6 ways to stay motivated during a writing slump

In my day job, I’m the web editor for a huge humanitarian organization in Britain. I won’t say the name here because my colleagues have Google alerts set up so they can see what people online think of us.

One of the best parts about my job is overseeing the content on our blog. The other day, I was brainstorming with a colleague who is doing a cycling challenge to raise money for us. She’s going to ride her bike from London to the south coast – 80 miles in one day.

She was talking about the difficulty in staying motivated while training. You see, other than wanting to raise money for us because she’s seen first-hand where the money goes, she’s taken on this particular challenge to lose weight and get fit. She’s not a natural cyclist, so she’s struggled to get back on her bike when her thighs are still aching from yesterday’s training ride.

I suggested she write a post with five ways to stay motivated while training for a physical challenge. Not the dumb things, like “Think about how much good you’re doing the world”, but the little, concrete things that can keep you going. Things like: 1) buy a bathing suit/dress/trousers one size smaller than what you are now, and think about how you’ll fit into them in four months; 2) listen to our short podcasts before getting on your bike so the voices of the people your money is helping stay in your head.

Call me slow, but it took me a few days to realize I’m struggling the same way she is. I’m in the middle of writing a novel – 36,000 words into it – and I’m stuck. It’s not just the plot I’m struggling with; it’s also the characters, the part of writing that’s always come most naturally to me. It’s been about two weeks since I added anything to my story.

So I’m making my own list. I don’t know if it will help you. Hell, I don’t know yet if it’ll help me. But these are some of the ways I’m planning on motivating myself to sit my butt down, write, and revise. And I’ve got six things, because I’m all about one-upmanship.

1. Fess up about your slump.

My friends think it’s pretty cool that I’m writing a novel. They sometimes ask me how it’s going. Lately they’ve been getting evasive answers. Time to stop that and let them know I’m struggling. I don’t want their platitudes (“Oh, I’m sure you’ll get right back into it”); I want their whips. Specifically, I want them to help me keep on track by asking me regularly how I’m doing, and giving me actual help when I’m faffing around (see point 2).

2. Start things off with a brainstorm.

My team at work is called the writing team. Pretty cool, huh? Although most of my time is spent editing stuff and coming up with guidelines for our websites, my teammates work on incredibly creative projects and sometimes call for an impromptu brainstorming session when they need ideas. It’s an unspoken rule that we all make ourselves available for them.

You can’t have my fantastic colleagues, but you can call your critique partners for a coffee brainstorming session. Or talk to your friends, even if they’re not writers. A few weeks ago, I was able to work out some of my story’s problems by saying to my husband, “Imagine you had this particular experience with a girl when you were 16. How would you feel about it? What would you do about it?” Not only was it helpful for my story, it helped me appreciate what a thoughtful person I’m married to.

3. Set a deadline it would hurt to miss.

Published authors have deadlines. Unpublished ones should too. At least, I know I work best when there’s something external I’m pushing toward. This isn’t just about setting your own goals; it’s about working toward a big date that it’s not in your power to move, and that you would hate to miss. I’ve found a contest with a deadline in May. It’s asking for a particular scene, less than ten pages. This is a manageable ask and will give me enough time to write something well, instead of rushing to send in something I know isn’t my best. I would hate to miss this deadline because I’d also be missing out on feedback.

4. Treat yourself.

First off, you have to set some mini targets – whether it’s the number of words you write each day or pages per week. Make them realistic but still challenging. Every week you meet that target, give yourself a little treat. Don’t get into a bad habit of treating yourself with chocolate or other such goodies (especially since you’ve earned that treat by sitting on your butt for hours at a time). It might be giving yourself an hour of unimpeded reading time alone at your favorite coffee shop. Or taking the time to explore a new place – like a hiking trail near your home. Whatever it is, it should be a real treat.

If you meet your monthly goals, up the ante. I know of a beauty school in London that does cheap facials and massages. If I meet my goals this month, I’m splurging on a facial.

You can even get your friends and partner to help you treat yourself. Maybe ask your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend to come up with a list of ways he or she could pamper you when you meet your goals. I won’t list any suggestions here. Have fun brainstorming that one.

5. Keep your creative side ticking.

Try to find new ways of being creative. Write in a different style. Read a book from a genre you wouldn’t normally read. Think about books that have sparked your creativity before and go back to them. I’m going to read Liza Picard’s Restoration London, a social history that looks at what life was like for normal (not rich) people in London during the Restoration. I’m going to read it because when I read Dr Johnson’s London it gave me all sorts of ideas for stories, which I’ll probably never write because I prefer writing contemporaries. But still, it got me thinking and made me see the city around me in a new light. Plus, because it doesn’t have anything to do with the story I’m writing, my brain won’t categorize it as ‘research’ and switch to analytical mode.

6. Visualize it.

I know a lot of people keep scrapbooks of things that help them get in the mood to write. I don’t. One thing I did do, though, is ask a designer friend to create me a man. I found a couple pics of famous men I liked the look of (yes, my husband helped with this part, too), and I sent them to my friend, telling her what I liked about each man. She put them together to create my hero. He’s kinda strange looking, actually, but he’s definitely got personality.

If you’re good at Photoshop (which I’m not), design your novel’s cover. Then you don’t have to rely on your imagination to see your name on the cover of a book. You could even tape it to the cover of a book you love so it looks like you’ve published something, but I wouldn’t let anyone else see it, if I were you. They might think you’re weird.

Have you got anything to add to this list?

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