How to Boost Your Sagging Motivation for Writing

Tired young businesswoman falling asleep behind the deskYou’re all fired up to be a freelance writer — in theory, at least.

But sometimes, we all get the blahs. You stare at the blank screen or page…and nothing.

You’re willing to do almost anything else — if you just didn’t have to sit down and actually write anything.

It’s crazy, since supposedly this is the life you want.

But it still happens. You feel like a deflated balloon.

You’ve lost your inner drive to get the writing done.

For instance, here’s a comment we got recently inside Freelance Writers Den:

“I’m having trouble staying focused. I don’t have a lot of time to write because we’re getting ready to move in 10 days and I have a toddler at home.

“But even when I have time, I find my thoughts wandering to everything else but writing. Then, I end up Googling unrelated stuff, playing Candy Crush Saga, or reading everyone’s Facebook posts.

“I’m normally great about staying focused, so this is really frustrating to me. Any suggestions for how I can get my focus back?”–Andrea

Like I said, it happens. So what’s the solution?

To find out, this writer needs to ask a few important questions to figure out how to kill the malaise and rediscover their love of writing. Here are some basic issues I’d look at:

Are you too tired?

Lack of sleep is the quickest creativity killer out there. Stop staying up late doing online chat or playing Bejeweled (talking to myself there) and map out eight or more hours for rest.

As someone who often tries to get by on six and a half and who recently slept 10 hours one vacation evening, I can tell you it will make a difference.

Got enough child care?

I’ve discovered that many writer-moms have fantasies about how much writing they can get done while also doing child care. Because really, you will get little writing done— and the whole time you’ll feel like an evil giant has a hand on either side of your brain and is trying to tear it in half.

And the amount of marketing will probably be zero.

Whether you try a babysitting co-op, do a swap with another WAHM, hire a sitter, pay for more child care programs, or get hubby to shoulder more kiddie time, the bottom line is the same: You will be amazed at how productivity soars once you can actually think for five minutes without someone who needs feeding/changing/reading/holding/singing/bathing/your every waking moment of attention.

Unrealistic expectations?

Whether it’s imagining you’ll crank out articles while tending three kids under age four, while packing moving boxes, or after you get home from a day job, writers tend to be over-ambitious in imagining what can get done.

Then, when we fall short of our high standards, we get depressed and want to write even less.

So get real about how much time you’ve got for writing and what you can accomplish within it. Then, start scheming about how to get yourself more writing time so that you can check off more from your list.

Overwhelmed?

The number-one thing new freelance writers tell me is that they look at all the things they should be doing and all the options in the freelancing marketplace, and feel totally overwhelmed.

If this is you, it’s time to put on the blinders, screen out most of what’s going on, and focus.

What do you want to do most? What resonates for you as a type of writing you would do well?

Too many writers try to write all different kinds of things and in every industry…but being a generalist is a ticket to nowhere. Think about your interests, life experience, and past jobs, and take the easy road by writing in subjects you know. You’ll find good clients more easily and move up quicker.

Overworked?

Sometimes the sudden lack of writing motivation comes because you’re burned out. You’ve just been clocking too many hours, and the creative well is dry. The fun has gone out of writing.

If so, it may be time to see if there’s a low-paying client you could drop to give you a break.

Not eating right?

There’s a stereotype of freelancers sitting home guzzling coffee by the gallon and munching ice cream or Doritos all day while they work…because it’s easy for freelancers to get into bad eating habits, home alone all day with the fridge like we are.

And many of us get on deadlines, get stressed, and start inhaling whole candy bars instead of nibble carrots. I wonder how I know that…

Anyway. If your energy is low, try eating to nourish your body. Banish the junk food, don’t over-caffeinate, and take in lots of fresh fruits and veggies. You may find the ideas start perking again pretty quick.

Don’t have a home office?

If you don’t have a comfortable space that’s set up for writing, it can hit your productivity. You never feel quite ready to do the writing. I have one writer friend who tries to write while parked on her couch in the TV room amidst eight other activities, and it’s a disaster.

See what you can do to find a dedicated space that’s all yours for writing. Even if it’s an alcove in the dining room. I know one writer with a small home and many kids who rented a room in a friend’s house and headed down the street for writing time. Which brings us to…

Tired of your home office?

Sometimes working from home can become a rut. There are no coworkers. Some people find that deadly dull and unstimulating.

Consider writing from a park, a coffeeshop, a co-working office. Change up the routine and see if that doesn’t shake a few writing ideas loose.

Doing writing you don’t enjoy?

