Dear Writers And Creative-Types: You Don’t Need Motivation


We all have days where we sit in front of the keyboard and we’re just not… feeling it. It’s like trying to dry-hump a cardboard box. It doesn’t feel magical. It doesn’t even feel productive. It feels empty, crass, devoid of any value — mechanical and sad. You can barely even get yourself to make the words happen. Your fingers hover above the keys, or you have the pen poised in your grip and you’re just like:

“Nnnnghyeah, you know what, fuck it. Fuck it all right into outer space.”

You think, I need motivation.

And so you — like I have done and still do today — go in search of that motivation.

You try little tips and tricks. You eat chocolate to reward yourself. You read good books and you read bad books in an effort to urge your own prose forward. You set up your time so that you take 45 minutes to write, and 15 minutes for a social media break. You drink coffee. You read writing advice. You pin up motivational sayings around your office — HANG IN THERE, the kitten commands as it dangles from the branch. Another poster shows a winking beagle puppy telling you how awesome you are. On your left shoulder is a homunculus of me made from beard trimmings and whiskey-soaked book pages and he constantly screams in your ear, ART HARDER, ART HARDER, ART HARDER like some maniac zombie parrot.

Nothing at all wrong with trying to find a way to squeeze a little extra juice out of your writing day. We all get there however we get there and if that means chocolate / coffee / whiskey / motivational posters / screaming wendigs / prostate stimulation then hey, you do you.

But asking about motivation is one of the most common questions I get.

It is, in fact, one of the things you hear about from “aspiring writers” (defined here as writers who do not actually write anything but who sure talk about it a lot). I had a neighbor that explained she too would be a writer someday, and she liked to pull over the car and write whenever she was inspired or motivated and one day she’d find the time to write…

Not the first time I’ve heard something like that.

Won’t be the last time, either.

When I’m inspired.

When I’m motivated.

When I find the time.

These, you’ll note, are external things. They exist outside you. Inspiration, spoken of as if it’s launched square into your face via t-shirt cannon. Motivation, delivered as if it’s a random box from the UPS guy. Time, found laying around like spare change in the couch cushions. (Note that if I found extra time just hanging around, I’d probably do the same thing with it as I would with a twenty I found in my pocket: I’d waste the hell out of it.)

You, just waiting to have these things brought to you.

You, passively beseeching the heavens to deliver you unto the prose.

I gave a talk about this a few days ago, and I prefaced the talk by asking the question:

Which would you prefer:

A present you don’t expect, or a present you do? Meaning, a present given to you as a surprise, or a present delivered by the expected schedule (birthday, Christmas, what-have-you)?

Then, a follow-up question.

Which would you prefer:

A present you don’t expect, or no present when you expect one?

Waiting for motivation or inspiration or time — it’s like expecting a present and receiving none. It’s like waking up on your birthday that nobody remembers, and you stumble around all day hoping that someone will spring out of an alleyway and besiege you with delicious cake or slap a gift into your hands except that doesn’t happen.

Nothing comes and you go to bed, unfulfilled and uncelebrated.

Conjuring little tips and tricks — they work. I know they work. I use them. You use them. But you can also rely on them too much. You can use them to the point that they cease to be tricks and they become cheats — it becomes an act where you are constantly trying to fool yourself into writing. You’re looking for fuel, but can I tell you a secret?

You don’t need fuel.

You generate your own energy.

You generate your own momentum.

You’re equal parts solar panel array and the cuckoo brightness that powers it.

The practical way to demonstrate this is to do what you wanted to do in the first place:

You need to write.

Now, this doesn’t automatically mean to write every day — I personally espouse that as a habit because I come out of a freelance writing background, and I have deadlines to hit and bills to pay and so for the career-driven writer, developing the “write every day” habit has value. But everybody’s process is different, and even some career writers write a few days a week and hit the word count hard when they do. The greatest thing you can do for yourself as a writer is to discover, adapt, and forever hone your process.

