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Overcome Writer's Block Caused by Lack of Motivation

Updated on March 2, 2017
Natalie Frank profile image

Natalie Frank (Taye Carrol), a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology; publishes short stories, flash fiction, novellas & prose poetry.

It is difficult to determine the greatest challenge faced whether you want to be a creative writer, a freelance writer or both. There are a series of ongoing challenges day to day when trying to make a living and a life as a writer. Countless articles, books and podcasts exist on how to fight different obstacles to successful writing habits and outcomes.

These resources can be useful but the essential challenge never goes away. Basically, this is maintaining the will to create and believe in your ability to create something that others will find interesting. Blocking that is the tough reality that writing is hard work that often isn’t fun and can be like spending all your time wrestling with a bear. You may have the best bear wrestling skill around, but if nothing inspires you to take on the animal it will not be much of a match.

Facing a bear you are inspired, of course, by the will to live. While not the same level of threat or insistency, it is important if you truly want to write, to establish mindset where you come to see writing as a primary part of your life. This means establishing a routine that reflects this firmly held belief. This is especially helpful on days when it seems the will, inspiration or drive to produce is just not there.

Even with a set routine, it is important to find ways to help keep your interest in place even on days when you can’t establish or maintain a level of excitement or inspiration. The truth is, just like any job, even when you are toiling in something you love, you are still toiling and more days than not you won’t feel like leaping out of bed because the muse has come calling.

A good thing to remember is being at a constant level of excitement over your work would not be healthy. In fact, it would likely wear out your desire and drive in short order leaving you feeling burnt out and used up. Strive to establish and maintain a level of motivation that even if not constant is always present at a high enough level to enable you to continue writing and working towards your short and long term goals.

Poll: Motivation to Write

How often does lack of motivation prevent you from writing?

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Passive and Active Approaches to Viewing and Dealing with Obstacles

The main difference between those who want to write and those who do write are how obstacles are viewed. For some, obstacles are viewed as insurmountable and overwhelming to the point the entire thought of writing becomes something to avoid. These are the people who want to write but don’t seem to be able to do so. They believe at some point they will find a way to overcome this negative experience of writing and tell themselves it’s okay to wait until a positive mindset takes hold.

This way of thinking is passive and is usually bound to fail. Contrary to popular belief, lightning bolts in the form of earth shattering, electrifying ideas and plots almost never strike. If you want the rain to fall and the lightning to strike it is up to you to become a rain maker.

Rainmakers are those people who don’t just want to write but who do write. They perceive the same obstacles but don’t see them as a huge wall over which they cannot climb. Instead they envision an obstacle course, with challenges that they can successfully navigate.

Sometimes successfully navigating means trying a number of different methods and techniques. Sometimes it may even mean letting yourself write badly without judgement just to keep up the habit of writing. If you are a freelance writer this may mean producing an article or blog post for a site that doesn’t pay while searching for paying gigs. For creative writers this may take the form of journaling or free writing when continuing with the plot is blocking you with frustration.

The key is active pursuit of your goal to write instead of passively waiting for a muse to knock who will whisper sweet nothings into your ear in the form of article ideas, revenue sources, story lines and plot points. If you truly want to write, tell yourself to get on with it and do so. If you want to be a freelance writer, do your homework, do the research and get your name out there. If you want to be a creative writer, keep notebooks of character sketches, interesting bits of conversation overheard, story ideas inspired during the day and prompts or exercises you have found useful or want to try out.

Motivation and Self Confidence

The difference between freelance writing and creative writing is not the creative part. Freelance writers and creative writers both have times when it seems the creativity well has run dry. For a creative writer, this may mean difficulty determining how to continue an idea creatively while for a freelance writer figuring out how to approach a list of successive topics in a novel manner may be the issue. Regardless, no matter what type of writing you engage in there will be times when you feel like the writing is flowing in a way that will interest readers and other times when the writing doesn’t even really interest you. That’s part of the process.

With the Internet, there are now so many outlets for creating content online that it seems like there is no end to the number of articles, posts, podcasts and tweets on practically any topic you can think of. For those not in the business of creating content regularly, it may seem like any subject can lead to a good article so freelance writers have it easy. Yet finding a new and unique way of exploring a topic can sometimes appear impossible and may be, leading to the need to change approaches or switch tracks entirely. There are so many platforms that a freelance writer can use to display their talent there is no excuse not to write. Yet given that creative writing is generated largely from made up stories on the author’s part, it can also feel like there is no excuse for a creative writer not to write. They just have to make up something else.