Finally, sometimes the lack of writing energy relates to the type of writing gigs you’ve taken on. Maybe you’ve written all the blog posts about surety bonds you can reasonably do, and it’s time to find new clients.

Recognize if your mix of writing assignments is wearing you down and head the problem off before a client fires you. Maybe some creative writing of your own can provide balance, or it may be time to do more marketing and switch to new paid writing gigs.

Whatever the root cause of the motivation slump, rest assured — every writer has fallow times. And they will end.

How do you get your writing mojo back? Leave a comment with your tips.

Freelance Writers Den

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39 comments on “How to Boost Your Sagging Motivation for Writing
  1. Willi Morris says:

    Somehow I missed this last year, and my answer would be all of the above. Right now I feel like I’m stuck in a creative rut. Not coming up with many ideas for things to write. And I know it’s because I’m not eating well, sleeping well or exercising consistently.
    Willi Morris recently posted…12 (More) Blogging Lessons After Year Two (Part 2!)My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ugh, my exercise routine has totally fallen apart lately, and I feel like I am going down a real drain. We had a LONG cold snap under 30 degrees, which is too cold for my usual walking outside, and I’m not getting the next thing together…GOTTA get on it!

  2. Carol,

    You hit it with “unrealistic expectations” with me! I’m always creating daily tasks to get done, and I tend to write way more than I can actually accomplish in a day. Then I get a little depressed because I didn’t complete everything I wanted to.

    Time to get real!

  3. With a birthday next week the clock is a great motivator. If that doesn’t do it, I look at the obituaries and find a writer. My complaints about writing got to my buddy who came over and said I needed to turn the table. Then he adjusted my desk, turned it just an inch.

    And it worked. Great post, Carol.
    David Gillaspie recently posted…Boomerpdx Remembers Historian Thomas VaughanMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Two great tips there, David.

      I am an obituary reader too, and recommend that highly for anyone who can’t get motivated. Too many people in there these days are my own age or near to it. Our 12-year-old son just went to the funeral of one of his best friend’s 45-year-old father. Time is short folks! And we never know how short.

      And ergonomics at the desk — are important! I get shooting pains up my arms if I’m not in a good ratio between body and keyboard.

  4. Erica says:

    My biggest culprits are lack of sleep, overwhelmed, not drinking enough water and stress. When I’m stressed, my brain won’t shut up which leads to lack of focus, lack of productivity and the inevitable “Screw it!”

    Taking the time to binge-write everything that’s on the brain helps empty it enough so that I can at least focus on the task at hand.

  5. I can identify big-time with Rhonda’s comment on depression and how some of us have periods when just going through the daily motions is goal enough. (Luckily, I live in Houston where we can count on some ten hours’ sunlight even on the shortest day of the year.) I identify also with the parts about having unrealistic expectations and being overwhelmed, and I think my #1 problem is unwillingness to take responsibility and commit to a single manageable approach for at least a month or two at a time: it’s always been “try everything in case you miss something, demand instant results as assurance you haven’t taken the wrong path, and look for someone else to tell you what needs doing.” I’d say I didn’t belong in the entrepreneurial world of freelance writing at all, if it weren’t for those 50+ friends and acquaintances who keep telling me what a wonderful gift I have for inspirational writing–the sort of thing you don’t find much call for in the world of 9-to-5 jobs. (Anyway, you can’t find one of those, either, without the same sort of “marketing yourself, working hard all day, finding the best approach” issues.)
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…Let There Be PeaceMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      None of us can effectively do everything at once! And I’d say more like 3-6 months on one (or several related) marketing track(s) to start being able to judge real results. And a scattershot — try a little of everything — approach I think is usually ineffective. And hard to analyze what was working as well.

      This is a bottomless-pit job, Katherine. There is ALWAYS more we could be doing, but we need to accept that time is finite and make choices about our goals and marketing methods. I tend to go six months, then analyze marketing and tweak, and repeat.

      • The scattershot approach does, in fact, seem to go hand in hand with an obsession with the impossible task of getting to the bottom of the bottomless pit. Which quickly leads to the idea that since the most important thing is impossible, NOTHING worthwhile is possible. Which leads to chronic exhaustion (with or without the “standard” amount of sleep), despair, and the seeking of what comfort one can find in unhealthy physical habits and low-priority-but-easily-manageable tasks. Not to mention chronic irritability and impatience that will discourage anyone from working with you to begin with. (The original blog post might well have included “Are you angry at anything?” among the self-evaluation questions.)
        Katherine Swarts recently posted…Let There Be PeaceMy Profile

  6. Rob says:

    I dread it every month when I have to write about forklifts and forklift accessories. Can you imagine anything more boring? I get around it by finding something off-the-wall and humorous to write about. This month, for instance, I found a video that showed some guys brilliantly re-painting a warehouse in graffiti. I used the video as inspiration for a post about thinking outside the box with forklift accessories. When I just have to write about something that really matters to me or want to have fun writing, I write in one of my personal blogs.
    Rob recently posted…How To Set Up Affiliate Marketing On Your BlogMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      For me it used to be trends in shower curtain styles…fun huh?

