How to Boost Your Sagging Motivation for Writing

Carol Tice

Tired young businesswoman falling asleep behind the deskYou’re all fired up to be a freelance writer — in theory, at least.

But sometimes, we all get the blahs. You stare at the blank screen or page…and nothing.

You’re willing to do almost anything else — if you just didn’t have to sit down and actually write anything.

It’s crazy, since supposedly this is the life you want.

But it still happens. You feel like a deflated balloon.

You’ve lost your inner drive to get the writing done.

For instance, here’s a comment we got recently inside Freelance Writers Den:

“I’m having trouble staying focused. I don’t have a lot of time to write because we’re getting ready to move in 10 days and I have a toddler at home.

“But even when I have time, I find my thoughts wandering to everything else but writing. Then, I end up Googling unrelated stuff, playing Candy Crush Saga, or reading everyone’s Facebook posts.

“I’m normally great about staying focused, so this is really frustrating to me. Any suggestions for how I can get my focus back?”–Andrea

Like I said, it happens. So what’s the solution?

To find out, this writer needs to ask a few important questions to figure out how to kill the malaise and rediscover their love of writing. Here are some basic issues I’d look at:

Are you too tired?

Lack of sleep is the quickest creativity killer out there. Stop staying up late doing online chat or playing Bejeweled (talking to myself there) and map out eight or more hours for rest.

As someone who often tries to get by on six and a half and who recently slept 10 hours one vacation evening, I can tell you it will make a difference.

Got enough child care?

I’ve discovered that many writer-moms have fantasies about how much writing they can get done while also doing child care. Because really, you will get little writing done– and the whole time you’ll feel like an evil giant has a hand on either side of your brain and is trying to tear it in half.

And the amount of marketing will probably be zero.

Whether you try a babysitting co-op, do a swap with another WAHM, hire a sitter, pay for more child care programs, or get hubby to shoulder more kiddie time, the bottom line is the same: You will be amazed at how productivity soars once you can actually think for five minutes without someone who needs feeding/changing/reading/holding/singing/bathing/your every waking moment of attention.

Unrealistic expectations?

Whether it’s imagining you’ll crank out articles while tending three kids under age four, while packing moving boxes, or after you get home from a day job, writers tend to be over-ambitious in imagining what can get done.

Then, when we fall short of our high standards, we get depressed and want to write even less.

So get real about how much time you’ve got for writing and what you can accomplish within it. Then, start scheming about how to get yourself more writing time so that you can check off more from your list.

Overwhelmed?

The number-one thing new freelance writers tell me is that they look at all the things they should be doing and all the options in the freelancing marketplace, and feel totally overwhelmed.

If this is you, it’s time to put on the blinders, screen out most of what’s going on, and focus.

What do you want to do most? What resonates for you as a type of writing you would do well?

Too many writers try to write all different kinds of things and in every industry…but being a generalist is a ticket to nowhere. Think about your interests, life experience, and past jobs, and take the easy road by writing in subjects you know. You’ll find good clients more easily and move up quicker.

Overworked?

Sometimes the sudden lack of writing motivation comes because you’re burned out. You’ve just been clocking too many hours, and the creative well is dry. The fun has gone out of writing.

If so, it may be time to see if there’s a low-paying client you could drop to give you a break.

Not eating right?

There’s a stereotype of freelancers sitting home guzzling coffee by the gallon and munching ice cream or Doritos all day while they work…because it’s easy for freelancers to get into bad eating habits, home alone all day with the fridge like we are.

And many of us get on deadlines, get stressed, and start inhaling whole candy bars instead of nibble carrots. I wonder how I know that…

Anyway. If your energy is low, try eating to nourish your body. Banish the junk food, don’t over-caffeinate, and take in lots of fresh fruits and veggies. You may find the ideas start perking again pretty quick.

Don’t have a home office?

If you don’t have a comfortable space that’s set up for writing, it can hit your productivity. You never feel quite ready to do the writing. I have one writer friend who tries to write while parked on her couch in the TV room amidst eight other activities, and it’s a disaster.

See what you can do to find a dedicated space that’s all yours for writing. Even if it’s an alcove in the dining room. I know one writer with a small home and many kids who rented a room in a friend’s house and headed down the street for writing time. Which brings us to…

Tired of your home office?

Sometimes working from home can become a rut. There are no coworkers. Some people find that deadly dull and unstimulating.

Consider writing from a park, a coffeeshop, a co-working office. Change up the routine and see if that doesn’t shake a few writing ideas loose.

