Motivation for Writers: How to Stay Focused on Your Writing Goals
You know the feeling when an exciting new idea pops into your mind. You want to drop everything and start working on it right away. You may also recognise the dread when you don't know where to take your story next.
Writing projects come with incredible highs and lows. One day, you're convinced your book will be the next big thing. The next day, you're embarrassed by every word you write.
Your ability to manage your motivation throughout the process is vital to your success as a writer.
In this post, we'll explore:
- Why is Motivation So Important for Writers?
- The Secret of Writer Motivation: How to Make Yourself Write?
- 16 Effective Strategies to Boost Your Motivation to Write
- How to Keep Writing: Why Writing Motivation Is a Moving Target?
Let's get started!
Why is Motivation So Important for Writers?
Writing projects take a long time. Whether writing a book or growing a blog, it could be months or years before you start seeing the fruits of your labour.
Embarking on a writing project is a huge leap of faith. You have no idea whether your work will resonate until you get it in front of readers.
You'll also run into all sorts of obstacles along the way. Writing projects are rarely smooth sailing. The first draft often looks terrible. You may find a massive plot hole or struggle to find a good ending.
Things like these decrease your confidence to see the project through. Self-doubt creeps in. What started as an exciting new venture becomes a dreaded slog.
This happens to all writers regardless of their experience or ability. What separates those who succeed is their ability to persevere even when the odds are seemingly stacked against them.
The Secret of Writer Motivation: How to Make Yourself Write?
When you're starting out, writing is a completely self-motivated endeavour. You don't have a boss or even a deadline. Publishers aren't clamouring at your door, out-bidding each other for the privilege to publish your book.
Often, nobody even knows that you're working on something, and that's completely fine. Sharing your work with others too early can be damaging in its own right.
However, it does mean that you're on your own. When you get frustrated or bogged down, what's there to stop you from quitting?
Unfortunately, the vast majority of people will quit well before giving themselves a proper chance.
Writers approach motivation in many different ways, but the goal is always the same: it has to be easier for you to write than not to do it.
That's the secret. If you take away only a single thing from this article, let it be this.
16 Effective Strategies to Boost Your Motivation to Write
Motivation isn't one-size-fits-all. We all get motivated by different things at different times. Here are 16 effective strategies to boost your motivation and get your writing done.
1. Use Your Imagination
Writers conjure up vivid characters and create entire worlds from thin air all the time. As it turns out, you can also use your imagination to help you stay focused on your goals.
Many top performers across disciplines — from athletes to entrepreneurs — use visualisation to boost their confidence and increase motivation.
Studies show that thoughts produce the same response in the brain as actions. Mental rehearsal is training your brain for the actual performance.
Picture yourself sitting down at your computer tomorrow morning. You open your draft and read the last few sentences while sipping your coffee. Then, the familiar feeling of resistance comes. You acknowledge it, but don't let it take over.
The beginning of a new sentence forms in your mind. You put your mug down and start typing. The clattering of your keyboard cuts through the silence. One word at a time.
Then, imagine yourself writing the final sentence of the project you're working on. How will it feel? And how would it feel to hold the book in your hand when it comes out? How would you feel when you saw it amongst the new releases in a bookshop for the first time?
Will that ever happen? I don't know. But isn't it worth writing those 500 words today to find out?
2. Create a Writing Streak
Writing streaks are a simple yet powerful tool that can help you be more consistent. They take advantage of a cognitive bias called loss aversion. Our brains are wired to perceive loss much more intensely than gain. In other words, losing £20 will annoy you a lot more than winning £20 will make you happy.
When you build a streak of 5, 10 or 30 days, you will not want to lose it. As silly as it seems, you will be motivated to write so you don't lose your streak.
Streaks are one of my go-to ways to stay on track. I have had many days when I didn't feel like writing anything at all, but I opened the editor to keep my streak going.
Running short on writing motivation? Creating a writing streak may give you just the boost you need to keep going.
Here's my activity grid from the past 12 months:
I started my writing streak during NaNoWriMo in November 2022. Before then, I wrote something every week, but I struggled to create real momentum.
After committing to write something every day last November, I kept going. I didn't want to lose my streak. So far, it has helped me write over 163,000 words!
3. Set Achievable Goals
Finding what motivates you is only one part of the equation. Getting rid of what demotivates you is equally important.
Your goals can do both — depending on how you set them.
The number one mistake many writers make is setting their daily goals way too high. The typical numbers include 500, 1,000 or 2,000 words per day. While these are all perfectly achievable, you may struggle to hit them right out of the gate.
Writing is a lot like running. Adjusting to the process and building the endurance you need to maintain a consistent level of output takes a while. Don't overdo it from the start. You will burn out and stop writing altogether.
Even though you might be making great progress, failing to reach your goal will make you feel terrible. It can demotivate you a lot when it happens often.
Whatever goal you have in mind, divide it by ten and start from there. Only increase it when you can hit it every day for a week.
When your writing output can be unpredictable, consider setting time goals instead. It's a great way to ensure you're showing up without the pressure to perform at a high level every single day.