      The good news is when you can think of an enticing angle and write a compelling lede for stories like this, the rest is easy.

  7. Rhonda says:

    We’ve been dealing with frigid temps (in the minus 20s and 30s – celsius) for two weeks, so getting out for exercise is dangerous. On top of that I deal with pretty major depression, especially in winter. Those two things have led to some pretty severe non-motivated days for me lately. Tomorrow, I will go pick up some dried apricots and nuts, toss the chips and candy, double up on my water intake, and try to get back into some sort of writing routine.

    One of the commenters mentioned that lack of motivation means you shouldn’t be a writer. In my case, that’s not the problem at all. Depression is a major culprit for a lot of people. As are many other health issues, such as chronic pain, etc. I think it’s critically important for writers to be aware of such problems so that they can address them, rather than ignore them. I promise, it won’t get any better if you pretend they aren’t there. And, for people that say that you don’t need to get fired up to get your first cup of coffee, so you shouldn’t need to get fired up to write? Please remember that there are many people like me who sometimes find that getting out of bed is a major accomplishment. Shower and a coffee? Victory. Actually writing? Something to celebrate, but not to beat yourself up over if you can’t do it on those really bad days.

    Thanks for the great post. I’ve printed it out to put beside my computer as a reminder that sometimes an easy answer might be all you need.
    Rhonda recently posted…Whatโ€™s Next for Your NaNoWriMo Project? Separating the Wheat and ChaffMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Rhonda —

      I agree — many writers have periods when it’s tougher than usual to focus on writing.

      I often start busy mornings with just a half-dozen raw almonds and a little handful of raisins, or use that as a healthy snack. I think freelancers really have to keep the junk food out of the house if you want to stay healthy. These days we’ve got no sodas, chips, crackers, chocolate (except hot chocolate, which I refuse to give up in winter!).

      My husband and I recently watched a great documentary, Hungry For Change, which anyone trying to diet or lose weight should see. It talks about the toxic effects of all the processed food we eat, why most diets don’t work, and how to get back to nourishing your body.

    • Rhonda…I could be you. Some days just getting out of bed is definitely an accomplishment. Writing through chronic pain has become a chore and motivation is often an issue. I agree with you that some comments about not being a writer if un-motivated were too generalized, and not a little unkind. To them, I’d say “Walk a mile in my shoes [not that I could] and get some insight about writing when one has a number of health and emotional problems…and is still able to produce incredibly wonderful stuff.”
      You have a friend out here, Rhonda!
      Sara Kate
      Sara Kate MacFarland recently posted…Up Up Upโ€ฆMy Profile

  8. Jevon says:

    Being too tired is definitely one of my problems. I sometimes get home from work/exercise with ideas just ready to jump out for my novel or blog post, and after I take a shower, wash the dishes, and eat dinner (especially after I eat dinner), a wave of sleep just takes over. Damn this human body.

    But I realize that taking a catnap during lunch time or just before I leave the office (no more than 10 minutes) really makes a big difference.
    Jevon recently posted…Bake Your Manuscript to Ensure Itโ€™s Ready for the WorldMy Profile

  9. Lynn Silva says:

    Facebook, by far is my biggest distraction. I too, get on there playing that darn Candy Crush or commenting in groups, or commenting on other people’s status. Pretty soon, half the day is gone and I’ve done nothing. Then I end up mad at myself, so I try and get to work with all of the comments and conversations that were on Facebook reeling in my head. I can’t tune them out and write. I get frustrated, and say, “Ok, I’ll go back on for a few and see if that clears my head.” It’s a never ending cycle.

    So, I treat myself like a little kid. I only allow myself to go on Facebook if ‘my chores’…as in my ‘to do’ list is accomplished. It’s the only way I can be productive. I don’t even take breaks on Facebook, because they’ll turn into hours. This works for me and although it is a bit juvenile it’s the only thing that has worked for me thus far. Just this one little move has definitely increased my productivity.
    Lynn Silva recently posted…How to Banish Holiday Blues in 5 MinutesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know, because of how the Facebook games tend to post things to your status, I’ve taken the attitude that I only do those at night when I’m ‘off duty’ — and it’s a great policy. It’s a reward for work done, and as you say, it’s hard to write with all that buzzing around your head! And then I don’t have some prospective client looking at my status on social media and seeing that I just got 100,000 points on Bejeweled or something, instead of seeing some insightful business-related status update.

