From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, August 11, 2014

10 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Write

We all have those days.

So many things can zap your motivation. Maybe you got five hours of sleep. Maybe its a gorgeous day outside. Maybe it was a particularly hard day at work. Maybe its none of these things but just general blah-ness.

So what do you do when this happens? Muses are known for their fickle nature, and we can be more productive when we don't have to rely on them for our motivation. We want to to be able to be productive even when the muse seems to be missing.

Here are a few ways that help me rustle up some motivation when the normal flow has run dry.

1. Talk to other writers: This is one of the most helpful strategies for me when my motivation is lacking. On those days, often talking to other writers can sort of give you vicarious motivation. Talking to my writer friends, almost more than anything else, helps me re-feel my excitement, and remember what I love about writing, and why I'm doing this. On a specific level, even though I am definitely on the Say-Nothing-About-My-Project-Till-Its-Done end of the spectrum, talking vaguely about my projects helps me remember the exciting parts and the bits I super love. I firmly believe we humans are not solitary creatures, even us writers, and talking with other writers who relate to what we're going to can be incredibly valuable.

And remember, even if you don't know many writers personally, this is one of the best things about the internet and the blogosphere. There is a whole online community of writers who are willing to support you. (And in case any of you think you don't know many online writers either, my email is on the contact page and all my social media is at the buttons to the left :)

2. Visit a bookstore or library: This is one of my go-to strategies when bad days happen. I head on over to my local Barnes and Noble and just spend an hour or so running my fingers over spines of all the beautiful books. I read cover copy and look at pretty cover images. This is where we can physically visualize our end goal. At least that's how I feel. We can see the store shelves where our book would be. We can imagine our book next to all the others. We can see the folks wandering the store, and remember that the book they're lifting off the shelves might one day be ours. And that can be powerful motivation indeed.

3. Listen to pump-up music: I think music is a force that can change ones mood faster than almost anything else. Music sets its own tone, no matter where you are. Music can help when you need a quick boost. What's your favorite pump-up music? Here's one of my favorite pump-up songs, called This Year by the phenomenal Mountain Goats.

4. Read a bit of your favorite book: Sometimes just holding your favorite childhood book can make a bad day better. I just like the look of my old edition of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I love reading paragraphs from Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte or Wallace Stegner. Or reading chapter 33 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (Seriously. That Snape chapter makes the list of like the greatest things in all of literature. Next to the artwork by Don Wood in Piggies.) Best books are like comfort food. So pick up a Boxcar Children's book and remember why you love this in the first place.

5. Take a cat nap: Our mental health and physical bodies are very connected. Sometimes it's no longer an issue of mind over matter; sometimes your body is just tired. So take a quick nap. It can do wonders. Especially if you do it with an actual cat.

6. Go on a dog walk:  Meaning take a bit of time out in nature. I mean, it seems kind of counter-intuitive to recommend going outside when we're trying to get motivation to keep ourselves in a chair at our desks, but sometimes counter-intuitive works. Sometimes we just need a breath of fresh air to clear our heads. And like step 5, it works best with an actual dog :)

7. Read a poem: Imagine a concert pianist that feels blocked. One of the best things for that pianist to do might be to go back to the basics and start running scales. In a lot of ways reading or writing poetry can do that for a writer. I mean, its a little different because poetry is a full piece of art in and of itself, and by no means "basic." But poetry can bring you to sort of the core of literature better than anything else. It's word-power in its most condensed form. That can be a powerful punch and be like ice-water on a sleeping muse.

8. Work in a different medium: Maybe you like to sketch or play guitar or fiddle with photo-shop. Sometimes making art in a medium other than words can be the refresher you need to get out of your slump. It can be rejuvenating. Go crochet or work in your garden or buy sculpting clay even you never have before. Working in a new way or place can hopefully get the creative juices flowing that you can then use as fuel when you go back to your writing.

9. Watch a movie: I am a firm believer in the power of cinema. I think watching movies or tv shows on a slow motivation day serves a dual purpose. It can be creatively inspiring. I have gotten some of my best ideas from my favorite movies and shows. But since watching movies takes less mental effort, it can also be one of the best ways to give your brain a break, and sometimes that's just what you need. At least I do. I find movies the best solution for when I'm feeling worn down. Like I said, it's the best combination of mental break and creative stimulation. So on your next down day pop in Babe. Or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Or re-watch an entire season of The Office. I won't judge.

