Writing when you’ve lost motivation is a bit like cleaning the oven. Something you keep putting off because you know it’s going to be hard work and, frankly, sitting down with a cuppa, a Custard Cream and your favourite book is far more appealing.
But it’s actually perfectly natural to lose motivation – and something all writers struggle with from time to time, despite what they’d have you believe. So if you’ve lost the motivation to write, don’t worry, I’ve got your back.
Your writing motivation journey – sound familiar?
You’ve done all the right things; set up a writing schedule, kept a log of your word count and found an accountability buddy. Your outline is primed and ready to use.
You’re so pumped about writing this book, nothing will stop you. Days go past and your fingers fly across the keyboard. Words come out thick and fast. Your target word count can kiss your ass, you’re on fire.
As time passes, you notice there are days when your motivation wanes a little. The words don’t come as quickly; they need a little encouragement, a little coaxing. You reach your word count most of the time.
Then you begin to notice something else. There are days when nothing comes at all. You have the ideas, the outline, the ability to type, but you don’t even want to turn the computer on.
When you started your writing journey, you were like an Olympic 100m athlete, doing tuck jumps at the start line. Now, you’re now approaching your writing sessions like one of those racehorses reluctant to get into the starting gate.
It can feel really frustrating. So here are 7 ways to keep writing when you’ve lost motivation.
#1. Find your ‘why’
Often people tend to get a bit sheepish when you ask them why they want to write a book. They give the very obvious reason of wanting to help people or because they want it as part of their sales funnel.
Neither of these are bad reasons. In fact, both can be part of your ‘why’. But you need to go deeper than this. Helping people is all well and good, but when you’re sitting in front of the laptop yet again and trying not to weep into your coffee, you’ll need something a bit better than that. It needs to be something that is buried deep in your core.
Often it’s for a reason that seems a little egotistical. You want to see your name on the cover or you want to start a speaking career. Maybe it’s even deeper than that. Maybe it’s to prove your English teacher wrong or a critical family member who said you’d never be able to do it.
Your why is a personal thing and will look different to mine. You might not want to share it with others. But as long as you know it yourself, that’s all that matters.
#2. Visualise your success
Visualisation is an amazing motivational tool. You might think it’s a load of woohooery, but it’s powerful stuff.
Sprinters visualise the powerful start and the successful finish – it’s why they look like they’re trying to answer a complicated algebra question on the start line. High jumpers see the perfect take-off to their Fosbury Flop. If Olympic athletes are doing it, you know it must be worth considering.
Visualising your writing successes can give you the motivation to power on through. Close your eyes and picture yourself holding your book in your hands or sharing it with your family. When I think about writing my children’s book, I always visualise going into my local Waterstones and seeing it on the table of new releases. I picture opening the box of proofed copies from the publisher.
It does wonders when the last thing I feel like is writing – in fact, it gave me goosebumps just writing that down. So what’s in your mind’s eye when you think about finishing or publishing your book? Take time to close your eyes and really see (and feel) it.
#3. Work to a deadline
Not many of us have a publisher giving us a deadline when we first start writing, so it’s imperative you give yourself one.
Here’s an example of how to do it. Let’s assume you’re self-publishing and can write your book in ten weeks. For mathematical ease, it’s going to be 30,000-words long.
Find a date in ten weeks as a target to complete your draft – make a note of it. Put it up on a sticky note in your writing area so you keep it in mind.
If the book is 30,000-words long and you have ten weeks, you’ll need to write 3,000 words per week.
Decide how many days per week you’ll commit to writing. Let’s say it’s five days per week. You’ll therefore need to write 600 words per day.
Now things appear far more manageable – you could split your writing into two writing ‘sprints’ per day, where you just need to write 300 words. Something easily done in thirty minutes.
Suddenly, this behemoth of a writing goal becomes far more manageable. It’s not a 30,000-word book you need to think about. It’s just writing 600 words per day, five days per week. When you do that on a consistent basis, your 30,000 words will get written in no time. Well, ten weeks … but you catch my drift.
