How To Motivate Yourself As A Writer

The Artist & The Hack

Writerly motivation is a tough nut to crack. I go and I write a single tweet, I get immediate feedback. Maybe nothing happens, or maybe some people respond. Could be I get some retweets, some LOLs, some digital high-fives, a troll or two. Social media is great because it’s a dopamine rush. I’m a chimpanzee who pokes the button and gets an immediate testicular tickle.

Writing a book is nothing like that.

Writing a book is you spitting in a tin pail once a day. And you won’t even let anybody see it until it’s full. “NO, IT’S MY SPITBUCKET, YOU CAN’T SEE IT YET, NOT UNTIL MY MASTERWORK IS COMPLETE.” *hawwwk* *ptoo* *plunk* “DON’T LOOK AT ME!”

It’s completely self-reflective and self-driven. Wanna know what it feels like? It feels like this:

You write a paragraph on little slip of paper, then whisper to yourself: “Is it any good?” Then you respond, also in a whisper: “I have no fucking idea.” “Oh, okay. Should I keep writing it?” “I really don’t know, please stop talking to me.” “Okay.” “Okay.” Then you use your manuscript to soak up the tears, and discover it’s not even good at doing that.

So, how do you do it? How do you motivate yourself every day to drag your sluggy body up to the keyboard and headbutt the keys until a story is made? Day after day, one month, two month, six month, a year if that’s what it takes? As the actor is wont to ask the director:

“What’s my motivation?”

So, here, then, are some practical thoughts on building your story, one word-brick at a time:

Write First

Seriously. Do it now. Stop looking at me and go write. Here’s the thing — it doesn’t work with everyone’s schedule, and I dig that. But for my mileage, getting up early to pound out some word count helped me to assign priority to it. I’ve noted in that past that we seem to get only so many IEP (Intellectual Energy Points) throughout the day — and we sometimes spend them on unexpected things, like impromptu corporate meetings, family crises, or being hunted in the woods by masked slashers. But, spend those points early on writing, and you never have to worry about losing the motivation to do it later. (Though you might die in the woods hunted by a masked slasher. So. Uhh. There’s that.)

Find Your Process

Sometimes, the way you do things is square peg, circle hole. Which is also the name of my Sexual Memoir. But whatever. Point is, trying to write the way somebody else writes is demotivating. But writing the way you write feels like a well-oiled machine. Also, Well-Oiled Machine is the name of the sequel to my Sexual Memoir. Which I’m capitalizing for reasons that are unknown to me.

Point is? Create a mechanism. Get yourself into the flow. Develop good habits. All these things are motivational generators — momentum creates momentum.

Do Not Fucking Multitask

Multitasking is a myth. Your brain can’t do two things at once because you’re a human and we humans are all unitasking dum-dums. You cannot write and then answer emails and then tweet and then braid your pubic hair. Stop that. Carve out a block of time, whether it’s fifteen minutes or two hours. Use it to write, and only to write. You will make progress and progress is itself motivating. Forward motion. Fuck inertia. To reiterate: momentum creates momentum.

Take Breaks

Do not multitask, but also don’t keep running full-speed into a wall. Take breaks. Move that sack of slugs and rubbers you call a body. Force blood through you — blood is creative lubricant, after all. (Er, not literal lubricant. Weirdo.) Five minutes here and there will clear out a lotta cobwebs tangling up your motivational innerspace.

(Did I just use the phrase “motivational innerspace?” Ugh.)

The Sugar Tickle

Okay, I’m usually pretty clear that hey, carbs are not the greatest thing to be wolfing down when you’re trying to access WORDS and THOUGHTS and THINGIES (see, I just ate pasta, and all I can come up with for that third word is ‘thingies’). You eat a fistful of Snickers and sure, you’ll get that heady sugar rush, but then all that chocolate and caramel will gum up your THINKMACHINE and next thing you know, it’s Naptime in Writertown.

But! But. Snacks of the sugary variety can be nice (in moderation) as a reward for the day’s end of wordsmithing. You finish what you sat down to finish — you hit your daily word count — and that little stab of dopamine in the deep, junkie well of your brain may motivate you tomorrow. Because it remembers. A brain never forgets chocolate.

The Cheerleader

We need cheerleaders in our lives. People who unabashedly love who we are and what we’re doing no matter how kooky it seems. You’re not just dreaming about writing — you’re chasing that dream down with a fucking trident and spearing it to reality’s soil. You need someone willing to champion that and cheerlead you, not someone who will hike down their lederhosen and take a big squirrely dump on what you’re doing. This is real, and you need it to be real, and you need someone willing to acknowledge how real it is. That’s not to say we don’t need critics, too — and our loved ones can be that, too. Cheerleader and Critic are not mutually exclusive. But if you don’t have someone in your life excited to shake their pom-poms for you, find someone, stat.

