Ah, how to start…
You know that feeling? The churn in your stomach as you stare at the blank page – when the words are inconveniently not writing themselves.
Or perhaps you’re thinking about the book you want to publish – but it’s inconsiderately not creating itself.
Or, there’s the smallest task you know would take five minutes – but it feels like a looming mountain to climb.
Will it ever happen? Is it just a dream in the distant future?
That depends on your mindset.
Back in April, I’d been planning my book for six months, but hadn’t written a word of it (besides some scribbled notes). I think I needed that time to collate my ideas – but I’d have to draft at some point, otherwise it would remain an untold story gathering dust in my imagination. So what was the ground-breaking thing I did?
I wrote… a sentence! Then I looked at it, realised I had no clue what to do next, and stuffed it into a drawer. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps I hoped that a little house-brownie would cast a spell, and I’d open the drawer to find a fully-formed book where the paper had been. Or maybe I was simply struggling to find motivation.
When I say motivation, I mean the surge of energy you get that compels you to spring into action.
At least for me, it moves in waves – one week, I’m energised to wake up early every day and write, while the next I struggle to even open my laptop. Whether we feel motivated on any given day depends on so many things: mood, sleep, the day’s circumstances, etc.
If you’ve felt this too, know that you’re not alone. Every writer endures it, again and again. Like I said: waves. But that’s okay; it’s part of the creative process, and what counts is how we work through it. There’s no ‘quick fix’, no single solution that will work for everyone. However, there are methods that help me draw motivation even in the troughs of those waves, which has helped shift my mindset (for the most part).
Case in point: cut to September, and I now have a draft of 50,000 words (and counting), and I love writing this story. So, what changed? HOW did I get here? Where did I find the motivation to progress past that single line? Honestly, looking back… it feels like a magic spell was cast by a house-brownie after all. But in truth, it was built from many small moments of effort (and I still have more ahead of me!)
A quote from my draft sums up this point:
“Every story is made of little pieces that slot together into a whole. Find the pieces; find the story… Even the smallest idea can lead to the greatest tale.”
The same is true of motivation. It’s not always this big thing that shows up for us to claim – it’s in the quiet actions we do day-to-day. Ever heard that motivation comes from doing things, not the other way around? It’s true! But how do we kick-start that cycle? Well, it starts in the same place your stories begin… your imagination.
Remember the mindset thing? Here’s how we shift it.
Summary of the Steps
I like to think of motivation as coming from two places: internal sources and external sources.
Internal sources are within you. They’re the most difficult to change, but they’re also the most powerful. Think of them as the groundwork upon which your motivation-boosting actions are built:
Facing fear, because that’s what’s imprisoning your motivation
Knowing your reason, because that’s your primary fuel
Prioritising your dream, because no one can write this story but you
Maintaining self-belief by writing for YOU instead of focusing on others’ perceptions
Remembering small steps, because you don’t have to create the big piece all in one go
Showing up, remembering that setbacks don’t mean failure
Writing, because it’s the only way to… well, write
External sources are the tools that exist around you. They involve other people, and can be affected by day-to-day circumstances, but they are the tangible things that give motivation a physical form:
Minimising distractions, because they interrupt progress
Finding fellow writers, because support fuels motivation
Developing a routine, because progress requires structure
Following writing sprints/livestreams, because it helps keep you accountable
Logging your progress, because it keeps you on-track
Taking breaks, because it’s important for your quality of work
Acknowledging how far you’ve come, because you deserve to feel proud of your achievements
The Steps, Broken Down
1. Face your fear
Like Margaret Atwood says: “If you really do want to write, and you’re struggling to get started, you’re afraid of something.”
It might be:
“What’s the point anyway?” (fearing futility)
“I’m not ‘good enough’; I can’t do the story justice.” (fearing lack of ability)
“No one will like my story.” (fearing judgement)
“There’s too much to write and I’ll never finish it.” (fearing impossibility)
“I fail every time I try to write a draft.” (fearing failure)
“How do I even do this?” (fearing ignorance)
To combat each one?
2. Know your reason (to face fear of futility)
Have you ever heard the phrase: find your ‘why’? It means identifying your driving reason for writing. For me, there are three main reasons:
I get such a thrill from being in the world of my imagination.
I feel a sense of duty to tell this story, so that others can see themselves in it and feel understood.