No matter how often you choose to write, though, being a writer means —

Well, duh, it means writing.

It’s obvious and reductive and yet bears repeating: writers write. But the value of that is not always so obvious. We assume that writers writing means writers are producing content and that’s the end-all be-all of that reward — you make stuff, and making stuff is cool, so yay to that. That, however, is not where the value ends. Writing builds intellectual muscle. It practices the thing you want to do. It helps you improve. It helps you cultivate instinct. It helps you fail faster, and fail smarter, and failing is a critical component to a creative career — in fact, the majority of the bulk fibrous material that comprises a creative career is pure, unmitigated failure.

To crib the warboy chant from FURY ROAD —

I write!

I fail!

I write again!

Word-Boy! Drive your Word-Rig through the fire tornado of your own doubt! Spray-paint your mouth with black printer ink and leap onto the empty page! Witness! Witness! (If I may quote @lorekeating: “OH WHAT A LOVELY PAGE!”)

But the whole writers write thing earns you another benefit:

Writing motivates you to write more.

That sounds strange, and here you are thinking that you need motivation just to start writing in the first place. But let me tell you — you don’t. Sit down. Put your hands around the throat of the story and just start squeezing. Write anyway. Fuck how weird it feels. Forget failure. You think you suck? Yeah, hey, man, we all suck some days. You start to write, though, it lubricates the gears. It’s like feeling too hungry to eat, but then you take just a bit and the nausea goes away. Writing begets writing. Forcing the motivation forges real motivation. Fake it until you make it.

At the end of the day, it feels somewhat demotivational to suggest that all the little tricks and cheats may fail you in the end — but I’d also hope you’ll take heart that, at the end of the day, EVERYTHING YOU WERE LOOKING FOR WAS WITH YOU ALL ALONG. (hashtag wizard of oz.) You have the power. You have the voodoo. You’ve got the ability to motivate yourself. You needn’t look for external things. You want time? Grab it. You need inspiration? Drill it up out of your own heart. You want motivation? Write. Write your way to it, then write your way through it. You are not beholden to anything outside yourself.

You are beholden only to yourself.

* * *

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? Where are my pants?

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.




Writer’s Digest

68 responses to “Dear Writers And Creative-Types: You Don’t Need Motivation”

  1. Hi Mr. Wendig, It’s funny you posted this today. For the last few hours, Every time I write a scene, the Immortan Joe in my head says: Mediocre! 🙂

  2. YES. I used to find it difficult to motivate myself to write on an ad hoc basis, even though I have always loved writing.

    BUT my life changed when I started writing every day. It was like it opened this giant door in my head and EVERYTHING WAS BETTER.

  3. Sidenote: You should rewrite this Reply section as “Speak your mind, Word-Boys(and Girls)!”

    Your article couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Just yesterday I was chatting with my sister about writing on my project further and, while I did not write further on it, true, I did take a more leap of curiosity approach to writing and said: “I have an entire folder dedicated to drawings I could inspire me to make short stories. Let’s make one!” And I just started writing, albeit a bit too late in the night, as I needed to go to bed and the last 30 minutes before that I began writing the beginning of the story, so yeah, not all that great timing.
    I wanted to write! Even if it was not for my main project, it was still writing and I found motivation to do so. :>
    I would favorite this if I could ^_^

  4. Fanfiction was invaluable to kickstarting my writing process after years of not writing. It’s not perfect, obviously, but not only does fanfiction remove the burden of worldbuilding (you can work on that later), but you can put the word out in fan spaces for prompts, or use an automatic generator. Even if you utterly despise Lily/Snape apologists, trying to fill that prompt without vomiting in your mouth a little is a valuable plotting challenge. And there’s nothing to stop you harvesting your own work for more original material. (Personally, some of the best writing I’ve ever done has been for fan stuff that I personally am really, really not into.)

  5. If I can ask, here, Chuck, you inadvertently created the perfect label for a creature I was trying to name in an ongoing piece of writing of mine. A ‘screaming Wendig’ is just what this story fits, and what fits it. Would you mind if I used this?