And don’t forget to shake your pom-poms for them, too.

Read A Shitty Book

Reading a terrible book is really clarifying. “I can do better than this,” you say, excited to prove your supremacy over execrable prose-based poopsmithy.

Read An Amazing Book

Reading an awesome book is really clarifying, too. “I see the power and vitality of this,” you say, realizing how much writing and storytelling matter. Maybe you won’t ever be that good, but reading a helluva good book can be aspirational.

Get Excited About Tomorrow’s Writing

Sit. Stop. Think not about today’s writing but tomorrow’s. Get excited. Formulate plans. “Tomorrow, I’m going to kill a character and it’s going to be tremendous. Tomorrow, the hero wins. Tomorrow, I get to write a scene with an otter manning a laser harpoon. Tomorrow, I get to kill a politician with bees.” Whatever it is, find something in tomorrow’s writing that excites you.

And, pro-tip — if you can’t think of anything?

Then maybe tomorrow’s writing needs to upgrade its awesomeness, yeah?

Fuck It, Stop Looking For Motivation

I don’t have any magic answers.

I’m trying, I really am.

But listen. Listen.

Writing is fucking hard, sometimes. Writing is dentistry on monsters. Writing is trying to castrate a galloping horse with a slingshot. Writing is letting a bull loose in an orphanage.

And there comes a point when it’s like, you either love this, and it motivates you? Or you don’t, and it doesn’t. I can’t manufacture motivation. Neither can you. You can only stir the flames if there’s already a spark there. You can’t awaken a dead fire.

At the end of the day if your interest in writing is born only of little tricks and tips — basically you fooling yourself to write — then maybe you need to look really hard at this thing you want to do.

Writing is contagious madness, a lot of the times. Even when it sucks, you wanna do it. And that, I think, is one of the things that separates the Aspiring Not-Really-Writers from the Really Real Writers — the latter group writes even when it’s hard, even when the motivation is a dry well, even when the inspiration seems like a dead or dying thing. They hook the car battery jumper cables up to the coyote’s car-struck carcass and rev the engine and make the damn thing dance yet again. Seems dead, but isn’t. Every day then is an act of revivifying your own abilities and motivations. The act of writing becomes clarifying to the act of writing. To restate the principle for the third time: momentum begets momentum.

(Writing is like heroin, that way. Heroin leads to heroin. Writing leads to writing.)

Again, that’s not to say you can’t do things to get going. I sure do. But if day in and day out you hate the process and find yourself having to artificially engineer something that isn’t there — it’s worth asking why, at least. Motivation then becomes not this external thing. It’s internal to the process. It’s part of it. Self-generating, self-replicating, a fire that feeds itself.

The best motivation, then, for a writer is to write.

Write when it’s hard.

Write when it’s easy.

Write when life doesn’t want you to.

Write when you don’t want to.

Write when everyone tells you not to.

Write, write, write.

Love the process or hate it. Love the end or hate the end. Let that chimpanzee’s testicular tickle come not with the feedback you get or from what happens when you put it out into the world — but get it just from the act of creation. Putting one word after the next and forcing them to the shape of a story. The act of creation, difficult as it is.

Go forth, right now, and write.

And let the act be the motivation.

NOW PLEASE LOOK AT MY PAIL OF SPIT AND BEHOLD ITS GLORY.

*shake shake*

*slosh slosh*

* * *

The Kick-Ass Writer: Out Now

The journey to become a successful writer is long, fraught with peril, and filled with difficult questions: How do I write dialogue? How do I build suspense? What should I know about query letters? How do I start? What the hell do I do?

The best way to answer these questions is to ditch your uncertainty and transform yourself into a Kick-Ass Writer. This new book from award-winning author Chuck Wendig combines the best of his eye-opening writing instruction — previously available in e-book form only — with all-new insights into writing and publishing. It’s an explosive broadside of gritty advice that will destroy your fears, clear the path, and help you find your voice, your story, and your audience.

Amazon

B&N

Indiebound

Writer’s Digest

63 comments

  • I spent the last two days, two writing sessions, and wrote about 750 words per session. That was motivating. And even though I didn’t get much done today, I had time to put some notes down for my next 750 session (hopefully tomorrow morning). Like going to the gym, the first step is always the hardest.

  • Yes!

    Right now, I’m suffering from a pinched funny bone nerve (no, not funny at all!)… it’s been pissing me off for the last 3 weeks or so and my doctors have told me to stop writing.

    Like hell!

    If I stop writing, I won’t sleep at night… true fact! My characters and ideas just keep me awake all the time talking to each other, talking to me, and won’t let me rest… I hate it, my neighbours hate it and most of all my brain hates it… and I end up on the computer anyway.