      And also — you’ve got to prioritize. If your priority is building a writing business, that needs to get done before Candy Crush…which so many people are talking about that I am going to be sure to stay away! Don’t need another addiction…

  10. So much of this rings true for me. I’m sitting here munching cookies and popcorn all day while ignoring the carrots in my fridge. And staying up late playing video games (Monster World is my current addiction) certainly doesn’t help you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to write! Then, of course, I’ve got a 2-year-old who is constantly interrupting me to ask for a snack or trying to show me something.

    One thing I have found that helps me have a more productive day is to go for a 30-minute bike ride in the morning. By the time I get back, I feel like I can tackle just about anything.

    It also helps to try to get as much done as possible in the mornings and to get all of my client work for the week done by Thursday. My 4-year-old is in preschool all day Monday through Thursday, so that’s my most productive time. As soon as she gets home (around 3:30), the two kids start fighting over toys and TV programming. Shortly after that (around 5 or 6), my 2-year-old starts getting tired and clingy and wants to be held and rocked for a while. If I don’t take advantage of the peaceful morning time, I end up having to wait until the kids go to sleep to finish up my writing, and by then I’m tired too.
    Bethanny Parker recently posted…6 Ways to Get Your Employees to Blog for YouMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yes, nothing concentrates the mind like having to fit work into the kids’ schedule! I was amazed at how much I could get written during my firstborn’s long afternoon naps. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Mike Johnson says:

    For me, lack of motivation reminds me that my soul and my rational mind are not aligned. My rational mind wants the money from the project but my soul doesn’t want to be shoehorned into a topic that isn’t inspiring. My solution is to stop going after projects that don’t inspire my soul.

    If you’re already commited to a drab project, you just have to gut it out and promise to select more uplifting projects in the future. Or…

    Another idea is to find a way to re-frame the drab project into something more inspiring. Rather than looking at that software press release as another corporately-mandated compilation of required buzzwords, consider how many people will benefit from using that “Print Your Nation’s Money” software. Picture all the single mom’s who will be able to make financial ends meet just by hitting “print.”

    This is obviously an exaggeration but every product has a redeeming feature that can benefit someone. Focus on that, and inspiration may seep back into the equation.

    Mike Johnson
    http://www.WorldsBestWriter.com

  12. Brian says:

    I turn to fiction when I get the writing blues. It turns on a different part of my brain and gets me out of the old physical and mental space to somewhere new. I’ll comeback recharged and ready to write…I mean market. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. peachfront says:

    OK, the motivation thing I don’t get and there are so many books and internet posts published on this theme that I can’t resist a comment. Here’s the deal: There are 7 billion people in the world. If you have no motivation to write, you will not be missed. It seems purposeless to force yourself to do something that your heart is telling you that you don’t want to do.

    If someone is having trouble with motivation, I think they should find something that does motivate them and do that. And if they can’t work without structure, they should find a job rather than trying to freelance. A person without motivation wishing to be self-employed as a writer or anything else makes about as much sense as me aspiring to be a quarterback.

    Even when I was retired, I wrote every day, if only for myself. I can’t imagine not writing or needing motivation to write if you are a writer. It’s an addiction as much as a job. Do you have to get motivated to fire up that first cup of coffee in the morning? Of course not. It’s a silly question.
    peachfront recently posted…My Parrot Articles: A Quick SamplerMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I hear you…but I also think we all hit periods where we’re not as fired up as we generally are.

      Agree with you — I got a Facebook message recently from someone who said, “I need you to give me daily motivation to help me with my writing.” And I thought: You’re not a writer. That needs to come from inside.

      But sometimes we just need to look at our lifestyle and take some better care of ourselves, and fight for the blocks of writing time we need. A lot of writers are done in by the work-at-home-with-kids myth, and need to understand they’re going to need child care to get it done.

  14. Daryl says:

    Hey Carol,

    I don’t have an office, but my November went down the drain after I had to shift my usual work space due to internet connectivity issues. I find just having a dedicated work space really does make a huge difference in being able to find focus and switch on to your writing.