#4. Reward yourself
Motivation won’t naturally show up each day – if it did, we’d all stick to those new year’s resolutions without any hint of a Custard Cream to derail us. Completing daily writing habits will supply motivation – not the other way around. Try these to help you:
Log your word count each day – either on a spreadsheet or on a wall calendar. It’s so satisfying to watch your progress grow incrementally, day by day. If you’re splitting your writing into two or three ‘sprints’ each day, you can log each sprint too.
Set aside milestone markers and rewards – why wait until you’ve reached the end to feel proud? In his Tiny Habits research, BJ Fogg highlights the importance of rewards and celebration to keep new habits in place. I set aside rewards for every 10,000 words. It gives me a little boost to celebrate those milestones.
You can set your milestone markers to be anything that makes you happy. Again, there’s no right or wrong. The type of reward is up to you. For me, it might be my favourite chocolate bar or a day away from the writing desk.
For further support on growing your writing habits, read my blog post here.
#5. Turn Up to Writing Practice
The best athletes in the world attend daily training sessions. Simone Biles didn’t just walk into a gym one day and somersault her way across the floor.
She turned up to practice and learned the skills necessary to become Olympic champion. Talent is lovely but it won’t get you anywhere unless you train hard. You can be the most talented writer to have ever walked the earth, but you can’t rely on that alone. You have to practice. Hard.
Matthew Syed claims excellence is primarily down to ‘sustained and purposeful practice.’ Malcolm Gladwell advocates the ’10,000 hours’ approach. Practice is essential.
Take comfort in the fact you’re going to need to practise to get this right. Let that fill you with a sense of wonder and discovery at all you’re going to learn as you travel on your writing journey.
There is no innate automaticity with writing. It’s a skill that’s organic and will grow and develop as you do. Imagine it’s like a muscle. The more you train it, the stronger it becomes.
#6 Keep regular accountability check-ins
You may have already set up an accountability partner for your writing journey – if you haven’t, this can be a great way to keep writing when you’ve lost motivation. But again, once the initial enthusiasm has worn off, you may find your partnership/group lapses a little.
Set up a day of the week to share your weekly word count with your partner/group and stick to it. Be each other’s cheerleaders outside of this too – send motivational messages to help them with their writing journey. Leave voice notes if that’s more your bag.
Tag your habit of reporting your word count to an already existing habit to help you remember. If that doesn’t work for you, set an alarm on your phone to remind you at the same time each week or put an appointment in your diary. It’s the regularity of accountability that counts, so be sure to keep at it consistently.
If you want monthly accountability support, get in touch and let’s see how we can work together.
#7 Use the 5-Second Rule
Sometimes all you need is a little kick up the butt. Something to jolt you out of your slump and into action. There’s one trick I’ve learned that can really help you with any form of procrastination or lack of motivation. It’s a concept that’s been fully explored and developed by Mel Robbins in her book The 5 Second Rule.
It’s about interrupting the five seconds between when you think about doing something and when your emotional brain kicks in and talks you out of it. As soon as you sit down to write, count back from five to one and then go!
It’s such a powerful technique to keep writing when you’ve lost motivation and has worked for me on so many occasions.
It’s natural for motivation to come and go with writing. It’s hard – and anything hard can feel like a chore, even when you’re really dedicated to it.
My final advice is to stay kind to yourself. Accept there’ll be days when you just don’t want to. Have a break. Do something completely different. But wherever possible, jump back into it the following day. Consistency really helps with book-writing.
If, however, those days of low motivation come about more and more, it might be time to ask yourself the most difficult question of all:
Do you actually want to write a book?
And if you don’t, that’s okay too. Sometimes we get caught up in the idea of what a book might mean but the reality is we just don’t want it enough. It’s hard to hear and you may be cursing me right now, but it’s worth listening to what your inner voice is really saying.
But if you’re still a keen bean, try some of these ideas to help you stay motivated as often as possible and just remember, motivation comes from the habits we pursue, rather than the other way around.