Overcome Writer's Block Caused by Lack of Motivation

Updated on May 25, 2017
Natalie Frank profile image

Natalie Frank, Ph.D., is a Clinical Psychologist and editor who writes short stories, novellas, poetry, and essays on literature and writing

It is difficult to determine the greatest challenge creative writers or freelance writers (or both) will face. Daily life includes a series of ongoing challenges for those who are trying to make a living as a writer. Countless articles, books, and podcasts exist on how to fight various obstacles to create successful writing habits and outcomes.

These resources can be useful, but the one central challenge never goes away; the challenge of maintaining the will to create and believe in your ability to write something that others will find interesting. The tough reality is that writing is hard. It often isn’t fun and can feel like spending all your time wrestling with a bear. You may have the best bear wrestling skills 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 a writer doesn't feel the same level of threat or urgency, it is important to establish a mindset of writing as a primary part of your life. This means establishing a routine that reflects this firmly held belief. Such a routine 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 yourself engaged even on days when you can’t establish or maintain a consistent level of excitement or inspiration. The truth is, just like any job, even when you are toiling at 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.

Remember that 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 quickly, 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

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Passive and Active Approaches to Viewing and Dealing with Obstacles

The main difference between people who want to write and those who do write is the way they deal with obstacles. For some, obstacles are viewed as insurmountable and overwhelming, sometimes to the point where writing itself becomes demotivating. These people 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 almost always 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 rainmaker. Rainmakers are 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 working on your plot is blocking you with frustration.

The key is the active pursuit of your goal of writing 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, a dry spell may mean having difficulty determining how to continue an idea, while for a freelance writer it may mean figuring out how to approach a list of successive topics in a unique manner. 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 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 and that freelance writers have it easy. Yet, finding a new and unique way of exploring a saturated topic is sometimes impossible, leading to the need to change approaches or switch tracks entirely. There are so many platforms that a freelance writer can use to display his/her talent that there is no excuse not to write. But creative writing is also 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. Both can have a potential wealth of subject material. Neither type of writer can fall back on the excuse they have absolutely no ideas to write about. This makes motivation even more of a problem because there is no excuse, so 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 concludes he/she 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 where 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. 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 writers 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.

Be sure to concentrate your efforts on types of writing 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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Natalie Frank

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      • profile image

        Natalie Frank 

        18 months ago

        You're welcome. Glad you found it useful.

      • profile image

        Rob 

        18 months ago

        Really useful. Thanks for the suggestions.

      • Natalie Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Natalie Frank 

        19 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

        Jean 

        19 months ago

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

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