Lack Writing Motivation? Try This Powerful Switch-Up

Lack Writing Motivation? Try This Powerful Switch-Up

Carol Tice | 22 Comments
writing motivation

It’s the bane of every freelance writer’s life: You know you need to sit yourself down and get some writing done, but nothing happens. The writing motivation just isn’t there. Sometimes, you can’t even make yourself sit down with the computer — even if you desperately need to make money writing.

That’s when writers come to me and ask, “Can you help me find motivation to write?”

The truth is, I can’t. That writing motivation needs to come from inside of you. To write for a living, you need to develop an inner drive and the creativity to write, nearly every day, no matter what’s going on in your life — that bad night’s sleep, the pandemic, family stress, whatever.

However. If you’ve been putting a metaphorical gun to your head and trying to ‘make’ yourself write, and it’s not working, I have an idea for you.

Rather than pushing and pushing yourself to write, you might try reversing course.

Let me explain what I mean:

Push vs Pull Writing Goals

Many writers seem to operate on a ‘push’ system.

Your focus is on forcing yourself to sit down and write. Push, push, pushing yourself to write, thinking you can break through your lack of writing motivation by sheer force.

You may pay no attention to your chronobiology, insisting your brain try to be creative at times that aren’t your most productive. There are no rewards on offer, really — you just gotta write. No pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, except maybe a feeling of satisfaction at creating.

Worsening the situation is the fact that many writers simply have unrealistic goals of how productive they can be. I’m constantly meeting people who think I’m super-productive…when really, what I’ve mostly done all my working life is clock a crap-ton of hours, to get it all done.

I have whole days where I really can’t get any writing done, and so does every other writer you know.

You may be forcing yourself to the screen because you feel you simply need to put in X hours a day staring at the blank page, to feel like a ‘real’ writer. When that doesn’t produce much, you start doubting whether you can do this for a living.

But there’s another way to get motivated to write. An opposite way.

What you’re currently doing is creating a ‘push’ goal. As in: I must push myself to write, right now, no matter how little writing motivation I have.

The more the ‘push’ strategy fails, the more panicked you feel. The terror that it isn’t working, that you can’t make yourself write on command, is real.

I have good news, though: You can still become someone who’s super-productive and writes daily, even if setting a push goal hasn’t worked.


Hit the ‘Pause’ Button

If you’ve been pushing yourself to write and it’s failing, stop and take a look at that. Remember that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result.

It’s time to change things up, when it comes to getting in touch with your writing muse and getting the creative juices flowing.

First, let’s look at why it’s so hard to push yourself to write.

Are you holed up in your house, never going for a walk, not sleeping well?

Revisit your basic food-sleep-exercise habits. A lot of productivity problems get cured if you commit to treating your body better and engaging in regular sleep, regular exercise, and a healthy diet.

Also, what sort of input are you getting from the world?

If you haven’t taken an outdoor walk or called a friend in ages, get that onto your regular schedule, too. Socializing, engaging with nature, or doing pleasurable hobbies is like hitting the ‘reset’ button on your writer brain.

Once you start doing the basics that help us write, you can add one more mental-health step.


Give Yourself a Break

So, you tried to write today. And it didn’t happen. The writing motivation just wasn’t there.

The key thing is to avoid creating a mountain of fear/terror/worry that lowers your chances of writing tomorrow.

It’s time to practice self-forgiveness. Commit to giving yourself a clean slate, each day. Yesterday’s gone, as the song says.

Everyone struggles to write now and then. You’re not alone, and what you’re going through is normal.

You know that if a writer-friend told you they didn’t write today, you’d encourage them. You’d say, “You got this. It’ll flow tomorrow.”

Now, say that to yourself.

Once you stop pushing, pause, practice self-forgiveness, and set a new course with better basic habits, you’re ready to add a new motivation strategy.

As I’ve said, it sort of works in reverse of setting ‘push’ goals.


Pulling the Writing Out

As you may have guessed, I want you to consider setting a ‘pull’ goal for your writing instead of a push goal.

What do I mean? A short story will illustrate:

My sister, Diane, has long had a garage that’s completely full of stuff. Park a car in there? Never. She’s lived in the same place for over 20 years, and old files, discarded furniture and other castoffs filled it from floor to ceiling, front to back.