  6. ‘I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.’

    Truer words were never spoken.

    I’ve interacted a lot with would-be writers who seem to think that writing is a magical, mysterious process, made possible only by the whim of a ‘muse’ or when fairy-dust and unicorn farts combine to create this wondrous thing called ‘motivation’.

    And it’s all nonsense. Motivation isn’t necessarily something that floats up out of nowhere and fills your brain with exquisite prose. Motivation is something you build for yourself.

    How do I motivate myself? By telling myself that if I don’t write this story, no one will. I want to share my words with the world? Better get down to work then. Books don’t write themselves.

  7. I never need motivation to write, I have to force myself from writing. I need motivation to rewrite. And to do the dishes. I still have not convinced my brain that rewrites are writing.

    • To me, rewrites are where the “real” story starts coming to life (whatever ‘real’ means). It is one reason I have trouble just writing the first draft, without going back to nitpik punctuation and structure before I should. I think once you convince yourself that rewriting really is writing, you will see your work improve. As for the dishes, can’t help you there-that’s why I use paper plates whenever I can get away with it.

      • I buy chores (including dishes) from my husband and pay with word counts. Rewrite days are low word count days 🙂 I am doing serious rewriting now, probably for the first time ever, hopefully I will grow into it like I did daily writing, where I enjoy it. I really look forward to that day.

  8. I’ve always liked the Jack London quote: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

  9. Now I want cake.

    I used to wonder why people who have trouble finding the motivation to write want to be writers. Then I came to understand that they have stories to tell and believe that the only way to tell those stories is to write. Maybe we need more campfires and quiet pubs and TO F-ING MAKE TIME TO SIT STILL and listen to oral storytellers and to value them.

  10. I find what motivates me is the writing itself. Even if I come to the keyboard stomping my feet and whining, once I start putting words to the screen things start flowing. Somedays it’s like a wild and crazy off road journey, but first you gotta push the tires out of the mud.

  11. This is exactly what I’ve been working on lately: at seven every morning (as much as it hurts me) I’m on my way to the shower and a cup of coffee so I can hit the word count before classes begin. Even if all I want is to go back to sleep because my neighbours ensured I only got a few hours of shut-eye. Your recommendation of 350 words is a good lead-in to toughening the writing muscles, too.

    Now, sometimes I put off my writing for homework, but I’m kind of proud of my grades/don’t want to disappoint my professors. So, I mean… And the writing is getting done anyway. Eventually. There’s not a hole in my daily writing calendar since I started.

  12. I laughed so hard,out loud, coffee came squirting out my nose – and I’m in the office. People in the little grey cubes around me are wondering what the hell is so funny and it would be pointless to tell them because they are corporate drones and would not understand. This is freaking brilliant. Thank you, Chuck Wendig. Thank you!

  13. Now I have to tear my office apart because obviously you have hidden cameras in here. I have the attention span of a mosquito and this whole piece might as well have been titled, “Pay Attention, Molly!” Thank you, Chuck. Now where’s my crowbar?

  14. I couldn’t agree more with every word. I had emergency surgery while on vacation and between the trip and the recovery my writing schedule got blown apart. When I had to lay down I kept a notebook with me and I wrote a few ideas, mostly about characters being injured. When I could sit up for longer than 3 minutes I would stare at my computer and fret. Nothing was happening. The more nothing happened the more upset I got. Eventually I came across a ‘story a day’ challenge and decided maybe it could help me.

    I wrote a story that first day and it sucked. I wrote one the next and it was fine. Now halfway through I’ve written some awesome ones and some more sucky ones. The point is I wrote. I realized I didn’t need motivation, I didn’t need inspiration. I needed a fracking kick in the pants. My awful story on day one may have been bad but it was easy to write. I hadn’t needed a challenge to get me going, I simply needed to make myself get going.

