for each day’s work.

2. You’re distracted. Even if you have the best ideas to work on and you’re ready to go, distractions are time thieves. When you can’t think of what to say next, and your phone is sitting next to you, why not check that Facebook notification? But the next thing you know, you’ve scrolled away 30 minutes of production time. Lock your phone in a drawer, shut your office door, turn off the television — whatever you need to do to eliminate those distractions!

3. The payoff takes time. Writing is a work of the heart, but other than a personal feeling of satisfaction, you might not receive an immediate reward for hitting your word count. This hits you especially hard when you haven’t received a dime for your work yet. After all, you still need to eat and pay the rent, which means you might already be tired from your day job when you sit down to scribble. Though the competition remains fierce, you have to put the work in well before you see any payoff and turn your writing dreams into reality.

Tips for Staying Motivated

What can you do when the words won’t flow? Give these tips a try to supercharge your motivation and make meaningful progress toward your writing goals.

  • Set a schedule. This tip works particularly well if you’re in the beginning stages of your writing career, and you haven’t yet quit your day job. However, it’s imperative even for full-time writers. Set aside a specific time each day to write, then stick to it. For example, if you dream of writing a novel, pencil in 30 minutes three days per week to work on your book. Honor that obligation, even if you end up staring at the screen for a half-hour doing nothing. Eventually, boredom will drive you to type at least a few words.
  • Establish SMART goals. Sometimes, you overwhelm yourself with lofty goals like, “I’ll finish a novel in a month.” You can set SMART goals by establishing a reachable daily word count. There’s no magic number. If you’re working full-time, writing 250 words, or one page, per day, might not seem like much. But at the end of a year, you’ve completed a book!
  • Create a sacred space. If you’re currently writing at the kitchen table while the kids do their homework or your dog begs for treats, it’s no wonder you’re distracted. Even if you don’t have the room for a separate home office, create a special corner where you can don earbuds and shut out the world for a while each day.
  • But switch it up sometimes. Hey, the great part about the writing life is you can do it anytime, from anywhere. Feel free to head outside for inspiration on a sunny day. Just be sure to protect your equipment and your eyes from the sun’s glare.
  • Eliminate distractions. If you have to keep your cellphone with you — for instance, if you’re on call — turn off distracting notifications from all other apps. If you need to work in a common area in your home or in public, don noise-canceling headphones. Tell family members or roommates that when the earbuds are in, you’re off-limits (unless the house is burning down).
  • Ask questions. When you’re stuck on what to say, think about your audience. What would they want to know more about? Why does a particular character act the way they do? What motivates them?
  • Ask for help. Writers are typically solitary beasts, but when you get stuck, other people can help dissolve the glue. If you’re writing nonfiction, research what the competition has said on the topic. If you’re working on fiction, have a loved one help you brainstorm — sometimes, the silliest ideas turn out to be the best ones. How else do you explain the success of Sharknado?
  • Join groups. You might dig your solitude, but writing groups offer a world of ideas you can borrow. Plus, you don’t have to interact in real time. You can converse via discussion threads.
  • Make it a competition. If you have a friend who also writes, design a contest to see who can hit their word count first. Riding solo in the game? Set a timer and see if you can beat it!
  • Plan some rewards. This tip is super important if you’re not getting paid for your work yet. Reward yourself for each success, no matter how small. Did you write the page per day you promised? Relax with a bubble bath or treat yourself to that outfit you’ve been eyeing up. Recognizing your own successes, no matter how small, keeps you motivated for more.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize. Finally, remember that you’re a writer. Sit down and describe what your dream will look like when you achieve it. Do you want to write the next Agatha Christie-esque thriller? Do you want to make readers laugh and relate to your work? Do you want to capture some elusive truth in a coming-of-age tale that will top the best sellers lists? Pen out your goals in detail, and read them again whenever you feel the urge to procrastinate. It’s good to stop and remember why you’re working.

It’s possible to achieve your writing dreams. After all, if others have made it, you can too. When you’re feeling less than motivated, make these tips a priority and stay persistent. If you push yourself towards your word count and your goals, you’ll see your work come together, piece by piece, until one day, you’ve done it.

About the author

Alyssa Abel

Alyssa Abel

Alyssa Abel is a freelance writer and content creator who spends her professional life talking about learning topics and her free time planning novels. After earning her degree in English and Studio Art, she has worked in publishing, copywriting, reporting and blogging -- anything that requires an ear for words. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications, including UNiDAYS, College Xpress, Ms. Career Girl and Smaller Earth, as well as a variety of anonymous sources. When she's not offering written advice to college students, world travelers and young professionals, she's probably painting, binge-watching a British mystery series or overthinking a plot outline. Read more of her work on her blog, Syllabusy.

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