Novel Goggles Blog

How to Find Motivation to Plan or Write your Stories

Author: Lionel Basson

19 January 2023 08:00

We’ve all been there, our writing projects languishing in a dusty corner of the mind, gathering cobwebs spun by the spiders of neglect. When we think of tackling that Story Plan or Manuscript again, it feels like we’re caught in a web and just can’t bring ourselves to want it enough to sit down and do the work. We don’t feel creative and we don’t feel motivated. “If only I felt motivated to write...” you say to yourself. If this sounds like you, then this post will help you get out of that funk and tackling your Story Plans and Manuscripts with renewed vigour.

This post will cover:

  1. The BAD, GOOD and GREAT news about fixing flagging motivation.
  2. What motivation is, where it comes from and how it is activated.
  3. The two primary reasons why you lose motivation and what you can do about them.
  4. How you can apply what you learn here in practice.
  5. Finally, a brief summary of everything we’ve covered.

The BAD news

The bad news is that motivation isn’t going to materialise and activate out of nowhere. You’re going to have to do a little something to build up your motivation and you're going to have to put a bit of mental effort and discipline into overcoming the motivational inertia you’re experiencing. Sound BAD? Don’t fret, the situation isn’t as dire as it may seem. Read on for the GOOD and GREAT news!

The GOOD news

With the new knowledge you get from this post, you’ll find yourself able to activate your motivation to write (or, indeed, to do anything) on a regular basis. You’re still sometimes going to feel unmotivated before you start but you’re going to be able to break through that barrier, overcome your motivational inertia and make progress on your projects. Sounds pretty GOOD, right? But how much effort will you have to put in to master your motivation? Read on for the GREAT news!

The GREAT news

The ideas I’ll present aren’t difficult to learn or master, don’t take time away from the tasks you’re trying to complete and you can apply them to anything you want to do but don’t feel motivated to do. Sounds GREAT, doesn't it?

Before I tell you what you need to do, let me cover some background, starting with what motivation is, where motivation comes from and how it is activated.

What is Motivation, where does it come from and how is it activated?

Before we can figure out how to solve your lack of motivation, we need to understand a few basic things about what motivation is, where it comes from and how it is activated. Motivation can be defined as the reason(s) for performing an action or behaving in some manner. In terms of a psychological process, it is the set of reasons that:

  1. Drives a person to take action.
  2. Guides their actions such that they remain consistent with their reasons for acting.
  3. Helps them sustain the actions and behaviours driven by their reasons.

These reasons are usually linked to some form of anticipated reward. To frame motivation in a manner more useful to the issue at hand, we can generalise our reasons for doing things as our desire to achieve goals. Doing this allows us to consider motivation from a goal-based perspective and the source of motivation (the reason behind our actions) can then be stated in terms of the goals that we wish to achieve. These sources of motivation are usually divided into two main categories: External and Internal sources.

External Sources

For external sources of motivation, the goal is driven by factors external to the person. Often, the goal is specified or influenced by external factors and reaching the goal offers some form of reward from others, such as recognition, a prize, remuneration or avoiding some negative consequences.

Internal Sources

For internal sources of motivation, the goal is driven by factors internal to the person. The goal is usually set by the individual and reaching the goal provides them with some form of internal reward, such as satisfaction in having achieved something or enjoyment of the task itself.

Internal sources of motivation can often be more powerful than external sources of motivation, as we feel a greater level of ownership, autonomy and satisfaction when driven by internal sources of motivation. Internal sources of motivation will therefore be very important when trying to overcome the feeling of lacking motivation to Plan or Write your stories.

Activating Motivation

How do we activate our motivation? Well, strangely enough, motivation is activated AFTER we start to do the task that the motivation applies to, NOT before! This means that we need to apply some mental effort and discipline to find some way of generating the energy required to get going. Waiting until you feel motivated to work towards a goal will get you nowhere, you need to find a way to push past those initial feelings of “I don’t feel like it” and “I don’t feel motivated today”. Once you’ve managed that and are actively working towards your goal, your motivation will start to activate and will drive you to take further action towards your goals and to sustain that action.

Now that we know what motivation is, where it comes from and how it is activated, we can start to answer the following questions:

  1. Why do you lose motivation?
  2. What can you do to recover it?
  3. How can you keep from losing it in future.

Why do you lose motivation and what can you do about that?

Losing motivation is something that we’ve all encountered in many different aspects of our lives, but why does that come about? You’ve learned that motivation is driven by your goals and activated by actively pursuing those goals. If you’ve set your goals, why doesn’t the motivation to complete them last? I’ll cover two potential reasons:

  1. You've lost the desire to complete the goals that you've set.
  2. The perceived energy required to start or sustain the activity is too high.

In the first case, you have really lost the motivation to continue with the task and you will have to find a new source of motivation. In the second case, you haven’t lost the motivation, per se, you’ve failed to activate it. So how do you handle these two scenarios?

