How to Stay Motivated When You’re Not Making Progress
Writer’s block is real. Every writer, at one point or another, has experienced this debilitating inability to make any real progress in his or her work.
Note: This is a guest post by Jordan Conrad, he’s the founder and publisher of WritingExplained.org. With free articles on English usage and basic grammar, Writing Explained is an essential resource for editors, freelancers, and authors alike. Connect with Jordan on Twitter at @Writing_Class.
Like a 17th century galleon in the equatorial doldrums, we endure a bout of creative stillness, when productivity starves to death in a windless mental seascape where nothing is visible on any horizon.
Well, maybe that’s a little melodramatic. Nevertheless, a lack of progress can be discouraging for anyone, and sometimes it’s difficult to maintain the motivation needed to complete a long project.
If you’re not feeling motivated, it’s not a reflection of your abilities as a writer. Creativity can seem to ebb and flow according to its own schedule, and we all have to find a way to cope with the slow periods in anticipation of the next big spark.
What to Do When Progress Eludes You
Let’s take a look at a few ways to deal with writer’s block. Whenever I feel less than inspired, I start here.
I hope you can use these same strategies to stay motivated in your own writing when it seems as if you aren’t making any progress.
Strategies for Staying Motivated
Take it one day at a time.
Try to write every day, even if it’s only a small amount. It doesn’t have to be your best work—you can always go back and revise it later.
Sometimes it only takes one tiny, unexpected breakthrough to get back on track. These breakthroughs will come much easier if you’re actively writing.
Remember that progress is a relative term.
You don’t have to write an entire book in a single day. Progress can be measured in small amounts.
Even if you only write a few words or sentences, you are still making progress. Those are sentences that you hadn’t written at the beginning of the day, so even if it’s only a little bit, you’re that much closer to being finished.
Set manageable goals.
Too often, writers get bogged down by word counts and page numbers. If you wanted to be at 3,000 words and you’re only at 750, those last 2,250 probably aren’t all going to come at once.
Likewise, the page number indicator at the bottom of your word processor window can sometimes do more harm than good. If your page count is far behind where you expected, it might be better not to look at it—or to find a way to turn it off.
You can’t finish an entire project in one sitting, so set small goals for yourself. You’ll get a confidence boost when you achieve them, and that little boost can keep you motivated to reach your next goal.
Try writing 500 words instead of 5,000, or a single page instead of ten.
Try working on something else for a while.
This works best if you, like many writers (including this author), always have multiple projects running at the same time.
Stuck on one project? There are probably five or ten more that could use your attention. Pick one you’re excited about and work on that one for a while. That should get your creative juices flowing again, and you might be able to transfer that excitement back over to the one that has you at a standstill.
The new project doesn’t even have to be in the same medium. Are you also a photographer, a musician, or a maker in addition to being a writer? Take a break from writing and shoot some portraits, or learn a new song, or 3D print something.
Take a break and do something fun.
Your brain is like a muscle—if you strain it for too long, you will use up your cognitive resources. It’s important to take breaks every so often to give your mind a chance to recharge and rebalance.
Try doing something you enjoy, even if it’s not productive. If you enjoy video games, devote half an hour to one of your favorites to reward yourself.
Breaks can quickly become distractions, though, so set strict time limits and stick to them.
You can combine this technique with setting manageable goals to build a contingent reward system that will keep you motivated. Alternate periods of productivity with enjoyable activities, so that you make progress without wearing yourself out. Like a carrot on a stick, contingent rewards can help you boost your productivity without burning out and getting discouraged.
There are times in every writer’s life where progress seems to come only in short fits and spurts, and projects come grinding to an unexpected halt. This is part of the natural creative cycle for many writers, and it’s usually just a matter of time before the juices start flowing again.
Still, a lack of progress is never enjoyable, and there are strategies you can use to stay motivated when your work isn’t going how you planned.
The above are all strategies I use personally, but there are many more out there. Don’t be discouraged if progress eludes you—if you’re patient for long enough and keep these tips in mind, it’s only a matter of time before you’re up and writing again.
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