In Writing Analytics, you can set and track time goals automatically.
4. Track Your Progress
Tracking your progress is an excellent way of staying motivated. It's a tried and tested strategy. Tracking works particularly well with activities where you don't see any immediate results. This includes working out, weight loss and, of course, writing.
Seeing your word counter inch closer to your goal after each writing session can be addictive. You know whether you're pulling ahead or falling behind. The feedback is immediate.
You can track more things than just words. Another common metric to track is time spent. While it usually requires more effort, tracking your time can work better when your daily word count fluctuates.
Progress tracking has gone so far that runners use the term naked running these days to refer to jogging without a GPS watch logging their every step. Some would never go for a run without a tracker on their wrist.
When done right, tracking your progress can turn into an obsession and a great source of motivation.
5. Set Deadlines
Deadlines put your writing goals into perspective. When you have a deadline, you know exactly how many words you must write every day to finish on time. If you skip a day, your goal the next day (and all subsequent days) goes up. When you write more, your goal goes down.
Setting a deadline can be a wonderful motivator. However, you have to keep them realistic. When a deadline starts pushing your daily goal too high, it can have the opposite effect. Failing to hit your goal regularly will be frustrating.
The thing about deadlines is that the deadline itself isn't all that important. It's the effort that you make running up to it. When you miss, who cares? Don't beat yourself up. Set a new one, and keep up the great work.
Douglas Adams — the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy — said, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by."
Not sure what deadline to set for your project? Try our free writing planner tool. It will help you set a deadline based on various parameters.
6. Reward Yourself
Rewards are a key part of the habit loop. Our brains crave them. They make our habits (good or bad) stick.
Rewarding yourself with something you like after finishing a writing session reinforces that behaviour. It may be having an extra cup of coffee or reading a gossip article online.
Writing is ridden with uncertainty. You don't know whether people will like what you're working on. You don't know whether a publisher will take it on. You don't know how long the whole process will take.
While writing alone can be incredibly rewarding, the feedback loop is too long. Reward yourself when you hit milestones along the way.
That way, you'll always have something to look forward to. Your book hitting the shelves will be a nice bonus.
TIP: Writing Analytics has a built-in awards system that helps you celebrate successes along the way.
7. Join a Challenge
Writing is a solitary pursuit. You're toiling in obscurity for months and years before anyone else gets to read what you wrote. But you don't have to go at it completely alone.
Many other writers are in the same situation as you, working away on their manuscripts. They face the same resistance and are struggling with similar issues. Why not join forces?
Writing with other people can create a lot of momentum. Seeing others work hard will make you want to work hard too.
NaNoWriMo is a perfect example of this. Many writers write more words in November than during the other 11 months combined.
When it isn't NaNoWriMo, you can join word sprints to write along with others. A group of writers gets together to work on their projects.
If you use Writing Analytics, you can join or organise sprints directly from the app.
8. Look for External Accountability
Sometimes, nothing you do seems to move you closer to your goal. That's when it might be time to look for help.
Join a writing group or enlist a writing coach. Having to report your progress to someone can do wonders for productivity. Don't underestimate the power of not wanting to look bad in front of others.
Finding a writing coach is on the expensive end of the spectrum, but it can be a life changer if you can afford it. Having someone to talk to about your struggles is invaluable.
Accountability partners can work well, too. However, finding the right partner that matches your level of commitment can be difficult.
9. Attend Writing Events
A great way to spark/rekindle your motivation to write is to hang out with other writers. If your favourite author is doing a book signing nearby, don't miss it! Seeing more successful authors talk about their work can be incredibly motivating.
If you live in an area that doesn't have too many literary events going on, listen to podcasts. Listening to long-form conversations with writers will have much the same effect.
Different writers share different things — some talk about their success. Others share stories of the wild ups and downs that pursuing a creative career can bring.
Here are some of my favourite writing podcasts:
- The Creative Penn Podcast — One of the longest-running writing podcasts out there.
- Writing Excuses — Short and sweet episodes jam-packed with writing wisdom.
- Writer's Ink — Interviews with some of the world's best authors
- Our Opinions Are Correct — A fantastic podcast by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders
10. Use Constraints to Stay Motivated When Writing
It's easier to edit an existing story than write one from scratch. Similarly, using your time well is easier when you have some structure.
Setting constraints and boundaries makes it easier to focus on the task at hand. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Here are a few examples:
- Write with a timer — Start a timer when you sit down to write. You're not allowed to do anything else until the timer goes off.
- Work from a coffee shop — Leave distractions at home and go write from a local coffee shop or library.
- Put your phone on flight mode — You're not allowed to use your phone until you finish your writing session.
- Use time-boxing — Squeeze your writing session into a specific part of your day and don't let it overrun.
Paradoxically, having too much time on your hands can make you less productive. Specific constraints mobilise you to take action.
11. Remember Why You Started
Motivation ebbs and flows. One day, you're convinced that you've got a bestseller in the making. The next day, you're panicking that nobody could possibly want to read such a pile of rubbish.