Doing writing you don’t enjoy?

Finally, sometimes the lack of writing energy relates to the type of writing gigs you’ve taken on. Maybe you’ve written all the blog posts about surety bonds you can reasonably do, and it’s time to find new clients.

Recognize if your mix of writing assignments is wearing you down and head the problem off before a client fires you. Maybe some creative writing of your own can provide balance, or it may be time to do more marketing and switch to new paid writing gigs.

Whatever the root cause of the motivation slump, rest assured — every writer has fallow times. And they will end.

How do you get your writing mojo back? Leave a comment with your tips.

Freelance Writers Den

39 Comments

  1. Willi Morris

    Somehow I missed this last year, and my answer would be all of the above. Right now I feel like I’m stuck in a creative rut. Not coming up with many ideas for things to write. And I know it’s because I’m not eating well, sleeping well or exercising consistently.

    • Carol Tice

      Ugh, my exercise routine has totally fallen apart lately, and I feel like I am going down a real drain. We had a LONG cold snap under 30 degrees, which is too cold for my usual walking outside, and I’m not getting the next thing together…GOTTA get on it!

  2. Nicky LaMarco

    Carol,

    You hit it with “unrealistic expectations” with me! I’m always creating daily tasks to get done, and I tend to write way more than I can actually accomplish in a day. Then I get a little depressed because I didn’t complete everything I wanted to.

    Time to get real!

  3. David Gillaspie

    With a birthday next week the clock is a great motivator. If that doesn’t do it, I look at the obituaries and find a writer. My complaints about writing got to my buddy who came over and said I needed to turn the table. Then he adjusted my desk, turned it just an inch.

    And it worked. Great post, Carol.

    • Carol Tice

      Two great tips there, David.

      I am an obituary reader too, and recommend that highly for anyone who can’t get motivated. Too many people in there these days are my own age or near to it. Our 12-year-old son just went to the funeral of one of his best friend’s 45-year-old father. Time is short folks! And we never know how short.

      And ergonomics at the desk — are important! I get shooting pains up my arms if I’m not in a good ratio between body and keyboard.

  4. Erica

    My biggest culprits are lack of sleep, overwhelmed, not drinking enough water and stress. When I’m stressed, my brain won’t shut up which leads to lack of focus, lack of productivity and the inevitable “Screw it!”

    Taking the time to binge-write everything that’s on the brain helps empty it enough so that I can at least focus on the task at hand.

  5. Katherine Swarts

    I can identify big-time with Rhonda’s comment on depression and how some of us have periods when just going through the daily motions is goal enough. (Luckily, I live in Houston where we can count on some ten hours’ sunlight even on the shortest day of the year.) I identify also with the parts about having unrealistic expectations and being overwhelmed, and I think my #1 problem is unwillingness to take responsibility and commit to a single manageable approach for at least a month or two at a time: it’s always been “try everything in case you miss something, demand instant results as assurance you haven’t taken the wrong path, and look for someone else to tell you what needs doing.” I’d say I didn’t belong in the entrepreneurial world of freelance writing at all, if it weren’t for those 50+ friends and acquaintances who keep telling me what a wonderful gift I have for inspirational writing–the sort of thing you don’t find much call for in the world of 9-to-5 jobs. (Anyway, you can’t find one of those, either, without the same sort of “marketing yourself, working hard all day, finding the best approach” issues.)

    • Carol Tice

      None of us can effectively do everything at once! And I’d say more like 3-6 months on one (or several related) marketing track(s) to start being able to judge real results. And a scattershot — try a little of everything — approach I think is usually ineffective. And hard to analyze what was working as well.

      This is a bottomless-pit job, Katherine. There is ALWAYS more we could be doing, but we need to accept that time is finite and make choices about our goals and marketing methods. I tend to go six months, then analyze marketing and tweak, and repeat.

    • Katherine Swarts

      The scattershot approach does, in fact, seem to go hand in hand with an obsession with the impossible task of getting to the bottom of the bottomless pit. Which quickly leads to the idea that since the most important thing is impossible, NOTHING worthwhile is possible. Which leads to chronic exhaustion (with or without the “standard” amount of sleep), despair, and the seeking of what comfort one can find in unhealthy physical habits and low-priority-but-easily-manageable tasks. Not to mention chronic irritability and impatience that will discourage anyone from working with you to begin with. (The original blog post might well have included “Are you angry at anything?” among the self-evaluation questions.)

    • Carol Tice

      Great point. Sometimes we really need to clear our own emotional crap out of the way to get down to business.

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