She was always trying to force herself to deal with it. It was basically a fire hazard. But telling herself to march out there and empty that rat’s nest never worked.

Then, recently, she realized she wanted to be the Girl Scout cookie mom — you know, the one who stores the troop’s cookies at her house for those table sales and all the individual girls’ neighborhood deliveries. She’d never been able to serve the troop in this role, because of the overstuffed garage.

To achieve her goal, she would have to clean out a large section of the garage.

She really wanted to show up for her daughter and be more active in Scouting. This goal drove her out to the garage to start tackling the enormous pile of garage items..

When I visited, she showed off her mostly cleared garage — now full of cookie boxes.

My sister won by setting a pull goal, when a push goal failed. She created a reward of what she would get if she completed this difficult task, beyond simply ridding herself of an impassable, junk-filled garage.

Envisioning how great it would be to have garage space for this longed-for cookie-mom role made it happen.

Now, let’s look at how to design a pull goal that works to get you writing.


Pull Goal Ideas

How can you create a pull goal for your writing business? And how will it help spark writing motivation?

Let’s brainstorm:

  • Plan a vacation trip. Create a vision board with photos of what you’ll enjoy on the trip. Note how much writing income you need to bring in and how far ahead you need to work to make this vacation happen. Spend a bit of time each day envisioning yourself on this vacation. Then, sit down to write. Even the prospect of a long weekend of no work may drive you forward to get organized and write.
  • Mini-rewards. If I can get my writing done early, I get to play a half-hour of online American Mah Jongg. Think of an activity that brings you joy, but that you often feel you ‘don’t have time’ for. See if dangling that carrot doesn’t help you get serious about writing and avoid procrastinating.
  • Bookstore trip. Writers read! When’s the last time you treated yourself to a bookstore visit and held a new (or hard-to-find used) book in your hand? Plan a bookstore visit to reward yourself for finishing that difficult writing project. Bet you’ll soon have that hot new bestseller you’ve been longing to dig into in your hot little hands.
  • Retail therapy. Had your eye on a new jacket or pair of boots? Finishing that writing might pay for them, and provide you with positive motivation to complete your work.
  • Treats. I hate to encourage writers to eat, because many of us struggle with overeating and under-exercising. But maybe one square of chocolate if you get it done, or a bowl of blueberries? Whatever feels special for you.
  • Meetups. The pandemic is waning, the weather is warm, and you could schedule a walk or night out with your significant other, kids, or friends as a reward for getting writing done. Warn them it’s a maybe, you can only go if your goals are met. With others counting on you, you’ll be surprised at how motivated you can get to spit out the words and finish.
  • Volunteer. Maybe, like my sister, you wish you were doing more to make a difference in your community. Find a cause you love and commit to regular participation. At one point, I signed up to feed the homeless once a month — and knowing I’d committed to be there got me motivated to stay current on writing tasks. Don’t want to let the food-bank team down! Plus, volunteering makes you feel good about yourself, and like you have better work-life balance.
  • Buy yourself time off. Many writers I meet work seven days a week. That is a recipe for burnout. Commit to taking at least one day offline — you’ll immediately focus in on how to get your work done in one day fewer. Few writers ever go back to working 24/7 once they block out time off, because the lifestyle is so much better. And of course, writers who take time away come back more refreshed and productive. So it’s a double win.
  • Let your imagination run wild. Inefficiency in writing is likely depriving you of many things you’d love to be doing. Writing slower eats up the hours. What pull goal would excite you?

This is just a starter list — I’m sure you can come up with more pull goals on your own.


More Carrot, Less Stick

Writers tend to be hard on themselves. Consider offering more rewards in your writing life, and spend less time trying to force-march yourself to the writing desk.

What we do is hard. Create a trail of tempting breadcrumbs that pull you through, and you may find your writing goals are easier to achieve.

What’s a good pull goal to spark your writing motivation? Let’s knock around ideas in the comments.

22 comments on “Lack Writing Motivation? Try This Powerful Switch-Up

  1. Rick Gabe on

    What I would add to Carol’s compelling feedback here… is that first I would need more information to best offer advice. I interpret this person’s ennui with writing is out of a lack of confidence, and also that Sherin is still a student?