Neither feeling lasts forever. When you're not feeling motivated, limiting the damage is essential. Don't quit.
When you're down the deep end, it can be easy to forget why you started writing in the first place. Why are you doing this? What do you want to achieve?
Take time to answer these questions. Write a few paragraphs to reaffirm your commitment to finishing this book no matter what.
Save these to the notes app on your phone. Set up a recurring reminder to come back and read those. It may seem like a waste of time when things are going well. But wait for the first time you get the reminder after things haven't been going so well. It can be a lifesaver.
12. Don't Edit While You Write
The more words you add to your project, the more mistakes you'll make. Some will be small, like spelling issues or inconsistencies in your descriptions. There will be larger issues, too. Perhaps you'll find that a chapter doesn't quite work how you thought it would. Maybe you start wondering whether you got the personality of one of your characters wrong.
When you start reading what you wrote, self-doubt will creep in. Your first draft will, of course, read nothing like the professionally edited prose of your favourite authors that you're used to. You will start feeling demotivated by the sheer amount of stuff that needs to be fixed.
If you can, avoid editing or reading back what you wrote before finishing the first draft. You're the most vulnerable to giving up when you're dead in the middle of a project.
Doing revisions while writing works for some people. For most, editing is best left towards the end of the draft.
13. Don't Compare Yourself to Other Writers
Many writers share their daily word counts on social media to keep themselves accountable.
While it can be motivating to see other people succeed, beware of comparing yourself to other writers.
Social media posts are inherently biased. It's a highlight reel. People share their successes more often than they share their failures. You won't be bragging about writing 84 words after staring at a screen for 6 hours.
Besides, those who share their word counts online skew towards faster writers. They achieve higher numbers, which make for more impressive Instagram posts.
If you're a slow writer like me, comparing yourself to others is a sure way to send yourself down the self-doubt spiral. Nothing will kill your motivation to write as fast.
Remember that everyone's process is different. Other writers may be at different points in their careers. Or they are just working on things that are easier to write.
As long as you finish, your readers won't care whether it took you two weeks or two years to write your book.
14. Don't Quit Your Job Yet
Writing alongside a full-time job is hard work. It can make writing feel like a never-ending homework.
It can be tempting to quit your job to write. Burn the boats! Surely, you will figure it out when you have no other option?
Many writers did this and succeeded. Many more tried and failed.
Financial pressure can have a devastating effect on your productivity and creative output. It will intensify the lows of the rollercoaster when you're wondering what you're doing with your life.
Having no backup plan doesn't guarantee success. Only do this when you know what you're doing.
15. Don't Announce the Book Too Early
Announcing that you're working on a book and when you're planning to finish sounds like a good idea at first. Then you're committed, right? You have to follow through.
It's true. It will give you a boost of motivation at first. However, the excitement won't last for too long. If your plan doesn't work as expected, it can become a total nightmare.
The creative process is all but predictable. You need to give yourself time and space to get it right. If you start missing your goals, you will make compromises. Embarrassing yourself in public isn't worth it.
Take George R. R. Martin as an example. In 2011, he estimated that the final two novels in his A Song of Ice and Fire series would take him "three years to finish [...] at a good pace." Yes, that was 12 years ago. People have been asking him where's the book for over a decade. I bet he would not make the same mistake again.
Sharing your plans with a few trusted friends can be very motivating. Announcing them in public can backfire when things don't go as planned.
16. Stop Beating Yourself Up
No matter how hard you try, you don't always live up to your expectations. It happens to beginners and experienced writers alike.
Unfortunately, failing to reach your goals can put a serious dent in your motivation — often for no good reason.
Don't beat yourself up when you fall short. Despite missing your goal, you're moving in the right direction. Writing half a novel is still progress.
Things often last longer than expected. Your estimates may have been too optimistic. You will make it through. Give yourself the credit that you're due.
When reading your book, your readers won't care that you overran your deadline by a month.
How to Keep Writing: Why Writing Motivation Is a Moving Target?
Creative projects are emotional rollercoasters. Writing is no exception. The more invested you are in the project, the higher the highs and the lower the lows.
Productivity tools have diminishing returns. What used to motivate you will stop working, and you'll have to find new ways to keep going.
On top of that, what motivates you changes over time. Sometimes, you need kind words of encouragement. Sometimes, you need a kick in the behind.
It's best to use a combination of different tools and habits to achieve your goals. When you start falling short, perhaps it's time to find a new way to stay motivated? Don't cling to something that is no longer working just because you've always done it like that.
Motivation to write is a moving target. The only way to stay consistent is to embrace the need to change things from time to time.
You will get stuck. You will be rejected. You will wonder whether you have what it takes to be a writer.
The journey of a writer isn't easy. The odds are against you. You have to keep failing until you succeed. Managing your motivation in spite of the adversity is paramount to your success as a writer.
Remember why you started writing, and don't give up. Your words can quite literally change the world.
If that isn't worth it, then I'm not sure what is.