10. Sit down, one sentence: Okay. The thing is, all of these strategies can help, but what it really comes down to is just getting words on a page. Sometimes that can feel incredibly overwhelming, like hiking a mountain. But the longest hike starts with one step, and that's all you have to think about. All you have to think about is sitting down and putting out one sentence. Just one. Just start with that. If you're having a really drained day and need to stop after one sentence, let yourself do that. Then go on a walk with a dog and nap with a cat and pop in a Disney movie. But more often than not, I'm betting after one sentence another will come. And maybe even another. Maybe even an entire paragraph, even a page, which is a huge victory on some days.

I hope these strategies help. What do you do to motivate yourself to write?

Write on!

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  • Dogwood Magazine: Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and Prose will begin accepting entries of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the 2014-2015 issue and contest on July 1, with a deadline of Sept. 5. A prize of $1000 goes to one winning entry, with two additional entries receiving $250 each. Due Sep. 1
  • New Delta ReviewNew Delta Review seeks entries for the second annual Ryan R. Gibbs Award for Short Fiction, a contest judged by the amazing Roxane Gay, author of An Untamed State and Bad Feminist. We are looking for a full narrative in a small package (1500 words or less). Winner will receive a $500 prize and publication in the winter issue of New Delta Review. Due Oct. 4.
  • Medical Literary Messenger: The Medical Literary Messenger is now accepting submissions of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, photography, and visual art for our Fall 2014 issue. We are an online journal that promotes humanism and healing by publishing honest and engaging narratives by physicians, patients, and caretakers. Due Sept. 1
  • River Teeth Nonfiction Book ContestRiver Teeth's editors and editorial board conduct a yearly national contest to identify the best book-length manuscript of literary nonfiction. All manuscripts are screened by the head editors of River Teeth. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication by The University of New Mexico Press. Due Oct. 15



  1. Agree with you on the music and movies!
    I have a couple writer friends I bounce ideas off and they can really help when I'm stuck.

    1. Movies and music can truly work wonders :) Same with good writing buddies!

  2. yeah, I do #9 a lot, especially tv shows, in fact, I think I always end up watching even more when I'm unmotivated.

    actually, I think the best thing to do is not to write. I hate the idea of forcing myself to do something I cannot. #10 is definitely a good idea as I think the less you give yourself to write, the less the pressure and certainly, it is quite the easiest thing to do, well, that is, if you can do it.

    I have read another a post on this just a week ago and the advice are completely different but I think people really should stop listening to other people and just do what they wan to do but sometimes having these advice are helpful so I completely approve all these.

    and that's my two cents on this. have a great day.

    1. Yes, I hope a lot of these strategies can kind of gently massage our muses back into action rather than resorting to more brute force. And a wide variety of advice and opinion is one of the great things about the blogosphere :) That's cool you read a different post on this same topic. Thank you so much for your comments!

  3. Thanks for a really helpful post - and your Spotlights are excellent too! I definitely agree that hearing from other writers is useful, and blogging is great for that. I also find that reading newspapers or news websites really helps motivate me to write - there are some extraordinary stories out there and I'm often inspired by real life stories. The same goes for some 'reality' shows though you do have to watch the quality (!) Documentaries too... there's nothing stranger than real life. We have a show in the UK called 'Long Lost Family' in which people adopted as children and birth parents search for each other and are reunited. It addresses some of the issues from the novel I'm working on and often gives me very useful insights.

    1. So glad this helps! And blogging is indeed one of the best ways to meet and communicate with other writers, and get that fellowship motivation. I'm a reality TV fan too :) Lately we've been watching Face Off on the SyFy channel. It's one of my favorites because its all about art and creativity, but also the contestants are truly supportive and helpful of each other, which you don't often see on reality competition shows. The show you mentioned definitely sounds intriguing!

    2. I definitely read, take walks, and take naps when I hit a brick wall.

      Great post!

      Hugs and chocolate!

  4. Love your post. I usually pick up a book on writing and get inspired by something in the pages. :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette


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