I have a pressing sense that life is short, and I don’t know how much time I have left. This is my most prominent motivator: knowing that no one else can write this story but me, and if I don’t write it now, it may never be written at all.
Find the reason that scares you the most, and pin it to the clipboard of your mind. That’s your ‘why’.
3.Prioritise your dream (to face fear of lacking ability)
There’s a moment in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Wee Free Men’ where the little brother is sitting on the floor, surrounded by foil-wrapped sweets. He looks at them all, knowing he could choose any flavour he wanted… but what does he do? He bursts into tears. Us creative folk often have so many projects on at once that it can be difficult to prioritise – if we pick one, it means we’re not picking the others. I think the bursting into tears is a great representation of that overwhelming feeling, when we just don’t know where to start. So, identify the most important one, and recognise its value. In this case, we’re talking about writing, so you MUST prioritise your writing, every day. That’s the only way you can start the climb.
4. Maintain self-belief (to face fear of judgement)
We ALL get imposter syndrome – the feeling that some goblin is going to come along, snatch your laptop and announce that you can’t write anymore. Well, I’ll tell you a secret: that goblin lives inside your head, and you can tell him to go away. Sometimes, he’ll be stubborn and stay, but you can make him sit and watch you write anyway. Maintaining self-belief is hard, but the way I have found makes it stick is by creating a bottom-line; something to repeat to yourself when you’ve forgotten your brilliance. Mine is: I am writing this story because it brings me joy, and that’s good enough for me. I need no other reason; my writing has value, because I find value in it myself. It might be different for you, but create that bottom line and stick to it, no matter what.
5. Remember small steps (to face fear of impossibility)
When I stared at that one sentence on the scrap of lined paper, I physically couldn’t see how it would become a book. It’s hard to connect a tiny scribble with a finished masterpiece – how does one get to the other? Generally, in life, there isn’t a fairy godmother to transform rags to riches with a wave of her wand. Today’s society has made us expect this – perhaps not a literal fairy godmother, but the instant transformation with the least work possible. Viral social media posts, life-hacks, and fast-paced lifestyles are all designed to shortcut the process of things, making them easier and more efficient. Therefore, the idea of something taking time, of needing small steps without instant gratification, and being entirely up to you, can seem quite alien. But the creative process is SUPPOSED to take time, it’s MEANT to be difficult, and it’s all the more fulfilling BECAUSE of that. We have to remember that our small actions now ARE the big ones of next year. The key is in the small steps: it might seem like a huge mountain to climb, but you’ll get there by writing one word at a time.
6. Show up (to face fear of failure)
This is tough-love, but it’s important: you owe it to yourself to put time and effort into your dream. There are so many obstacles that will try to get in your way – don’t let the first be your decision to give up. It’s easier said than done, but remember that one setback doesn’t mean total failure. The road to success is filled with potholes (or whatever the proverb is – you know the one).
7. Just write (to face fear of ignorance)
Shout out to my dad for this one! It’s simple, but if you take one piece of advice away from this article, it’s this: WRITE. Even if it’s 5 minutes a day, even if you have no idea what you’re doing, even if you cringe at every sentence that spills from your fingertips: WRITE ANYWAY. You can’t work with nothing, but you can always work with something, no matter how unpolished it is. The acceptance of an ‘okay’ paragraph is better than the hope of a perfect one fizzling out over a blank page. Think of the first draft like a painting: you can’t add beautiful details until you’ve done the messy underpainting first. As a perfectionist, it makes me squirm, but we have to get used to the discomfort and understand that any creative process is MESSY. It doesn’t always ‘add up’, there are no set rules, and there is no ‘one way’ to do it. That’s exciting, too, because it means you’re free to do it on your own terms.
8. Minimise distractions
You know that urge to check your phone, to procrastinate instead of doing what you’re supposed to be doing? FIGHT IT. The more often you overcome it and focus on the task at hand, the easier it gets to override it in time.