    Without more information to go on, I’ll assume that as a student Sherin has time on his/her side? No current financial responsibilities of a home and family? Now that’s an assumption I know.

    How do we get confidence? From successes. So Sherin needs to mine where his/her inspiration lies which would then transcend to topics to be written about. And then- start writing! Focus on each project one by one and how you can best write that piece.

    Once the writing projects come, one by one, and hopefully Sherin is proud of the output- then comes confidence- and then eventual motivation out of that confidence.
    One day- one project at a time.

    • Evan Jensen on

      Hi Shehryar,

      Thanks. If you really want to be a successful freelancer, you’ll find a way. You’ll do whatever it takes. You’ll keep going until you figure it out.

  2. Cleta McCormick on

    Spot on, Carol! There is nothing passive or wishful that brings success as a freelancer!

    I do a daily writing exercise on a schedule of pre-set subjects, i.e., read the title, sit down and write. I set my clock for 15 minutes and write as fast as I can, then take time to edit, re-visit on another date to see how to improve.

    The point, for me, is to produce something on demand. This morning, for instance, the subject was “You’re in a movie theater.” Couldn’t think what to write. But with the clock ticking, I just started, and what emerged was a humorous little piece that surprised me.

    Warren Adler is just so inspirational. Going to read some of his stuff; surprised I never have. I saved his quote, which will go into my writing notebook–“Keep writing, keep reading and stay curious. Never let fear in. When in doubt, write.”

    Thank you!

    • Evan Jensen on

      Hi Cleta,

      That’s great. A daily routine can have a big impact on creativity, productivity, and focus.

  3. Kimberlee on

    I believe discipline always trumps motivation. Motivation is waiting for a certain feeling or a desire. But the truth is that even with the “motivation” to not starve, sometimes we just don’t feel like it. That’s OK, do it anyway. Discipline I sitting down to write every day, no matter how we feel. I believe that’s what makes the difference between being successful and having to go back to a regular job.

    • Evan Jensen on

      Hi Kimberlee,
      “That’s OK, do it anyway.” Reminds me of Linda Formichelli’s book, “Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work That Matters.”

      Keep going.

    • Evan Jensen on

      No there really isn’t. You can’t teach motivation. But sometimes all it takes is working long enough/hard enough to get a win or land an assignment to start feeling motivated to keep going.

  4. Sarah on

    I think the same holds true for many things in life. Desperation may take you to the door but only perspiration will get you down the road. You’ve got to want it.

    • Evan Jensen on

      “You’ve got to want it.” Lot of benefits to being a freelance writer, but it does take self-disciple, hard work, and motivation.

  5. Sandra Knight on

    This article is spot on. No one else can provide motivation for you. I continue to pursue the skills I need but I feel my real success comes because I love coming up with ideas and writing and rewriting until it is exactly what I want. Thanks for the great article Carol.

    • Evan Jensen on

      Totally agree. As always, Carol nailed this topic. She’s got a unique perspective on this issue after coaching so many writers in her programs.

    • Evan Jensen on

      LOL. Haven’t heard that one before. You have to learn to self-motivate to make this work.

  6. Erica on

    Every fellow copywriter I’ve connected with has gravitated to this field because they love writing and decided to make a living out of it. They can’t imagine not writing. It’s what we do.

    Yes, Stephen Pressfield’s book “The War of Art” is excellent. I’d also recommend Stephen King’s “On Writing.” But motivation? Like inspiration, that needs to come from within. You either want it or you don’t.

    • Annette Davis on

      I also like Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” There are so many voices out there telling us to come along on the journey. One of them will extend a hand and speak into an ear a message that will help one take the first step. I wish Carol’s letter writer a wonderful odyssey! This site helped me take my first steps. Thanks Carol!

    • Evan Jensen on

      Hi Erica,

      “It’s what we do.” Love it. Pick your source of motivation: desperation or creativity. And get on with writing.

  7. Annette Davis on

    Another good resource for understanding the writing life is Steve Pressfield’s book. It’s a no-nonsense, clear-cut exploration into what makes us “Resist” writing. This book sure has movtivated me to get out of my own way and – write.

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