    Thankfully, my internet’s properly back up as of yesterday, so full steam ahead for the rest of December!
    Daryl recently posted…7 Common Mistakes That New Bloggers Make – And How to Avoid ThemMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Since I got the laptop I’ve gone the opposite direction — I’m loving being able to pick different spots in my house to work at each day, and often switch midday. Sometimes I’m in a back bedroom with the door closed to screen out miscellaneous phone/doorbell/husband noises to concentrate, and other times I can play music and sit on the couch. Keep changing it up if you feel uninspired!

  15. Jule Fobert says:

    Ah Carol,

    So wise. This entire articles resonates with me, especially lately. We have been snowed in the last 4 days here in Dallas and I just knew I would get some writing done. My 7 year old has other ideas for me. I am new to writing for money and I really thought I would be able to write at any time and any where. I thought my inability to do so was because I am still honing my skills. Good to know it is just my choices of when and where I am writing!

    Thanks for the knowledge. What great encouragement!

    Jule Fobert
    Jule Fobert recently posted…What do you expect?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Ha ha…yeah, it’s a sad awakening that not having a day job does not solve all the issues around finding time to write!

      I was the queen of an 8-midnight shift for MANY years, where I would be with kids from after school to bedtime, and then…my work day really began.

  16. I find that the greatest inspiration for me is reading posts by top writers. No matter what it gets me going even if I am struggling with health problems.
    Judy Haughton-James recently posted…Work At Home Pursuit – ReviewMy Profile

  17. Nida Sea says:

    Wow! Four of these used to fit me so well. I over came the sleep issue, began eating better, worked out the monotony, and slipped away to a new office location, as opposed to slaving away in my dedicated home office.

    Want to know my biggest issue? In-person social interaction. I miss being around other people (family not included). I used to work in a very tight office space with seven other people. As much as I disliked the work, I really enjoyed the social interaction. I miss that so often at times it consumes me. Yes, I’ve moved my office to a new place, but I work better without anyone around me. I just have to get out of the house every so often to breathe.

    Great post, Carol!
    Nida Sea recently posted…How Not To Contribute To a Monthly Savings (And How I blew $12,000 in One Month)My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Need to find a local writer’s group or something.

      I didn’t think I was missing the social interaction, until I spent a summer at a co-working place, and found after 7 years along I really loved it. I wasn’t looking to get clients from the other members like many people who join coworking do, but I just liked being around other solopreneurs.

      As it happens, our heater has picked this 28-degree weekend to kind of die on us, so Monday I am headed back to co-working!

  18. Valerie says:

    The first two things you mentioned really hit the nail on the head for me. I tend to sleep 5-6 hours a night so there’s a good chance that fatigue has a lot to do with my loss of motivation lately. Wow, 10 hours! That must have been very refreshing. I’m actively involved in raising my grandchildren so inadequate child care is definitely another issue. The one thing that helps clear my foggy brain is any kind of physical activity. Getting the blood circulating helps more than anything.
    Valerie recently posted…Many Failures, Many OpportunitiesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      So many of us in the electronic age are trying to skate on 6 hours or so of sleep, but before the invention of electricity 10 hours was more the norm. Often people would wake in the night and read or ruminate for an hour, maybe have a snack, and then settle back to sleep.

      With the invention of electricity — presto! — we were told we only needed 8 hours.

      I usually can only manage 6.5 hours at night, but I’m a power napper. One of the great joys of freelancing in my view. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  19. The candy is my downfall. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I do have a policy of referring my lowest-paying client to another writer if I feel overloaded, which has worked pretty well so far.
    Sophie Lizard recently posted…7 Things I Learned About Freelance Blogging from Interviewing My ClientsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on Sophie — when I was building my business, I was constantly evaluating my client base, figuring out who the biggest loser was, and dropping them. Things don’t move forward in pay otherwise.

  20. Razwana says:

    Anything sagging is bad …. motivation being part of that list of things.

    For me, I open up my laptop and give myself 5 minutes of ‘write anything’ time. I literally start writing. Often, it begins as very mundane (like describing the room I’m in) and eventually, my brain starts moving and some ideas finally arrive.

    Sometimes this takes a few minutes, and other times, a little longer.

    And if I’ve been doing a lot of sitting and brain work, I go for a walk. The change in pace seems to fix a lot of the brain-fog.
    Razwana recently posted…Why sucky writing means sucky sales, and why Iโ€™ll be seeing you up the wazooMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I really should have put exercise on my own list, too. I try to walk, do yoga, bike, hike, SOMETHING nearly every day, ideally first thing after my kids go off to school. Makes a big difference, and I know I’m not the only writer who gets a lot of ideas on their walks.