When you've really lost motivation

Your motivation for completing a task may be lost as the task progresses. Perhaps initially it was pure joy in planning and writing your story that acted as your source of motivation. This may dwindle as your manuscript grows and you need to start revising and doing the less fun parts of finishing a novel. If, for whatever reason, you have legitimately lost interest in your initial goal, your motivation will be lost as well. This is one possible reason for your lack of motivation to work on your story planning or writing. If this is the case, there are some things that you can do to overcome this loss of motivation and to prevent it from happening in the future: Generate new and improved sources of motivation.

Overcome lost motivation by generating new, improved sources

Since the source of your motivation is the goal that you set, you need to re-evaluate your goals to overcome lost motivation AND to AVOID losing motivation. If your original goal was simply creativity for the sake of pleasure, then your motivation may fail when your plot needs difficult updates to improve narrative structure or your manuscript needs revising to remove unnecessary or irrelevant prose. Remember, your source of motivation doesn’t have to stay the same throughout a task. In fact, it is likely to need changing as you progress through any large task. You should set, adjust and maintain your goals on a consistent basis as you work on your projects to ensure that they remain relevant to you and what you’re doing. To do this, you should continually evaluate your goals so that you can identify when they need to be updated. If your original goal was too broad, then your motivation might fail at a specific task contained within that goal. Perhaps creating a more targeted goal for that task can galvanise you into action and rekindle your original motivation. Continuously evaluate your goals for relevance:

  1. Do you still want to achieve the original goal?
  2. Does the original goal apply to the current tasks at hand?
  3. Is the original goal specific enough for the tasks at hand?

You don’t necessarily need to throw out a goal if it is currently problematic. Perhaps it is still a worthwhile goal but at the moment, you need to evaluate possible new goals that fit the current state of your project. If you have lost motivation when you started to revise, perhaps you need goals specific to that task. Adjust your goals as your needs evolve:

  1. Is there a specific goal that you can apply to the current task?

    1. If you’re revising and lacking motivation, perhaps you can use a goal such as sharing a first draft of the current chapter with a friend or writing group.
    2. If you’re currently creating a plot outline, perhaps you can set a goal of fleshing out a particular character, location or scene and sharing that with a friend or writing group.

  2. Can you break up a problematic goal into smaller, targeted goals that get you to the same result?

Keep up the evaluation and adjustment cycle to keep your goals relevant to you and the state of your task and you should be able to avoid losing motivation because of outdated goals. Now, let’s discuss the second possible reason for losing motivation: High perceived activation energy.

When perceived activation energy becomes too great

When starting something new, your motivation is usually easily activated. You’ve come up with some plan or idea and you’re excited about it. You haven’t hit any roadblocks, you’re probably still naive to how much time and effort completing the task will take and overcoming the activation energy to tap into your motivation is trivial, you probably don’t even notice the effort required to get started.

When we speak of losing motivation, often we haven’t really lost the motivation that we had before, the activation energy required to get started has just grown to the point where our previous methods of overcoming this activation energy are no longer sufficient. If you find yourself thinking: “But I have set my goals, still want to achieve them, and I still don’t feel motivated to sit down and do the work.”, you may have run into high activation energy. You might not even be consciously thinking that the task is too large but your subconscious will be lurking in the background, always looking to avoid expending energy unnecessarily.

As your projects grow larger and more complex, they can seem more daunting. Your initial goal may have been too vague or monolithic and perhaps you have not yet set clear interim goals to take the project further. You might still have the required motivation but the motivation activation energy has become so high that you tend to avoid getting started. Ever been paralysed into inaction by the sheer amount of work that you need to do? That’s high activation energy in action.

There are two strategies that you can employ to combat high activation energy:

  1. Lower it through habits, routine and organisation.
  2. Lower it through the setting of simpler, more targeted goals.

Habits, routine and organising to lower the required activation energy

Habits can help to reduce the activation energy required to do something removing or lowering the activation energy required for routine tasks. You can apply this to your writing:

  1. Establish and Nurture habits that make is easier for you to start writing:

    1. Have your notebook/pen/laptop, etc available quickly.
    2. Keep your laptop charged.
    3. Keep your projects organised.
    4. Keep your Story Planning and Manuscripts Organised.

  2. Write regularly:

    1. If writing itself is a habit, then you don’t need to put as much effort into starting. It becomes almost second nature.

  3. Schedule your writing sessions:

    1. If you don’t have to put in effort to find time for your writing, you are more likely to do it. It is easier to start a task that has a well-defined time-window.

The goal here is to remove any unnecessary activation energy getting in your way. If you first have to search for a pen, charge your laptop or clear your desk before you start writing, you’re less likely to start.

Lowering activation energy using targeted goals

Another way of lowering the activation energy for your motivation is to set smaller targeted goals. If your primary goals are too complex or too daunting, try setting smaller goals, specific to the session at hand:

  1. Set a word target or an amount of time to spend writing.
  2. Set a goal targeting a specific character and their development.
  3. Set a goal related to a specific scene.
  4. Set a goal to plan a specific story arc.

