Avoid Writer Madness
6 definitive ways to stay
motivated as a writer
I don’t know about you but staying motivated to write is hard. There’s always something family or friends related that seems more important, or something that actually makes money like a job or a freelance project that gets in the way. Writing always seems to be a third or fourth item on my plan for the day, and other things always eventually push in.
If I don’t have a good writing session for an extended period (usually about a month) I start to feel anxiety about getting things done. I’m more direct and short with the people around me. I will even find myself skipping out on fun activities I actually do have time for because I have this feeling I haven’t done enough that day. I like to call this state of mind Writer Madness. The reason for the name is because I often can’t figure out what the problem is. I toss and turn when I sleep. I wake in a bad mood each morning, and I often stop the little steps I should take each day to reach for my other goals.
It feels like I’m crazy, and the longer I don’t write, the longer the madness lasts and the more anxious I get. My Writer Madness got worse when I finally decided to make writing a career choice rather than just something I might do one day. Now, if I don’t write, I feel like I’m putting my future family in danger.
Ironically enough, this anxiety doesn’t make being motivated as a writer any easier. But I’ve talked with hundreds of writers and many other publishing professionals and there are a few things you can learn and do that will help you out.
1. Realize that writer’s block is a myth.
Writer’s block isn’t some mental barrier holding back the flood of words we are trying so desperately to capture. Writer’s block is more like a sixth sense, an intuition that something isn’t right. If you feel like you can’t continue writing a story, it’s because something is wrong with your story. Whatever is wrong in your story, I can’t tell you, but your reader and writer intuitions are telling you that something in your story isn’t right. It might be a character or your plot, it might be that you have used to heavy a hand in forcing your characters down the path you planned before you started writing. It can be something as small as an individual word choice, or something as big as a character that needs to be ripped from the story. Whatever it is that is stopping you from writing, it isn’t that invisible and impenetrable wall we believe it to be. It is just something wrong, some issue you can fix, which will then free up your mind to keep writing. This was taught to me by one of my writing teachers in college, and since then, it’s been a guiding principle for my writing. If I’m stuck and can’t figure what’s wrong, I’ll switch to writing something new based on a writing prompt. If when I come back, I still haven’t figured it out, I’ll switch to a project I might be working on strictly for fun or one that I’m revising. Eventually, when I come back to the manuscript that had me stuck, all of that other writing will have helped me figure out what is wrong. This one thing has helped me work through writer’s madness more times than I can count, because now I have something to focus on, and I know I can write something else if I’m too stuck to continue.
2. Writing Groups.
I’ve had a writing group for the last three years. We met in a creative writing class and kept in touch by forming the group. There’s four of us, we meet weekly, but we only focus on two people each week. That means I have a two week period in which I can get an entry together for my group. Having that deadline socially enforced (since I feel bad when I contribute nothing) has kept me writing around 1500 words every two weeks. It might not be much, but it’s allowed me to finish a novel, pitch a couple news ones, and share knowledge about writing and world building. My writing group has been one of the best motivators, because not only is my writing getting finished, but someone is looking at it right away and giving me immediate feedback on how I can improve. Finding a writing group can be as simple as a google search, since there are tons of online groups. If you aren’t as comfortable with that, you can find chapters of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators or the SCBWI. They will often have a chapter in your city or in a more major city nearby that will have a monthly group. But the best way I’ve found to find a group is to take a writing class that focuses on your genre or go to a writing conference workshop, preferably a workshop that spans an entire week. This allows you to get to know the people before you ask to form a group with them, eliminates the need to group with online strangers, and lets you see what kind of writing advice they give. Once you’ve found a few you’d like to invite, approach them and simply ask. You can only benefit from having a group. It holds off Writer’s Madness because you have to write weekly or monthly, and keeps you motivated to write so you can contribute to the group.
3. Celebrate the small victories.
As writers, we can be very down on ourselves if we don’t see the wordcount on the page that we want. We say to ourselves, “You only wrote 300 words today, what’s wrong with you?” or we start blaming the world or our distractions. If you turn that dialogue around, and say to yourself, “Today was awesome, I wrote 300 words. In those 300 words I did ______” and you fill in the blank with something achieve in those 300 words, it’ll change a lot of your outlook on writing. You’ll get up the next day having had a positive experience with writing the day before, a small one I know, but a positive one, which will make it easier to sit down and keep writing, holding off the madness for another month.
4. Give yourself a deadline.
Despite this one not working very well for me, I know many writers that give themselves deadlines to have the novel finished, or even smaller ones like getting a chapter finished in a week. As soon as they set themselves a deadline, they get it done. While personal deadlines don’t work for me, external ones work wonders. National Novel Writing Month (NanoWrimo) is a “competition” set in the month of November (there are sometimes groups that do it over the summer) that gives you a month to write 50,000 words. I’ve only done it once, but that once I finished my first ever completed draft of a novel. The competition element is only with yourself. You’re challenging yourself to write 1,700 words or so a day for 30 days, and if you do it, you get this great certificate of completion. You also can find groups of writers that are participating in your area (another place to find a writing group) and have a great time writing with people. I’ll have to tell you about my experience meeting up with a group of ten people at a coffee shop to write another day, but it was incredibly motivating to be surrounded by writers who were simply set on making that deadline of 50,000 words in 30 days.
5. Personal Consequence Contracts.
This one is what works best for me. A personal consequence contract is essentially like any other contract you might sign. It states what your responsibility is to fulfil the contract, as well as the consequences if you do not fulfil the contract. The difference is that you make the contract with yourself, and then have someone you trust enforce the consequences. For me, that person is my wife. If I haven’t gotten my words in, she takes my phone, puts away the PS4 controllers, and makes me write. Admittedly, this option does require that you have someone close to you, or someone that you interact with every day who will enforce the contract, but I found that the simple knowledge that my consequences for not writing are not solely in my own hands has helped me to keep writing each day.
6. Same time of day or restricted time limit.
If you’re someone with a regular schedule, setting a regular time to write each day takes the scheduling guess work out of it. You know that you write from 4am to 5am and that’s that. You don’t have to try and fit it in between family and work, unless that time is the best time. Extending this concept, maybe you don’t have a regular schedule, but you usually have about an hour at some point in the day where you don’ have anything. What you can do is then write for that hour, whenever it shows up. As soon as you have some time, set a timer for an hour (or less or more) and just write. Don’t let yourself be distracted, just write. By the end of whatever time period you’ve set for yourself, you’ll have achieved some word count, a word count you can then celebrate because you did it
However you do it, keep looking for ways to motivate yourself. Writing is a very solitary art, and when we can motivate ourselves to write, we can finish any manuscript, any blog post, any article. I use everything I listed above personally. Try them all, try them one at a time, or try none of them, it’s up to you. But if you don’t try these suggestions, find others and, as always,