    I’ve hated most of the prompts in the challenge but still managed to write something daily. Hell I can manage to do that without prompts! I’ll never tell myself I need motivation again. If I feel unmotivated I’m really being lazy and making the choice not to write.

  15. I look at my bank balance in relation to my bills and the panic transforms into “motivation.”

    “On your left shoulder is a homunculus of me made from beard trimmings and whiskey-soaked book pages and he constantly screams in your ear, ART HARDER, ART HARDER, ART HARDER like some maniac zombie parrot.”

    Um, when are you setting up the CafePress store to sell these BECAUSE SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY I WANT ONE!!!

  16. I’m bowing and scraping in your general direction, sirrah. I’ve been playing computer games for weeks now in order to avoid the suck I’m positive will come out of my keyboard. Your post has flung my fear right back at me and muttered, “Writers gotta write. You know that. Get to it.” So, yeah, gonna write today.

  17. Does this apply to generating ideas to write about? That’s where I struggle. When I have something going, no problem. But I don’t have wells of inspiration to draw upon. Perhaps a post about this?

    • One of my favorite writing books that I came across on a discount rack at a used bookstore is “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. She advocates free-writing… the act of sitting down and moving your pen until something interesting comes out of it. Whenever I can’t seem to make my story happen I try to go back to this… and just make words happen. But I have the opposite problem, too many ideas and not enough words. I don’t think I would have started writing seriously if I didn’t have one of my stories slap me hard in the face and say “Sit and write this down Bitch!”

    • Also recommended is BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott, as well as IF YOU WANT TO WRITE by Brenda Ueland. Both of these books helped me a lot to just let go of my internal censor and just write.

  18. I just recently went through a nightmare period where everything I was writing was NOT working. I finally figured out I was trying to force the story down a wrong path. Once I grasped the grand epiphany that put me on the right track I found myself going backwards and throwing out a lot of material… but the happy part was that I had discovered a great deal about the characters while they were following a false trail. I’ve found them a bit richer than they would have been if I hadn’t lost that 6 months in telling the wrong story. It’s discouraging to realize that you’ve had that kind of set back, but it makes for good compost.

  19. Omg. You’re right. I was that lady. Ulg. So I was like, fine, whatever. I pulled up a blank page and wrote down this half-assed *sort -of* an idea/sentence I’d been having in a vague, shimmery kind of way for a while. I sat there for a while and along comes another sentence, sort of attached to the first one…and so on. Bottom line, I made some marks on the page. F’ing ‘ay! It works. Scary.

  20. I think way too many people are caught up in the belief that motivation is necessary to do anything in life. Think of how many people say that they just don’t /feel/ like exercising, or they don’t /feel/ like doing their homework or the dishes, etc. Tell you what, I often don’t feel like going to work but off I go each morning! People who are serious about getting stuff done get to work even when they don’t feel 110% in the mood for it.

  21. Couldn’t agree more! I write full-time and I’ve encountered too many people to count that do the whole “Oh. I’ll write when I have the time.” or “When the kids move out.” or “When I walk the dog/wash my hair/dry my hair/shave the cat.” I write many posts about this very topic that just when someone makes one excuse, they’re going to make another on top of it. The cycle never ends.

    The kiss of death for me is getting the one of “I have this awesome story! But I’m laaaaazzzzy! Teehee!”

    I must apologize to those that make the “I’m lazy” comment because I ain’t got no effin’ time or sympathy for that bullshit.

    You wanna write, you do it. You got a million and three obligations, you make the time to do it.

    Funny enough how I’ve been mainlining the Fury Road score for two days now while hauling ass on my current MS.


  22. I like this post. WOOT WOOT. Writing can be mundane. People who always think it’s magical and romantic are right — when the inspiration hits, it DOES feel amazing. But it’s odd to expect it to feel like that ALL the time.