9. Find fellow writers & critique partners
If you’re on Instagram, I’d encourage getting involved in the beautiful community of writers there. I find it inspiring to hear about others’ projects, and to connect with like-minded people at similar stages of the process. It’s also incredibly motivating to see them achieving their goals (and it’s reassuring to know they’re going through the same struggles). It’s also interesting to know writers with different routines or working styles; I’ve learned a lot from my ‘pantser’ and early-bird friends, being a plotter and night owl myself. Some people also find critique partners helpful, to swap chapters for feedback as you write the first draft. This didn’t work for me, because I would focus too much on polishing the chapters before I sent them – so I prefer to be completely in my own world until the draft is finished; THEN I’ll share it for feedback. I like putting snippets on my Instagram stories, though. So, you can choose what suits you best!
10. Develop a routine (and adapt it when needed)
Whenever I considered writing a routine for my writing, I thought: “I always struggle to stick to my planned routines – and I don’t want to limit my creativity with strict timings.” So, what happened? I never sat down to write. It wasn’t until I put a routine in place that I actually started drafting. That doesn’t mean you have to plan every second of your life and stick rigidly to it. It just means setting aside a specific section of time, every day, to focus on writing. Remember the prioritising thing? This is where it comes in. For me, that was spending an hour each morning, writing at my desk. It might be half a day, or ten minutes – but make it a habit, and the routine will form.
11. Follow writing sprints
Following writing sprint sessions (hosted by The Writer Community’s founder, Megan) helped me find this routine. Having a set time keeps you accountable, like showing up for a class – and it’s motivating to see someone else working alongside you. Some writers on Instagram often host them – I will be doing some throughout October, for example – but if you can’t find any live ones, there are various study-along videos on YouTube that help too.
12. Log your progress
I keep track of my writing progress through the ‘NaNoWriMo’ website, where you can set a goal and log your daily word-counts. I’ve found that it’s less about achieving the total goal, and more about visualising my progress.
13. Know when to take breaks
I’m bad at taking breaks. I’ll get so into a project that I forget to eat lunch or go on to another task I was supposed to do. To prevent this, I’m trying to consciously schedule more breaks. It’s also proven that our quality of work diminishes after a certain amount of time, but after a short break, we can maintain a higher quality of work for longer. So, it’s actually in our favour to take those five-minute time-outs!
14. Acknowledge how far you’ve come
While it’s great to focus on upcoming goals, it’s also important to remember the ones we’ve achieved. Each stepping stone can feel like the greatest challenge we’ve faced, but it helps to look back and remember how many stones we’ve already crossed, and how insignificant they now seem. Notice your progress, and allow yourself to be proud of it!
I will say: above all of this, your wellbeing comes first. If you find you’re becoming stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted from the enormity of the writing process, do take a step back. Finding motivation is hard work, and these tips will help, but don’t push yourself to follow all of them at the expense of your health. Personal circumstances will affect how many of these you can take on, and that’s okay. Even one or a few of the tips can help – so don’t feel that you have to embrace all of them at once.
There is a difference between the mind convincing you to slow down because it’s being lazy, and imploring you to slow down because there’s something wrong. Try and get to know that difference – if it’s the first, strive to ignore it, but if it’s the second, listen to it closely.
Most importantly… HAVE FUN! Writing is a wonderfully complex and thrillingly simple thing – and it’s no small miracle if you conquer all odds to do it. If you’ve been waiting for ‘permission’ to follow that dream and write, consider it granted! Not by a fairy godmother though, I’m afraid. The transformation part is up to you.
May boundless motivation carry you forth to wherever your journey leads next.
Now… go and write.
Meet Katie Morrowick
Katie Morrowick lives in a little Hobbit hole in southern England, in a bedroom that likes to pretend it’s from the Victorian era. She spends most of her time in her imagination, dancing with fairies and having tea in gingerbread cottages (don’t worry: she hasn’t encountered any person-sized ovens – yet), but also studies English at university… when she can remember which path leads out of Wonderland in time for lectures. She also loves encouraging other writers to follow their dreams, and analysing (read: obsessing over) book characters.
A fan of witchy stories, fantasy featuring found-family (say that five times fast) and all things fairytale, Katie is currently drafting a dystopian-fantasy novel that tells the tale of best friends Zoe and Finn, who venture into a seemingly-enchanted forest and discover a secret message – one that leaves them questioning their reality…
You can step into her fairytale cottage at @katiesliteraturecorner on Instagram, visit the back room and library at https://www.katiesliteraturecorner.com, or join a group of readers, writers, dreamers and thinkers at the Society world that lies beyond it @theenchantedsociety on Instagram.