How to Motivate Yourself to Write

by Marg McAlister

There's nothing like the feeling of starting to write a brand new story.  

Odds are that you've been thinking about it for days or weeks or months before you actually sit down at the computer and flex your fingers. The characters are becoming real; the plot sounds tantalising, and you can almost feel that crisp new contract in your hands. This is going to be The One. At last, you're going to get to the end of a novel. You are SO motivated! 

This initial feeling of excitement can last for weeks. It's rewarding to see the word count go up and up and up. It's a joy to open your word processor and spend a few more hours in your fascinating fictional world. Then... the wheels fall off. One day you turn on the computer and instead of having fun writing the next scene, you find that (shudder) it feels more like *work*. 

You stare at the screen and find yourself thinking not about what the heroine is going to do next, but about how the cistern needs fixing. You type a few sentences, but when you read them through they sound about as interesting as last week's shopping list.  

Sighing, you fire up Solitaire and play a few hands to see if that kick-starts your right brain. It doesn't work. Looks like today is just one of those days. Well, nobody said you have to write. You've been working really hard on the book, anyway, so maybe it's time to take some time out. You shut down the computer, make a cup of tea and leaf through a magazine for a while instead.  

Before too long, this becomes the pattern of your days. Sometimes you manage to turn out a scene - even finish a chapter - but more and more, you find reasons not to write. You moan to other writers about what a procrastinator you are - and out comes Old Faithful; the question most writers ask sooner or later: "How can I motivate myself to write?"  

Here is the cold, hard truth. You cannot motivate yourself to write. 

You cannot motivate yourself to do anything that's hard work: losing weight, going to the gym, painting the house, weeding the garden, doing your taxes... they're not fun. What you can do is work out a system for getting yourself what you want. And when you are creating that system, you have to recognise the fact that the rewards have to be greater than the pain, or you won't do it. We spend our lives trying to avoid pain and to seek out that which is pleasurable.  

Think about it for a moment: it's true. The good news is that once you realise this, you've just taken a giant step towards your ultimate goal - getting your book finished and then getting it published. Here are a few tips on setting up systems that will help you to make sure that you reach your goals.  

1. Get Serious!  

You can buy all the 'how to' books in the world on writing; you can enrol in endless courses; you can spend megabucks going to conferences - but none of it will do any good if you don't get serious about the actual WRITING. Writing is work.  

To put those "sure-fire techniques" into practise, you have to write. To see the finished pages adding up, you have to write. To have a finished product to send to an editor, you have to write. You have to write whether you're in the mood or not; you have to write through minor illnesses and family dramas. In other words, you have to treat it like a 'real job'.  

2. Set up Systems  

I know, I know. "Systems" sounds boring. It sounds corporate. It sounds altogether too left-brain for a creative act like writing. The truth is, writers need to be able to switch from creative mode to administrative mode and back again with ease. They need to get out and experience life and to have new experiences and to meet new people in order to feed their imaginations - then they need to be able to look at the whole process analytically and say "What systems do I need to set up to make sure that the book gets written?" If you are serious about a writing career, this is what you need to do:  

a. Put Writing First.  

This does not mean that you neglect other areas of your life. It does mean that you need to assess what you have to do to get your writing on track and build that into your day FIRST - then you slot in everything else. Give it at least an hour a day. Surely you can find just one hour out of twenty-four? If you can't, then forget writing for now. Come back to it when you're serious.  

Does that sound tough? Well, too bad. If you can't spare just one hour a day for your writing, then you are NOT serious. Period. If the reason you can't spare an hour a day is temporary (a family emergency, serious illness, etc then that's different. This doesn't mean that you're not serious, it just means that you have encountered a roadblock. Give whatever the problem is your full attention until it's over, then get back to being serious about your writing.  

Set up a routine for your writing until it becomes a habit. Don't let anything get in the way. If something totally unexpected comes along to derail you and sabotage your writing time, then make that time up before the week is out.  

b. Work From Checklists.  

A completed book of publishable standard doesn't just materialise. You have to go through a process to get there: do any necessary research; write scenes; finish the first draft; edit and polish the draft; work on technique to fix errors in style; get feedback and then market your book. Set up checklists to make sure you don't skip anything - and as a way of seeing your progress. Have checklists for:  

  • the characters
  • the setting
  • the plot
  • research needed
  • completion dates for scenes or chapters
  • editing and polishing your work 

3. Get a Writing Buddy  

Find someone who is just as serious about writing as you are and check in with each other about progress. It really helps to be accountable to someone and to support each other with setting up good writing habits. If you both beyond the beginning stages, and are at a similar level of achievement, you can critique each other's work. If you know you need to build your skills a lot more before you are ready for publication, then seek out help. This can take the form of a writing course with set tasks, or a reputable critique service, or an online discussion group/forum.  

One word of warning: it's important that you are both committed to writing and getting published. If you let your buddy system deteriorate into chatty emails about everything under the sun, you are not using the system properly. By all means enjoy the social aspects of friendship as well - but make sure you are both accountable when it comes to your writing time.  

Ready to get serious? Then stop everything that you are writing now, and clear the decks - mentally, socially and physically. Arrange a writing area that is yours alone and that will give you the solitude you need to write. Decide on your writing time, and prepare your checklists (only YOU know where you stand right now with your writing and your story.)  

If you can, find a committed writing buddy, then GO. Discipline and good habits will get that book written, and motivation will come from seeing the results.


The Busy Writer's One-Hour Plot

The Busy Writer's One-Hour Character

Book of Checklists

The Busy Writer's Self-Editing Toolbox

The Busy Writer's KickStart Program

Write a Book Fast