There’s a pretty awesome line in that movie The Breakup where Jennifer Aniston’s character says something like, “I don’t want you to do the dishes. I want you to want to do the dishes.”
I feel like this is pretty damn near what it’s like when you lack the motivation to write. You know you need to write. But you really want to want to write. At least that’s how I feel when the world somehow absconds with my desire to get any writing done.
And call it whatever you want — writer’s block; the Muse hasn’t paid a visit in a long while; boredom; fear; procrastination — it’s all the same result.
Whatever your preferred terminology, not being motivated to disrupt the white space with words is a problem that haunts nearly every writer from time to time. There could be a legion of reasons why you can’t get going on that project. I have that problem myself, a lot. Instead of sitting down to force myself through it – which is not bad advice at all – I recently thought I would investigate further WHY I wasn’t writing. I realized pushing through it was more like turning off the fire alarm instead of putting out the fire. I imagine my story, ideally, as a legendary leader. Someone I want to follow. Like the story that compels me to write it. In pondering the issue, I unearthed a number of different reasons for procrastinating.
Why is it my story is not compelling me to write it?
The Scene is Not Very Interesting to You
One of the most common occurrences I discovered in my own work was that the parts of the book I avoided writing were the ones I wasn’t very interested in. We all have certain parts of the story we just love to write, parts we look forward to working on. That’s because we find them interesting ourselves. They’re fun. They’re exciting. Something about them just resonates.
That’s when I realized my mistake: if it’s not interesting to me, it’s not going to be interesting to the reader, either.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? If it’s boring for me to hash out a scene, it’s probably going to be boring to read, plain and simple. The answer, then, is to find ways to make the scene more exciting. WHY is it boring? What makes the scene suck so much? Once you start to think about these issues, you can start re-imagining the scene to make it more potent. If you are excited about it, the reader will likely be more excited about it. However you do this is entirely up to you. Can you liven up a conversation? Can you make something more interesting happen to the characters? Can you spruce up the setting to make it a more interesting location? Don’t give the reader boring. Give them awesome instead.
Doing the above will almost always make a scene easier to write. Finding a way to get stoked about a scene is one possible solution.
But wait, there’s more…
The Characters Are Not Very Interesting to You
This is kind of the same thing as the first reason, but it’s also kind of a deeper issue. If you have characters that are boring, they will drag down the whole story. They will contaminate every scene, so you’ll be trying to fix the first problem I listed over and over again without understanding why it’s not working. Your characters are the life-blood of the story. They are what make the reader enthralled. You can have a whole story where not a lot actually happens, but with intriguing characters the story can pull off a huge upset. Lonesome Dove is a great example. Over 900 pages of some people riding from Texas to Montana with a few crazy events thrown in along the way. It’s the characters that make that story shine.
Liven up your characters. Make them stand apart from each other. Give them personality. Do whatever it takes. Do you know what drives your character? What makes them want the things they want? What purpose do they serve? Give them a damn good reason for being in the story. Otherwise, what’s the point of having them in there?
You Are Not Being True to Yourself
Another reason you might be avoiding the writing is because you are likely not writing in your own voice. You might be writing in a voice that’s not true to who you are. You’re not writing the story you really want to write. You ever met someone who just wouldn’t shut up about themselves? They’re telling you the story they want to tell because it matters to them. They want the world to hear it. It comes easy to them because they’re interested. Find your real voice and stay true to who you really are. Be genuine. It will come through in the story. A lot of people are afraid to write what they really want to write about because of what others might think. Or maybe it’s not what’s selling right now.
Forget about all that nonsense.
You just do you. Dance like nobody’s watching. Dance all over the page.
You’ve Hit a Plateau
Sometimes the gun goes empty. You just run out of ideas. This can be one of the scariest things to happen to a writer. How do you solve it? How do you prevent it from happening again?
My suggestion: creativity breeds creativity.
Try taking a break from writing and work on something completely different. Go play the guitar. Draw a picture instead. Invent a cool game the kids will love to play. Whatever it is, it will keep the creative juices from drying up and getting too crusty, like an old wound you’ve refused to clean. Engaging your creativity in other ways will help you maintain that mental momentum you’ll need to get back in the game. Even if you take a break from the story to write a blog post, you’ll keep your mind sharp.