You can use these smaller goals with smaller activation energies to get going more easily. If you’re not feeling motivated and the only goal you’ve set is to write a novel, the scale of the task may put you off. Sitting down to write for 20 minutes is a far more manageable goal. Perhaps this will activate your motivation for the larger goals, resulting in a marathon Story Planning or Manuscript Writing session or perhaps it will just be enough to complete the simplified task. Either way, you’ve made progress! Having smaller targeted goals will also make it easier to reward yourself more regularly, thus re-enforcing your motivations.

Get into the habit of rewarding yourself

Motivation is strongly linked to reward, as was mentioned in the section describing what motivation is and where it comes from. You would expect some level of satisfaction (internal reward) upon completing a large task such as writing a novel or short story and you might anticipate positive feedback from readers, sales (and therefore remuneration) from self-publishing or recognition in a competition. However, these rewards may be some time away and their draw could fade into the background when faced with the day-to-day tasks required to finish your story. This can erode the effectiveness of the anticipation of rewards in sustaining your motivation.

To combat this, don’t delay all gratification until you’ve achieved your final, towering goal of completing your story. Reward yourself along the way! Every time you achieve one of your smaller goals, find a way to celebrate that brings you joy. It might be something as simple as rewarding yourself with a hot cup of good coffee if you managed to sit down and write for 20 minutes. Or allowing yourself to feel good about making progress. Sometimes, you even need to feel good about trying, even if you don’t achieve much. Be kind towards yourself when evaluating your progress and ticking off goals.

Having consistency and discipline with setting and managing your goals, reducing unnecessary effort to get started, and rewarding yourself regularly will go a long way towards re-enforcing your motivations.

Would you like to see goal setting features in Novel Goggles?

Would you like to see scheduling features in Novel Goggles?

Novel Goggles can help to reduce activation energy by keeping your Projects, Manuscripts, Story Plans, Characters and Locations organised and accessible wherever you are.

Novel Goggles can help reduce activation energy by making it easier to reference your Story Planning while you’re writing or to update your Story Outline while you’re writing.

In Practice

So how do you apply what you’ve learned above in practice?

  1. Remember that motivation is driven by goals.

  2. Keep your goals fresh and relevant:

    1. Continuously evaluate your goals for relevance.
    2. Adjust your goals as your needs evolve.

  3. You will still need to put in some energy to get started, make this easier for yourself:

    1. Keep the required activation energy low:

      1. Create habits and routines.
      2. Set smaller targeted goals in addition to your overarching big-think goals.
      3. Employ consistency and discipline.

    2. Reward yourself along the way.

If you’re struggling to get started, set yourself the simple goal of sitting down and trying for 20 minutes. The act of doing this will activate the motivation to reach that goal of trying for 20 minutes but it may also activate other motivations related to the project that are perhaps more difficult to activate directly because of their size, complexity or perceived difficulty. If you’re still not feeling motivated to work on your project after trying for 20 minutes, then let yourself stop and do something else, but come back to it and try again later or another day and reward yourself for achieving the goal of trying for 20 minutes.


So, there you have it, the way to beat those moments of motivational melancholy:

  1. Remember that motivation is all about your reasons for doing things, like achieving goals, and receiving the anticipated rewards.

  2. To avoid losing motivation and to help activate it:

    1. Evaluate and adjust your goals to keep them relevant and effective in creating motivation.
    2. Adjust your goals as your needs evolve.

    Lower activation energy to get started more easily:

    1. Create habits and routines and get organised. Set smaller targeted goals in addition to your world-conquering ambitions. Employ consistency and discipline.

    2. Reward yourself along the way.

Like I told you at the start. The bad news is that you’ll have to put in a little bit of effort. The good news is that you will get better at activating and maintaining motivation anywhere that you apply these ideas and the great news is that it is all still in service of your goals, with no irrelevant fluff.

If you’re struggling to get started, set yourself the simple goal of sitting down and trying for 20 minutes. The act of doing this will activate the motivation to reach that goal of trying for 20 minutes but it may also activate other motivations related to the project that are perhaps more difficult to activate directly because of their size, complexity or perceived difficulty. If you’re still not feeling motivated to work on your project after trying for 20 minutes, then let yourself stop and do something else, but come back to it and try again later or another day and reward yourself for achieving the goal of trying for 20 minutes.

Thank you for reading! I hope you have found this to be an informative and useful piece. If you enjoyed this piece, found it useful or if you'd like to see content focusing more on creativity, let us know, our e-mail address is just below.

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These ideas and opinions have obviously not been arrived at in isolation. The following sources deserve credit:

Terms & Definitions

  • Act
  • Antagonist
  • Chapter
  • Character Arc
  • Character Development
  • Character Progression
  • Climax
  • Conflict
  • Denouement
  • Deuteragonist
  • Exposition
  • Foil
  • Inciting incident
  • Love interest
  • Mentor
  • Narrative Structure
  • Opening
  • Outlining
  • Pace
  • Pantser
  • Pantsing
  • Plot Outline
  • Plot Point
  • Plotter
  • Plotting
  • Point of View
  • Premise
  • Protagonist
  • Resolution
  • Scene
  • Sequence
  • Setting
  • Sidekick
  • Story Arc
  • Tension
  • Theme
  • World Building

Did we forget anything? Let us know if there is a term or definition that you would like us to include: