Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

What to Do When You Don’t Feel Motivated to Write

Today, I went to the gym — not because I had to or because I felt guilty about not working out, but because I wanted to. And that’s a new thing for me. Which, oddly, taught me a lesson about motivation and writing.

4 Practices to Try When You Don't Feel Motivated to Write

Most people set goals. Maybe to write a book or lose a few pounds or even launch a business. We all understand what it means to dream for a better life. But the follow-through is often the hardest part.

How do you stay inspired when life gets hard?

This is a question I get a lot and one that’s tough to answer. But the way we answer it will determine our success in so many areas of life, from the art we create to the way we treat our bodies and our loved ones. In particular, this is a question writers often ask themselves.

So, here are four methods to stay motivated when it’s hard to get your best work out into the world.

1. Copy someone else

In my case, I wasn’t feeling motivated to eat right until I was at the gym and saw an overweight man giving it his all, staying late after the class was over, and then telling the instructor, “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

That motivated me to take my health a little more seriously — not because he was obese, but because he was motivated. As Donald Miller wrote, “Sometimes, you have to watch someone else love something before you can love it yourself.”

This is also the reason I didn’t hire a personal trainer and instead took a weight training class — so that I could be surrounded by a half dozen other guys who are stronger than me and further along in this journey than I am. It’s motivating to see how they do it.

In order to write better, you need to surround yourself with good writers. Read the classics. Pay attention to the masters. Follow in the footsteps of greatness, and you too will soon be great.

Exercise: Reach out to five people whose success you want to mimic and ask them how they did it. You might be surprised at who responds and what they say.

2. Set small goals

We all get motivated to reach higher once we’ve met certain minimum goals.

Once you start losing weight, it’s easier to continue losing weight. You motivate yourself. This is true in business, too. Once you make your first $1, it’s easier to make your next $10 or even $1000. But that initial hump between 0 and 1 is the most difficult.

Setting small targets and achieving them is one way we create consistency in our routines to help us hit our most desired goals. The secret to this is to not make that first goal too big, but just beyond your current reach.

In my case, setting a personal record for deadlift last week without even meaning to was what made me want to race back to the gym this week.

Next, find a way to get a personal breakthrough. Set small goals and accomplish them. Start with 500 words a day, not the goal to write a book. After you’ve done that for two months and it’s officially a habit (studies say it takes 66 days on average, not 21, to create a habit), then you can start thinking bigger.

While writing my most recent book, I started losing motivation to finish it once I was about two-thirds done. I would block out an hour or two to write and then I would just waste that time. So I took a tip from Neil Fiore, expert on the psychology of procrastination and author of The Now Habit, and gave myself small rewards every time I sat down to write. For me, this was a $10 coffee smoothie at the end of each writing time. It got me through that final hump by rewiring my brain to embrace the thing I was avoiding as something to actually look forward to.

Exercise: Set a tiny goal, like writing 10 minutes a day, and celebrate every time you hit that goal. After a week of consistency, increase to 15 minutes. And so on. Remember to reward yourself.

3. Ask for help

When in doubt, ask someone who’s done what you want to do. Hire a coach. Ask a friend. Read a blog. Listen to a podcast. Find teachers and mentors. Invite them to coffee or lunch. Ask them smart questions that you can’t read the answers to on their blog or in their books.

I’ve done this in almost every area of my life, including health and fitness, as well as business and even writing. In some cases, I pay these people. In others, we swap services. And in others, it’s just an informal mentoring relationship.

The point is if you want to achieve greatness, you have to surround yourself with great people. When you can’t talk with them personally, become a student from afar. Copy what they do and become their case study, giving them all the credit for your success.

Exercise: Take someone’s advice (from a book, podcast, or blog post) and email them about it, telling them how they helped you. This is the secret to getting influencers to pay attention to you. Make them look good by doing what they say. Demonstrate that it works.

4. Remember your “why”

I used to work out because I didn’t like the way I looked. It was a shame-based approach to getting into shape. I’d take up running or a new diet, do it religiously for a few months, and then move on.

What was happening?

A good friend of mine recently gave me some tough feedback on the way I was running my business, saying, “It feels like you’re looking for an easy button.”

Ouch. He was right, though. I wanted a hack, a shortcut, some easy route to success. But the truth is there isn’t one. In my experience, there are no big breaks. There is only the work, and either you love it or you don’t.

If shortcuts to success do exist, they typically don’t last. As my friend David once told me after getting $70,000 in an insurance settlement, which he then proceeded to turn into $150,000 in debt on some bad real estate investments, “Any success you did not earn, you will inevitably waste.”

In our context, this means that you must embrace the process. And in order to do that, you have to connect with your why, with the reason you want to do this in the first place.

For me, my health is important to me because it means having more energy to share with my family and friends, as well as feeling more confident about myself. With writing, it’s ultimately about impact. I want to write words that move people’s souls and change culture. That’s what gets me up in the morning and helps me work through the dips.

Your situation will never change until you get clear about your real goals and honest about the process it will take to get there.

Exercise: Write down five reasons why you want to change. Do you want to be a famous author? Finally finish a book? Make a little money off your words or art? Then, do the opposite. What are five reasons to stay the same? Consider the cost of both doing the work and not doing the work. What do you ultimately want, and what are you willing to give?

Grab a club

So, that’s how inspiration works when you’re not feeling inspired. You don’t wait to feel motivated. In the words of Jack London, you go after it with a club.

Your situation will never change until you tap into your true motivation for change. Dig deep. It’s in there. Once you find it, nearly anything is possible.

What’s one unlikely place you can find some inspiration today? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • My best friend is a very successful watercolor artist. He is also a good business man (rare combo?) Beautiful gallery, well marketed, huge following. He told me, at 9 am I go downstairs and paint. It does not matter how I “feel”. It is my job, If I don’t paint, nothing else works. He said it is classic for artist to need, different brush, change the canvas, look for inspirations etc. They are stalling the hard part, just paint. If you are good it will come, but you have to paint.

  • Anjana

    Hi Jeff,
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  • Tammy Nischan

    You have no idea how much I needed this article today! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Tammy Nischan http://www.tammynischan.com

  • Nabila

    Thank you Jeff Goins. You keep inspiring people including myself every single day. I really needed this article to bring me back to life. Thank you thank you thank you!

  • I often don’t feel like writing, but I have a goal to submit something every day this year, and the trunk is pretty empty now. I’ve found that if I wait until late in the day, the itch to get that done starts to grow…and the more days in a row I write something to scratch it, the more motivated I am to write the next day.

  • Just start typing the minute I sit down at my laptop each day. Been a habit for years. Even on days when my vision (eyes) are not working right, I use an eye patch when necessary and type!

  • Caroline DePalatis

    Good stuff, Jeff! I could relate so well as you shared about writing your most recent book. I have just finished the first draft of my book (huzzah!) and am now in the editing stage. But yes, in that ‘mushy middle’ I was finding every excuse to procrastinate. All these are good, solid pieces of advice I’ll return to again and again. Thanks for your contribution! You changed my world today! 🙂

    • Michelle Monet

      Great Caroline! I hear you about the ‘mushy middle’. I published 3 books last year. Keep going! 🙂 There will always be mush!

  • Vibeke Billund Mouridsen

    This is the best blog post I have read in a long time (and I read a lot). Thank you.

  • Billie L Wade

    Jeff, Thank you for this great post. I printed it, so I have it handy to refer to often. I tend to forget my two greatest advantages. First, I get to create a world and populate it with “people” of my choosing or share my expertise and perspective about a topic that interests me. Second, I get to break my goals into bite-sized pieces, so I am constantly working on something “different” even if I am facing the same project for days, weeks, or months. The hard part for me is remembering these tenets from one day to the next and, thereby, warding off boredom and frustration. My challenge, then, is to remember to write in joy and gratitude.

    • Michelle Monet

      JOy and gratitude! Great Billie!

  • Laura Koller

    I do what you told me to – I schedule it. As you’ve said, a schedule “is a way to remove your own willpower and whims from the work of being an author.” I pre-decide when I will write and the job of Future Me is to stick with the plan. That’s become so effective that I’m in the process of trying to pre-decide and schedule as many things as possible in my life, so I can spare myself decision and worry and clear my head and make space for the creative and fun stuff I want to do. As W. Somerset Maugham has said, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” It’s funny how adding structure now can feel so liberating later on.

    I also read and listen to audiobooks whenever I can. I love to hear from others who write about their own obstacles to success, and I try to implement anything that might work for me. Two weeks ago, after listening to one of your podcasts, I followed the suggestion of Hal Elrod and started to set my alarm an hour early each morning and found that much-needed intentional space for writing and reflection and inspiration. So far that has been life-changing for me, and self-reinforcing as well.

  • Ashley

    Motivation is a tricky thing. Without understanding my personal why for doing something, I have learned that I can weasel out of any schedule I set for myself. That was the missing piece of the puzzle.I need to remind myself everyday why I’m choosing to do something. I don’t know where an unlikely source of inspiration will be, but I’m sure I’ll run across it. However, I have recently become a fan of podcasts. They’re a form of much-needed mentorship for me, and I love the different insights I gain from them. On more than one occasion, one of the guests has said something that resonated with me, and either follow their podcast or read his or her book. Maybe my unexpected inspiration will come from there.

    • Michelle Monet

      yes Ashley. I can relate. We must understand our ‘personal why’!

  • Pressfield has tackled this topic as well, with his observations about “the resistance.” I love to paint, write and draw cartoons. But there’s still that darn “resistance.” The best antidote is a schedule. Just starting every day, even when not in the mood, usually pays off. Thanks Jeff.

    • Michelle Monet

      yep JOHN!

  • Charlene Kendall Potterbaum

    Jeff, I really ‘gulped’ up what you wrote as it touched me deeply–but when reading the responses, Mr, Bilie Wade put the exclamation point on it all and helped it ‘go down’ more effectively….so many thanks to both of you. I couldn’t see a way to get into his response, so please let him know that his words were a great help to me, as well. When I wrote my first story in the third grade, the thing that thrilled me was the ‘power’ I had, to make my characters good, bad, ugly, lovely–but I had forgotten that until I read Billie’s comment. This is my eighty-fifth year here on the planet and I had the good fortune to have a best seller many years ago–I’d love to experience that again before I ‘leave’ y’all–but that is not why I write. I write because of what felt so good, back in the third grade….Thanks, again.

  • Great tips today Jeff!

  • Ben Weaver

    Love this, Jeff. Thanks for sharing. Interestingly enough, this clarified I am currently on the right track. I am doing what i need to be doing. I appreciate the encouragement and reminder!

  • Akos Balogh

    Thanks for the encouragement, Jeff! Love it.

  • Great thoughts, Jeff. I found #3 particularly helpful. I needed that kick in the pants.

  • Emily Maher

    Love the story in the first point. That really gets me going today.

  • Katharine

    When I don’t feel like writing, I think it’s because I’m bored with my own style. Of course, probably we should not change style in the middle of a book, right? But I like writing something else for awhile. Something silly, or that other book my brain has been chewing on, or maybe an overdue letter to a friend. There is always other writing I’m putting off for the stuff that makes me feel guilty. 😀

  • Karen Lauerman Beidelman

    I am thinking I will give #2 a try. Thanks for sharing this just when I needed it most Jeff! LightHouseLifeLessons.com

  • Fran Thring

    Thanks so much Jeff, I loved this! Articles like yours keep me going as I try to build my own platform and things seem to take FOREVER. Little steps and little rewards, I can do that. Keep writing, your words are making a difference.

  • Waou, Jeff, I really loved this article. Facing new challenges, that’s life and it’s good, your post gave me courage this morning, as I’m looking for ways to make my blog more smart, my writing more creative and my caracter more patient and optimistic ! Do you know that you are really a mentor. Your vision to empower others is beautiful. Keep on my brother ! Enjoy your journey ! Lots of blessings 🙂

  • Deepak Jain

    The article was too good Jeff! Just love it sooo much. You have never been mediocre anywhere. And from my perspective, inspiring people is one of the best jobs in the world and that’s what you are doing now.

  • This seems to be sound advice. I am having one of those days today; mind racing and can not seem to focus. I plan to try a few to see the outcome. Learning comes in all forms…I like it. http://www.wondermode.com

  • Dealine bumps me up.

    I have at least 2 things which I juggle. If I get blocked in writing then I work all my energy on teaching.

    Seems to work fine for me. Awesome post buddy.

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  • I did the exercise in #4 and realized there is NO good reason to stay where I am…if I don’t change, it’s guaranteed misery. Not the best motivation, but it does help me look at my pro+ reasons with a little less second-guessing.

  • shyam

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  • Funny, I recently wrote a post about motivating myself when I was in a slump. https://wp.me/p5q5Ra-cf

    #2 and #4 was what I did recently. Thank you for the post! Great information.

  • Great post, Jeff. You mentioned habits. I just saw an awesome post on how to master habits from The Write Practice here: http://thewritepractice.com/daily-routines/ Definitely worth checking out. It has tons of great ideas from a guy I’ve recently found on KBoards named Nicholas Eric who really seems to know his stuff.

    Your post and his combined is confirmation for me that I need to get more serious about developing the right habits in my own life. Thanks for the push.