“Ollin, no one is paying you to write. There’s no guarantee that this book you are writing will ever get published, or that people will ever read it. Don’t get me wrong, I hope everything will turn out well for you and I’m sure it will, but that’s a whole lot to bet on. I don’t have to deal with that same lack of security in my job/career/student life. So… how do you motivate yourself?”

Goooooooooooood question. Here it is again:

Typical (Fake) Answer: I love writing!  My love for writing motivates me!

Unconventional (Real) Answer: I use several methods that I’ve created over the years to motivate me daily, and I keep adding to this list of methods.

“Are you saying that your love for writing DOESN’T motivate you!?”

Hmm… no it doesn’t. Yes, love for writing motivates a writer to start a writing career and to one day finish it. So in this way our love of writing does motivate us in the long-term, yes. But the dirty little secret is that sometimes writers need a little kick in the butt to get us motivated in the short-term, during that day-to-day battle’s of the long-long-long drawn out war.

I’m not saying we can live without passion and love for our art. Yes, love is a good solid base for our writing careers, but it is our capacity to utilize tools for self-motivation that keeps us building on that strong base. Even if you are not an artist or writer you already instinctually know this.

You probably know several people who say: “I have this great idea for a play/movie/novel (etc)!” Do they ever work on that play/movie/novel?  No. Is it because secretly they hate writing? Nope. Many of them probably really do love writing and really do want to write their play/movie/novel. So what they lack isn’t love, it’s motivation.

We writers, unlike most people, have to be REALLY good at motivating ourselves because sometimes we’re the only ones around to motivate… ourselves.

Here are several methods that I have found helpful:

1.  Reward yourself for trying. I don’t think any writer writes to win awards or to make money. Writing is no get-rich-quick career or an instant fame booster. But that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve an award for your day-to-day efforts. You do. Is no one else rewarding you? Then do it yourself.

This might be embarrassing but usually a strategically placed red velvet cupcake, or banana nut muffin, or double chocolate brownie by my laptop will get me through to a whole night’s revision of a passage in my book. Use whatever little goodie, or treat, or gift that will get you through the day-to-day drudgery.  It’s not a luxury if you literally need it to get the writing done.

Rewarding yourself for trying also means not demanding that your work be brilliant every day. It won’t be, it will be awful most of the time, but that’s ok.  You’re growing a tree, it’s as important to work on the roots as it is to work on the bark and the branches.  So if you think you did a crummy job today, remind yourself:  “I’m still working on the roots!”

2. Don’t place a goal on when you’ll receive your worth. Please don’t say “when I publish this,” or “when my book sells this many copies I will be a writer” or “then I’ll be a good writer.”  If you’re writing with a goal in mind, then you’re already a writer, and if you’re trying your best, then you’re a good writer. If you’re writing regularly, then you’re showing up to work every day and that makes you a great writer. If you place your worth in the future, then you’ll think your worthless now. And I don’t have to tell you that feeling worthless is not fertile ground for motivation.

3.  Be flexible with your writing schedule. If something happens that’s out of your control don’t feel too guilty about not writing that day. Guilt is one of those other emotions that will kill motivation in a heartbeat.

4. Don’t self-punish. If you constantly punish yourself for not writing or for not being as good as Virginia Woolf already, then you’ll only fall into a hole of self-loathing and despair that will evaporate all motivation. This isn’t helping you or your book, so stop doing it. Be gentle with yourself. Patience is important, if you find yourself being impatient with yourself, take a deep breath and quickly say: “Good job, ____!  You’re doing it!”

Try also to see impatience like the yellow on a traffic light. When you start getting impatient with yourself, get ready to stop yourself before you start spiraling down the self-loathing hole. Impatience is often a precursor to self-punishment, so stop way before the red light hits.

5. Don’t overwork yourself. This one is a hard one for me.  I’m a workaholic. My family is full of workaholics. My friends are all workaholics. So if I try to tell anyone to slow down and take it easy, or to cut a huge chunk of their workload to solve their personal problems, they’ll instantly look at me like I’m from Mars.

Ok, so non-artists have trouble with playing. Fine, let them be. But if you are an artist it is your job to play, no excuses. Now, there are times when you might be inspired and will go on for hours and hours with your creation, that’s not really workaholism. Usually that’s a good thing, because you feel a boundless energy. But when you start to feel a strain coming in, your eyelids closing, and that shine from the screen is starting to hurt your eyes, and your brain is all fuzzy and fried, then that’s when you’ve overworked yourself. Overworking is no good because the motivation to work the next day is taken from you. So in the end you actually end up getting less done if you overwork, then if you simply allowed yourself to stop and play for a little bit.

“What do you mean by ‘play’?”

Oh no, you’re in deeper than I thought… let me see:  Dance! Sing! Run in a playground like your five years old! Climb a tree! Pull a prank on someone! See how fast you can eat a whole pie by yourself and do it to the song “Stronger” by Kanye West!

