Sam Holstein

How to Motivate Yourself to Write Every Day

How to Motivate Yourself to Write Every Day

Perhaps the biggest hurdle that stops most writers from writing is not feeling motivated to write.

There are tens of millions of people who dream of becoming a published writer one day who never quite get around to it. They tell friends and family about their dreams of publishing something, but it never happens. They never feel like actually sitting down and putting pen to paper, so they never do.

It’s natural to not be in the mood to write something all the time if you already have regular writing practice. The subconscious mind needs time to relax and generate ideas, which is why most creative workers require large amounts of relaxation time in their creative schedule. If you’re trying to squeeze a little more out of an already overtaxed mind, what you need most is a break. 

But if you’re not in the habit of writing thousands of words a day (and if you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you’re not), your subconscious mind doesn’t need any more downtime. What you need to do is build the habit of writing.

Motivation to Write Comes From Good Habits

The act of writing is a set of habituated skills. You get out your laptop, you find somewhere to sit comfortably, you open Medium, you adopt your correct writer’s mindset, and you begin writing. For seasoned writers, this process happens so smoothly the writer is not consciously aware of it happening. But for beginning writers, this process feels awkward.

It’s like learning golf. The first time you play golf, golf clubs feel weird and bendy in your hands, and swinging them feels undirected and senseless. Swinging well takes a lot of concentration. But when you’ve been playing golf for a few months or years, you can pick up a club and give it a good swing without even thinking about it.

You want writing to be like that. You want to be able to sit down and focus on writing so smoothly and so quickly you don’t even notice it happened.

The way you get your writing to become like that is to build good writing habits.

How to Build Good Writing Habits

Most writers, beginners or seasoned professionals, have heard of the concept of a writing routine — an early morning routine, perhaps, beginning with a 6 AM alarm and gym exercise followed by industrious writing. Self-employed writers will often enforce a work schedule on themselves, scheduling “writing hours” and “breaks” just like they would if they worked in an office.

Honesty demands I admit I don’t have a writing routine whatsoever. I’m a full-time writer, and my personal schedule is to wake up in the morning and do whatever the hell I want. That’s usually to write around 10 AM, but if I wake up earlier later, write earlier later (sometimes way later), or even don’t write that day, no big deal to me.

But I did not start this way, and I would not recommend this to someone who is not already a prolific creator.

I’m only able to do this without losing discipline altogether because I did maintain a writing schedule for years. My schedule was to wake up early and write first thing in the morning with a cup of tea. I did this no matter where I was, what the conditions were, or what my plans were for the day. I woke up as early as I needed to make this possible, whether that was 9 AM or 5 AM, and I wrote for as long as I needed to write to publish a story

Doing this for years carved a deep habit in my brain. That habit is so ingrained that if I don’t write something by early afternoon, I feel off all day. I want to write. It’s a fundamental part of my psychology. I can no more forget to write than most people can forget to have a cup of coffee.

Some writers keep their writing routine for life, while others like me ditch the routine after a few years, but every writer has to spend at least one year building the disciplined habit of writing. It has to be easy for you to sit down to write. If you notice yourself doing it, or if you notice yourself deliberating on whether or not to do it, it’s not enough of a habit yet.

The only foolproof way to build a writing habit is to set a daily word requirement, pick a time of day you’re always going to write, and stick to it.

You Need to Write at the Same Time Every Day

Picking the same time every day to write is crucial for building your habit. If you set an intention to write every day but skip the time of day around every day, the habit will never take hold in your brain. 

That’s if you even manage to write every day in the first place. When there’s no specific time to do something in your day, it’s easy to say “I’ll get to it later” and never get to it at all.

That doesn’t mean you have to be completely inflexible. Things come up sometimes. A few days off from writing (or writing at a different time of day) isn’t the end of the world. But do this enough times, and the habit you’re trying to build will never set properly.

You Need to Set a Minimum Word Count

It won’t do you any good if you sit at the computer at the same time every day to write only to write nothing. You’d be building a habit of sitting at the computer, not a habit of writing.

You probably won’t feel motivated to write when you sit down at the computer. That’s OK. Set a minimum word count for yourself (say 300 words) and write anyway.

My schedule was to write at 5 AM. Nobody feels like writing at 5 AM. There’s no one in the world who feels motivated to write when they’re dragging themselves out of bed at 5 AM in an Ohio winter. But my minimum word count was “one Medium story,” so I published one Medium story every morning by 6 AM. There were many mornings I would have written nothing if it weren’t for my mandatory minimum.

Set a mandatory minimum amount of writing for yourself. Don’t make it too challenging, but don’t make it nothing, either.

Your Mood Doesn’t Matter

You may be thinking “Wait a moment! This story is about how to feel motivated to write. But now you’re telling me to write a certain amount of words at a certain time every day, feelings be damned.”

You’re correct. That is what I’m doing.

Mood states aren’t something you can trigger at will. You can’t decide to be happy and then just be happy. Moods are like houseplants. If you create conditions for a mood to thrive, you will experience that mood more and more often in life. People who have dimly lit apartments and watch depressing cable news will probably experience more depression in life because depression thrives in those conditions.

The mood “feeling motivated” is like any other mood. You can’t trigger it at will, but you can create the conditions for it to thrive. Inspiration comes easily and often when you have an ingrained habit of writing because the neurons that enable you to experience inspiration are strong. They’re strong because you trained them by building a habit of writing.

You won’t have to force yourself to build the habit forever. After six months to a year, the habit will be built, and you can relax your standards about when and how you write without compromising your ability to write good stories fast. Then you will no longer struggle with motivation. You will feel motivated naturally all the time.

But until then, set a word count, pick an hour of the day, and stick to your writing habit.

In Conclusion

People searching for “writing motivation” are often looking for a quick fix. They want to consume something that will cause a burst of inspiration they can use to fuel themselves through another writing session. But like most quick fixes, quick fixes for motivation don’t work well and leave you wanting more after.

The only way to develop sustainable motivation to write is to build solid writing habits that will carry you through when willpower isn’t enough.

This story is an adapted excerpt from my online course How to Become a Top Writer on Medium. See a preview of the course here.