Neither type of writer, it seems, can fall back on the excuse they have absolutely no ideas to write about. This makes motivation even more of a problem in that without a plausible excuse, not writing can lead to major self- confidence issues. When the problem is a lack of motivation but is viewed as a lack of viable ideas, writer often conclude they don’t have what it takes to succeed in the profession

Lack of confidence often develops into a separate problem that further erodes motivation. It can also establish a mindset whereby the writer doesn’t recognize the lack of motivation as something that can be overcome. Instead they tell themselves they don’t have the talent to write and shouldn’t waste their time pursuing the endeavor, turning something that can be addressed into something inherent that can’t be corrected for. Yet, while some view motivation as something that is also intrinsic to the person, there are ways to change your thinking about the problem and strategies that can help address it that will make a real difference in your ability to achieve your writing goals. It is also important to remember that there will be times you don’t write as well as you would like. There will also be times when you may end up throwing out a day’s work. The trick is to know it’s not the end of the world and that you will get back on track with better results. Being able to believe that is the key to overcoming bad days without it knocking down your self-confidence.

Motivation: How to Address the Greatest Challenge to All Writers

By far, the most common obstacles cited by writers revolve around lack of motivation. This may be lack of motivation to begin writing or to continue writing once you have begun. Almost half of writer experience one or both of these problems. These difficulties essentially involve much of what is discussed above.

Motivation to begin writing and persevere is wonderful. However, if you believe you must always be motivated and feel excited about your writing before you can write you could still be waiting for inspiration to strike when you could have written a complete trilogy, or several for that matter. You can motivate yourself to start and continue writing in a number of ways. Join a writing group, take a class at a local venue or online, get personal feedback through a critique group or look for online prompts, ideas and exercises. Try going to a conference or author event such as a signing. Create rewards that you will work towards.

A powerful motivator is having your work published. For fiction writing and poetry, find submission opportunities that have a good chance of accepting your work. Look for calls for anthologies as these usually have a theme if not a well-defined prompt. If you meet the criteria set you have a better chance of being published in a themed anthology than you do in publications that just want you to “send your best work.” Writers who write on almost any idea in almost any genre can submit to publications that just call for your best work. However, only those who feel they can write a good piece on the topic of the prompt will submit to an anthology.

For articles, blog posts and other efforts to establish a reputation as you work to earn money from your writing try efforts that get your content viewed. A great way to do this is to guest posting for popular blogs. If you write a blog you are familiar with the continuous effort it takes to publish regular posts on a regular schedule. Even the most popular bloggers experience the same struggle. Most will welcome someone who pitches a post that fits with their blog and offers to write a guest post. You can also link back to your blog, or even social media page. This will increase your impact from one guest post among the bloggers regular posts to becoming known by those who appreciate your writing and want to read more.

This being said, when going for motivation this isn’t the time to challenge yourself by writing in a genre you’ve never tried before or to learn about a hot, trending topic you know nothing about. There are other times when pushing your boundaries can add to your skill level. When in need of motivation you want to find something that rewards your efforts, gives you a positive feeling about your writing and which, ideally, can be shared with others. Having you work published in an anthology or a guest blog post written on a popular, extensively viewed blog can be just what it takes to more fully establish motivation and keep it from flagging.

Carry out searches regularly to identify calls for submissions that are open to beginners and emerging authors and have a high acceptance rate. Also look for special issues or publications that has extended a call for submissions. This often means they didn’t receive enough work they want to publish and are eager to accept additional work to meet their publishing schedule. Look for announcements inviting guest blog posts, article or position papers and search for the most updated lists for the year. These have the greatest chances of still needing posts. Make sure the blog or website comes up on the first page of search results when you search for the topic or niche and type of platform.

Many people find setting word count goals and rewarding themselves when they reach one to be an effective inducement. Use an app like Pacemaker which helps you set realistic goals and provides the means to visually see your progress. For creative writing, National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is a great way to inspire motivation in a number of ways including word count, camaraderie, the support of a community, resources and special offers for participants. For blog writing join the A-Z Blog Challenge in April which will give you a set goal per day which is easily obtainable, a community of support and bragging rights which will serve as a reward when you succeed.

Concluding Remarks

There is no doubt that writing is a difficult, demanding and lonely enterprise. Regardless of what type of writing you practice, you’ve got to come up with an idea, determine if it’s worth writing about and then get the words down on an empty page or screen in a room, often by yourself. Even when you’ve mastered this piece of the creative process, you still have the job of showing up and writing every day, publishing your work and finding an audience.

The path of every writer is filled with creative, personal and business challenges that can wear away initial motivation and impact a writer’s self-confidence. It’s important to accept that maintaining a certain level of motivation, even on your worst writing days, is part of the work that needs to be done. Understanding that there are ways to accomplish this is the first step to establishing a successful writing life. Determining what strategies work for you and using them regularly will keep you moving toward your writing goals and decrease the times you feel ready to give up and throw in the towel.

© 2017 Natalie Frank

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    • profile image

      Jean 2 months ago

      Great article. Great advice. Thanks for giving me a bunch of things to think about. I plan to try some of this.

    • Natalie Frank profile image
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      Natalie Frank 2 months ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks for the positive feedback! I'm glad you find it useful. I hope some of my other posts will also be helpful to you.

    • profile image

      Rob 2 months ago

      Really useful. Thanks for the suggestions.

    • profile image

      Natalie Frank 2 months ago

      You're welcome. Glad you found it useful.

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