6. Follow the inspiration. This is difficult, especially when that little pixie of inspiration, the infrequent visitor, that comes along every once and again and makes writing effortless and brilliant is not someone you can constantly count on. So, sometimes you set a schedule to just move through what needs to get done, but then the little pixie shows up, and even though you’ve scheduled yourself to be working on Ch. 2, she says you need to work on Ch. 19, a chapter you haven’t even begun yet. Just follow her. If you don’t, you’ll be beating yourself up as you write on Ch.2, and you’ll end up writing an awful draft that’ll just be tossed anyway. So why not move forward?

You never know, maybe you need to write a revelation down in Ch. 19 that you will then need to foreshadow in Ch.2. Maybe Ms. Pixie is actually saving you the time for a rewrite. Who is anyone to say what is the correct order a book should be written in, anyway?

7. Work through emotions. When we are highly emotional or under a lot stress these are the most challenging moments to overcome and get focused and motivated to write. After all, if our boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t love us, or our parents are judging us, or our boss hates us, how can we possibly feel good enough about ourselves to do what we love to do?

Now, generally writers and other artists get their greatest inspiration from their pain and anguish, so in those cases making the art is easy. But that’s not the situation I’m talking about. I’m talking about when what you are planning to write either is not congruent with your emotions or the emotion acts as a wall to your creativity {a strong, long-lasting emotion may eventually lead to a block}.

To work through these emotions, first write all of your emotions down. Just listen to what your mind is ranting about and write it all down, let it all out, everything. If you’re writing it on your laptop then as soon as your done, trash that document. If you wrote it on a piece of paper throw that paper away or burn it if you’re into dramatic displays.

For the moment at least, you’ll wash away that emotion and you should be able to move forward with your work. But this is a temporary solution, good for bad days.

8. Avoid a “Me vs. The World” Strategy for Motivation. You know this one. You motivate yourself by pitting yourself against your greatest enemy. “If I write this then I’ll show so and so that he was wrong and I’m not a talentless idiot who’d never make it anywhere.” Or you pit yourself up against society, who never thought a person from you background, your class, your country, your race, your region, your gender, your sexuality would ever make it, and so you work hard to prove them wrong.

This strategy seems to work to get you through the process, but doesn’t provide much joy in the end. Because you set up your motivation against the fall of an enemy, there’s never any closure when you accomplish your goal.  When you finally produce that play or get that short story in the literary magazine, there is no anvil that will automatically fall on the head of that second grade teacher who said you couldn’t do it. In this motivational strategy there’s simply no victory. Plus a lot of negative energy has been built up in your body at your expense, and it often drains from you the strength you need to move happily forward to your next project.

9. Instead use a “Me Together With The World” Strategy for Motivation.

Remind yourself that you are playing a useful necessary role in society and without you, a big part of what makes this world move forward will be missing.

Think about the first time you decided to be a writer, or an architect, or doctor or whatever. If you’re a writer, was it a book that motivated you? Of course, right?  It’s only logic. Unless you read something, you never would have imagined yourself as a writer. If writing gives you joy now, then that means you owe great deal of your personal happiness to other writers, that one or many who inspired you. If writing isn’t your passion, I betcha anything it was still a writer who inspired you to pursue your passion.

You either saw your ideal passion on a TV show or on a movie, or maybe read it in a book. Whose responsible for writing in that doctor on that TV show that inspired you to be a doctor? A writer was.

Chances are you’ve used some idiom or quote during your life to get you through a tough time. Was it: “Be the change you want to see in the world” or “To thine own self be true,” “The bigger they are the harder they fall,” “You reap what you sow,” “Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you”? and on and on and on. We’ve all used them to get us through snags in our life, and whose responsible for those bits of inspiration? Writers are.

Have you been moved by a speech by President Obama? You have a writer to thank for that. Do you know how to set up your wireless connection in your home? You have a writer to thank for that, a technical one, but still important. Do you know what important things happened today? If you do, then you know because a writer told you them, whether it was on television or the internet.

My point is this, as a writer you’re delusional if you think it’s you against the world. That way of seeing things isn’t true at all. You are a vital part of this world. Writer’s have moved mountains, they’ve changed continents, they’ve set up governments and caused them to collapse. Money may make the world go round, but the only reason you know that is because a writer told you it did. So whose more powerful?

Understanding how much you are vital to this world as a writer is a powerful motivator. When we know we are not only useful but necessary, we can write with greater ease.

10. Write. When you don’t feel motivated to write your poem, short story, novel, then don’t write that. But, please do write. Write in your journal, write on you blog, write on your notepad. It can be awful, it can be brilliant. It doesn’t matter. Write in your head. Write something that will remind you what motivates you, so that you are motivated to write, and maybe motivate others to do the same. That’s what I did.

much love,


How do you motivate yourself on a day-to-day basis to reach your goals? Any tips you’d like to share?

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Categories: Writer's Journal