    So, I rolled up a towel, taped it with duct tape and used it as a rest to do my typing. I don’t stop writing for anyone – doctors or not.

    And I’ve just finished writing a book too… I’m back into writing just about anything that’s popping into my head. :D

  • Thanks for the article, Chuck. I have been feeling pretty conked out myself lately. As the deadline to NaNo approaches, I find myself getting more panicky, less creative. Gotta pull up my socks, tie my bandana, tauten my muscles and run the writing marathon again :)

  • “Writing is like heroin” has now become my new motto. I will have to hang it in a place near my computer to motivate me to take another hit of writing to get my brain’s pleasure centers stimulated.

  • So true, everything you said! I often find that, when I don’t feel like writing, or I’m stuck, I just force myself to free write and my brain just figures out what to do next on the WIP, even if I didn’t start out writing it! Brains are amazing things! And totally spot on about the addiction! Here’s how bad I am… I just took a trip to Australia and had to bring my lap top. Wrote on the plane, the drive, woke up early and stayed up late. All because I just couldn’t NOT write :P Don’t worry, I DID enjoy Oz though. Great post!

  • On the shitty book part:

    I am way into online writing workshops these days, largely because it not only lets me read some truly inspiring stuff done right, but it also lets me read some truly terrible stuff and then makes me think real hard about why it’s terrible.

  • Is it normal to laugh and almost cry after reading your posts? Yup. Think so. This one is especially awesome. I think the whole spitting in a bucket novel writing metaphor (and talking to yourself until your self tells you to shut up) is pretty hilarious and spot on.

  • “Writing is fucking hard, sometimes. Writing is dentistry on monsters. Writing is trying to castrate a galloping horse with a slingshot. Writing is letting a bull loose in an orphanage.”

    Reading this while listening to Van Halen and Ozzy Osbourne. EPIC.

    We writers use the keyboard as our own personal electric guitar. We are not out there nailing chicks and going on 8-ball benders, but we have always been here and always will be.

    It is just so nice to know that I am not the only one banging my head against a padded room that is a writing career, wrapped in the straight jacket of my own lack of motivation.

    It is nice to know that there are other asylum patients out there, suffering through the same hell, and calling it heaven.

  • I Love this Chuck! I’m participating in NaNoWriMo and had no idea if I could write two grand words a day and live my life which is pretty wild. Turns out I can. I had days when I hit walls and refreshed after twenty five word updates, but pushed through. I’m still pushing. For me, the dopamine is the word counter. Who knew it would be enough reward? So simple and it works.
    I’ve been finding that when I need to come up with a new scene, I take a walk. It makes my brain percolate.

  • Heehee, poopsmithy. I had to stop for a full ten seconds or so to fully absorb that and add it to my word bank. xD

    But referring to the article…I’m finding that a lot of what you say is true. I too am participating in NaNoWriMo, for the first time, and forcing myself to write, even when I don’t feel like it, because I’m motivated by the internal reward of actually finishing 50,000 words in one month, has done a lot for my writing. My biggest struggle has always been pushing through the “filler” parts and making them more interested and supportive to the bigger, more important parts of the story. I usually wait until I can think of some interesting filler, and then I don’t pick up the story for months…or years. But in this case, I have to write to keep the story moving along in order to meet a goal, and it makes such an impact on my ability to create that structure.

  • On the read a poor book and read a really good book. I highly recommend reading one of Pratchett’s really early books, then reading one of his latest books. Not only do you get to see amazing and mediocre, but you also see what practice will do. I like to read “Equal Rites”, then a later book like “the wee free men”.

  • an otter smoking a cigar firing, wearing a bandana and a tank top is firing a mounted laser harboon gun on a battle ship is stuck in my mind. there are explosions, lasers and awsomeness everywhere and i am ok with this.

    Also a great blog as ever chuck, you know how to motivate an army of writers.

  • You know, I started reading your blog after something you wrote about your toddler wound up on FARK – totally different from your Usual Fare… Thank the Writing Gods I did! I’m in the middle of a New England to Texas move that includes one husband, one adult daughter, two grandchildren (3 and 5), a dog, and eleventy-million stuffed animals….and I’m writing again.

    Thanks, Chuck. Your words help.

    And, I am totally going to recreate that motivational poster at the top on my new office wall…with proper attribution, of course!

  • I love your blog. It makes me laugh and inspires me so much. And you are so SPOT ON every time. Sometimes I think there is a spy camera in my office so you know exactly what to tell me. :)

    Keep on my friend, and I will keep on, keeping on.

  • I prefer first thing in the morning too but it just doesn’t seem to work with my schedule so I kept writing, trying to figure out how to fit this into my hour commute each way to a full-time job with toddler at either end of the day and I discovered something important during this season of NaNoWriMo – I can write 500 pretty good words in a twenty minute word sprint several times a day but if I go for an hour at a time I only get 1000 words instead of 1,500. I’m all about maximizing my time to write. I’m still 5,000 words behind but enjoying this NaNo more than any in the past ten years.

