Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to Stay Motivated

A writer emailed me to ask, "How do you keep yourself motivated while writing? All I ever seem to do these days is stare at the computer screen waiting for some inspiration."

I have definitely been there, and I'm guessing we aren't the only two. Here are things that have helped me:

If you can, pinpoint why you're struggling. Are you burned out or are you being lazy? Because those require two different treatments.

If I'm frustrated about holiday plans, and Connor had me up three times overnight with his nasty cough, and the house hasn't been cleaned in weeks, and inspiration isn't striking ... well, the best thing I can probably do is go take a nap. And clean my house. Sometimes, sad as it is, life gets in the way of writing. The best thing to do in that case is get your batteries recharged pronto. We write for fun. Even when we're taking our writing seriously, it's still fun. Right?

But sometimes I'm not burned out. Sometimes I'm just being lazy. Sometimes I would rather peruse Baby Gap's website or queue up an episode of 30 Rock. Sometimes it's tough to make myself focus.

When that happens, I utilize this guy:

I set my timer for 25 minutes. I close out of email and Twitter and Facebook. I ignore text messages or phone calls. I tell myself I can take care of any of that stuff 25 minutes from now, but this is writing time.

And then I write.

After 25 minutes, I allow myself a 5 minute break. By then, I've usually cured my desire to hunt for deals on Baby Gap, so I might check in on Facebook or respond to a text, but I'm ready to be lost in my storyworld, so I don't linger for long in my real one.

And that leads to another question you can ask yourself - do you like what you're working on? Do you love your characters? Your plot? Your theme? Because sometimes that's my problem, that I've lost my passion for the story. 

In that situation you can do a couple things:

1. Read back through what you've already written. When I do that, I usually find a plot thread I accidentally dropped or a character who would be fun to flesh out. Just a little spark of excitement can do wonders.

2. If you have someone else with whom you've shared your story (a critique partner, a sibling) try talking to them about it. My critique partner, Roseanna, has often helped me fall back in love with my projects just by helping me brainstorm new directions or character flaws.

3. Set it aside. You know that phrase, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder?" That totally applies to your writing. There are times to push yourself to finish a manuscript (like when you're just being lazy) but if you're completely burned out, and you don't have a publishing house waiting on you, don't be afraid to set the project aside. Work on something else that's fun, and maybe come back to that other project in a month or so. That happened numerous times when I was writing Me, Just Different. Eventually, it still got written. It just took 4 years, is all.

Another great motivator is competition or accountability. NaNo is just wrapping up, and there was so much chatter about it going on over at the Go Teen Writers Facebook page. Being in community with other writers who are saying things like, "I wrote 3,000 words today!" and "I won NaNo today!" can really help encourage you to buckle down and do the hard work.

New York Times bestselling author Erica Vetsch plays 1k in 1 hour on Twitter with a friend of hers. I don't remember what the hashtag is, but for 1 hour they "compete" with each other to see who can write 1,000 words the fastest. So find a friend and work to encourage each other!

Let's hear from some other writers: What helps to keep you motivated?


  1. My friend (the one I told you about) and I are going to keep each other accountable and it is going really well.

  2. Thank you so much for this post, Stephanie! Being lazy and/or bored with my WIP are both things I struggle with. I especially like that part about working on something different. That's what I do every time I get bored with or stuck on my WIP.

  3. Looooove this post. :) Great tips and techniques!

    One way I've discovered to spark my creative fancy is creating a fun storyboard with pictures and quotes and also choosing songs from the Disney Princess movies and imagining which lyrics my MC would sing. :) Dorky, maybe, but it works. :)

  4. i didnt think it was possible for me, but i won Nanowrimo this year! just thought you'd like to know that i completed my first novel! its about 200 pages! now for the hard part, editing!

  5. I didn't do NaNoWriMo this year because I'm a freshmen and I don't know how the whole high school still goes but next year I think that I'm going to do it next year. I've set my story aside right now for brain storming. I do write different things but right now I have a book report due and the book I have to read is boring and I don't know if it's ever going to end. After the first of the year I'll need to pick it back up.


  6. Great ideas!! But I think I have to delete my twitter now, Im getting a ton of random follow requests.

  7. I don't think (Might be key word: think) I'm being lazy, and I definitely am not overly stressed, but my story still is not going anywhere. I don't know where to take it. I'm at almost 30,000 words, but I'm stuck. I just can't think of anything new to happen to bring a little more excitement into it. =(

  8. Bethany, I think that happens to everyone a time or two. When I get stuck, I like to pull out Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. There are lots of great exercises in there that get me thinking more creatively about my story.

    Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell had a great chapter on generating ideas, but I haven't had the chance yet to put those into action.

  9. I love watching movies having to do with the theme of my book, that usually gets me jumping and bouncing with excitement to get back into my storyworld. Same if I read a book that has something to do with it. :)