    I can usually force myself to write even when I don’t feel motivated, but I like to think that I’m becoming more able to recognize when I should do that and when I *shouldn’t* make myself write — when the lack of motivation is actually something deeper. Part of me managing illness (mental and physical) is making sure I have down-time (mental and physical). This weekend was an example of that. I just…crashed. And did basically nothing, just little piddly things like watering my plants and assembling a bookshelf and bingeing bad horror movies on Netflix to stave off the inevitable stress breakdown. I’ve had some form of depression long enough to know by now that forcing myself to work through a slump only makes it worse.

    But, today I got up and did my writing things. Only to realize that I missed 2 freelance deadlines and was almost too late to accept an offer for a new gig. So…was it worth it? I don’t know; it’s a toss-up. I’m going to work through what’s overdue, quickly and without nonsense, and while I’ll feel vaguely guilty I also know that taking the “break” means I won’t feel completely overwhelmed by this or upcoming projects. And, ya know, hopefully they won’t fire my ass. If they do, I’d be sad, but I think I could live with that, because self-care is important and I know what my mental and physical limits are.

  23. Thank you Chuck — the notion ‘it’s all inside you’ is one I repeat to myself, to the tune of The Cars song “In Stereo,” famously used in the Fast Times At Ridgemont High film, where Judge Reinhold is in the bathroom, watching Phoebe Cates.

  24. […] The lists of what I should be doing seem endless. And maybe that’s why I keep ignoring them. I look at the whole thing and get overwhelmed. So many projects, so little discipline. And it is a discipline problem, not a motivational one. If people – especially creative types – waited until they had proper motivation, nothing would ever be created. (Premier Penmonkey and newest Star Wars author Chuck Wendig has his latest rant on the topic here.) […]

  25. Lovely! I would like to slip in a little caveat — one I think you may have used before — that if someone is experiencing clinical depression, then even showing up at the page may not be enough. In my case, depression mixed with menopause. After having published 20 books, I was reduced to years of alternating between bursts of forcing myself to produce vast pages of ash and emptiness, and then hiding from my seriously unfulfilling writing in a miserable heap. HOWEVER: With the right anti-depressant and the right hormonal supplements, danged if it’s finally coming back (*touching wood–not that kind!–and throwing salt*). The universe is resolving itself into the beautiful one you describe. When I write, the veil between me and that Other World thins toward transparency like it used to, some days only thin enough to let in light and shadows, some days see-through fragile. Write more? See more. That’s how it was supposed to work! Still, if others are out there berating themselves for the ash and emptiness, know that brain and body chemistry can also have an effect.

  26. I’ve often used that old chestnut of “Oh, if I could only get a break from all the housework and cooking and cleaning for everyone, I’d have sooo much more time to write!” If this last week-and-a-half has taught me anything, it’s ‘be careful what you wish for…’

    Two Tuesdays ago I was rushed off to hospital with severe pain all down my right leg and a temperature hovering at around 104 – NOT what I’d planned as part of a productive day. I then spent a week lying in bed, being intravenously pumped with double-doses of three different antibiotics and morphine, occasionally draped with ice-water compresses to try and get my temperature down and at one point even put on oxygen. And yet whenever I was lucid enough, all I could think of was my w-i-p and how much I was not writing it. IT SUCKED.

    I managed to get my husband to bring in a notepad and pen for me after a couple of days, so that was some compensation (particularly since the combo of morphine and double-IVs of antibiotics made for some crazy-ass dreams that I intend to use in a story or two some way, somehow in the future) but now I feel like my w-i-p and I have gone through a kind of trial separation and we have to reconnect with each other again (should I buy it flowers and chocolates and remind it of all the good times we’ve shared?)

    I’m supposed to sit/lie with my leg elevated as much as possible for at least the next couple of weeks as part of my recovery process – it’s propped up on a cooler box while I sit at a freaky angle to my computer desk as I type this. But I’m fighting like heck to get my mojo back, ’cause… oh blimey, I thought having a ‘legitimate’ excuse to not write for a while would make me feel BETTER about taking a break from it, but it’s just made me feel WORSE instead!

    So yeah, in summary… don’t try this one at home, folks.

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