  • I love this, and it’s true for a lot of things–“momentum begets momentum.” True for exercising, true for keeping your house clean, and doubly true for writing.

  • NaNo is too damn fast for me. I have a problem (with the multi-tasking part) where I’ll want to research something half way through a sentence.

    For Example: “Jimmy dives across the platform, narrowly avoiding the alien-bird poo that was shooting toward his head. He looks over and sees the Master Sword lying just out of his reach.”

    But then I think, “I can’t say Master Sword, that’s from Legend of Zelda,” so I spend the next fifteen minutes researching legendary swords until I rename Jimmy’s Mastersword into the Muramasa Demon Blade.

    But I can still pull an decent 500 words per hour. I’ll finish this damn book eventually. Thanks Chuck!

  • I used a quote from page 127, “17. Ain’t Nothin’ But An Aristotle Thing.” While Chuck Wendig has an edgy tone throughout most of The Kick-Ass Writer, in 17 he turns completely formal and serious about Aristotle’s anagnorisis and peripeteia. Those two terms perfectly describe the staging in the Salzburg 2014 Don Giovanni production, the Commendatore Scene available on Youtube (I’ve written for permission to use the quote).

  • Once again another does of sense, reality and just plain talking = ).

    Although i now know your secret to writing….hire a cheerleader. Where did you go to find yours? Do you hire her pro rata, or is it on a strickly hourly basis? Are the pom poms extra…………….Oh, you were meaning metaphorically get a cheeleader. I quite liked that idea.

  • Thanks for the post! I really needed the heroin here. QUESTION: One of my many, many problems, (besides my shaking pom-poms, which are going south) in writing is that I tend to rehash what I just wrote. (My middle name is Anal) and I’m not moving forward. I have posted I am around 11,ooo words, but in reality its much, much more. I know I somewhat asked this question before, but ideas keep coming to improve that one sentence, paragraph, idea. What’s a Mother to do?
    Thanks, Freezing in Minnesota.

  • I need have this tattooed on my body, which would probably be pretty painful (not to mention, I might bleed to death), so instead I will print it out and hang it on my refrigerator because Lord knows, I look at THAT every day. Once again, thank you.

  • I take exception to your suggestion that writers use sugary snacks a a reward for writing. By doing so, we reinforce the association of crap food with success and contribute to the obesity epidemic that is beating the pretty out of America with a barbed scourge. Met your writing goal for the day? GOOD JOB HAVE A SNICKERS BAR YOU FAT BASTARD!!! A better idea is to reward yourself with a light jog or trip to the gym. And if you fail to meet your writing goals? Stuff your face with those Snickers bars, you loser.

    Disclaimer: Just kidding. (OR AM i?!)

  • Most days I can write 2500 words without breaking a sweat. Some days 5000. I have done 8000. Must have been a huge heroine day. The days I can’t even think of five words that connect into a sentence, I pace and do laundry. Clean clothes are a bonus.

  • Needed this. I’ve been feeling the sludge every time I’ve tried to write for almost a week now. Which is a long time for me to not write. Just this overwhelming sense of it being hard. But the only way to do it, is to do it. Which is what I’m going to go do now.

  • Thank you, Chuck. My writers group (Ink Slingers Guild) just published our 3rd annual anthology and this fantastic addition to your blog *glares at any naysayers* was just referred to on our FB page as a reminder to to keep on writing. Please keep up your awesomeness. ;)

  • As for rewards, despite being a Fat Guy, I’m not much on sweets. I’ll reward myself with an outdoor smoke after every full page, which usually takes an hour. If I do feel a little ragged I’ll take a break, switch over to Youtube, and lift some dumbells for a few minutes to music. Water is great for energy as well. I try to drink a lot of it during the day while writing.

  • I am a visual artist and all of this applies to my work as well ….. I read all your posts and think you are brilliant and …. somehow you remind me that I need to work harder. You are not only brilliant but dedicated to your profession. Keep it coming and…. THANK YOU!!

  • I especially love the idea of Intellectual Energy Points. I feel you. I’m at my sharpest at 6-7 AM. Then I teach middle school all day. By 4 PM, I’m lucky if my brain finds the end of a sentence. If it doesn’t get written in the morning, it probably doesn’t get written at all.

    • I’m the same way. I’ll start writing between 5 and 6 AM, and by noon at the latest I can feel myself getting drained out. I start my day with a prayer to God that includes, among other things, to give me the words as He sees fit. Right now my max allowance seems to be about 2500, tops. But I feel like it’s good work, if still rough. I’ll pray for the editing later :)

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