Another great way to prevent this is to build momentum in your actual work. Develop the habit of writing (I know, I know – they all say this) something every day. Chuck Wendig recommends a lean diet of just 350 words a day. Stop trying to do so much. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Anyone can write 350 words a day. If you can do that, you’ll have amassed a fortune of 100,000 words in just 285 days. That’s over a book a year. I say that’s better than trying to do 500 or 1000 words a day and ending up with nothing because you’ve scared yourself off the whole thing.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Another way to get a little something done every day is to forego the numbers quota altogether. Just throw it away. Then work on your story a little each day by setting out to write just one little piece. “I’m going to write this conversation today” or “I’m going to do the part where James discovers the dead body in the elevator.” Something doable. Even if it’s just a paragraph. Then when you’re done, plan the next scene you’ll write for tomorrow. Then you have 24 hours to think of how you want to make that one little portion interesting.
Some other things you can try to break out of the rut:
- A change of scenery. Try writing in a garden or near a statue or in a bar even. Someplace you wouldn’t normally write.
- Make a writing space. If you don’t have one already, maybe your surroundings are too chaotic. Settle in to an environment in which you can thrive. Make it a place you want to hang. Your little writing nest.
- Listen to music that inspires you. Art breeds other art. I have a specific song that gets me amped to write. Whenever it comes on I instantly conjure a movie trailer in my head and it makes me want to finish my story so I can see that movie trailer become reality.
- Watch a movie you feel has a great story. Use it for research. Try to ascertain techniques used by the screenwriter that you can use in your own stories.
- Play a game that draws you into the story.
Figure Out What Motivates You
Everyone is different, so what motivates me might not work on you. Knowing what gets you riled up is the key to getting the work done. Writing requires self-motivation. Unfortunately, nobody is going to put a gun to your head and tell you to write the story (though that would probably be really helpful sometimes). So we need to find out what makes us want to get up and go. A lot of times that centers around having fun with something. Think about all the time-wasters we frequently find ourselves doing. What makes us want to do those in lieu of other things? The answer: they’re more fun.
Solve the issue of why something is not fun anymore and you’ll find yourself running without needing to be put to spurs. Ever heard stories about people who started out doing what they love and then they lose the drive later on? It’s because they changed their mindset. They made it into a job or a chore instead of just doing it because they love it. Try to have fun with it and you will naturally want to do it.
Surround Yourself With Success
This is one of the biggest tricks of the professionals in pretty much any industry. It’s not much different from getting a workout partner to go to the gym with. By being around other writers, you might encounter some inspiration. I remember being a member of a great online community called The Velvet, which was a fan forum for the writers Will Christopher Baer, Craig Clevenger, and Stephen Graham Jones. We discovered that a lot of us were also writers, so we started a friendly online competition. Seeing other people producing stuff made us want to do the same. I did some of my best work when I surrounded myself with like-minded people.
They say you are the average of the five people you hang out with most. If you want to be successful, hang out with other successful people. It will help, I promise. Find a writer’s group in your area. Join an online forum (how about the one on this site?). Take a creative writing class. Get serious about it. You’ll not only be around other people who can help hold you accountable, your writing will likely improve. They can give you feedback that others might not be able to match.
Ignore the Inner Naysayer
Every so often we are all afflicted with the little devil of doubt. That voice inside our heads that says we aren’t good enough, that we can’t do something.
Ignore it. We don’t like it when someone else tells us those things, so why do we allow ourselves to do it?
The Story Just Isn’t Meant to Be
You might be getting a nagging feeling because this isn’t the story you should be writing write now. Maybe fixing it will be too much work for the reward. You might be better suited to writing a different story. Only you can decide whether this is the case. Don’t be afraid to scrap a story that isn’t going anywhere. Don’t throw it away, though. Just shelve it. Like having a job you hate, sometimes the answer is to just move on.
So there are a ton of reasons you’re trying to avoid the story. Find the reason you are putting it off and that will clue you in on the real issue. Give these things a shot next time you have trouble finding the motivation to write. Do you have any other ideas that could help someone else? Did something in this article help you out? I want to hear about it. Comment below. Let us know.