Writing Tips: Motivation vs. Habit

Writer blue suit
Are You Ready for NaNoWriMo?

The annual National Novel Writing Month is starting November 1st. Every year since 1999 authors set out to nurture creativity and provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices. Since 1999, almost 800,000 novelists have completed 368,000 novels during NaNoWriMo. I’d like to help you participate, starting with helping you get motivated by telling you a story about something I read a few years back. 

On the door at my gym, someone hung a sign that says, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit keeps you going.”

I began working out regularly over 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve dropped about 75 pounds, and I’ve run or walked something in the neighborhood of 22,000 miles. I can’t even imagine how much I’ve lifted in weights. But think about it, if someone had said to me, “Hey, Dave, why don’t you go run 22,000 miles?” it would have taken an awful lot of motivation to get me going.

However, it only took a tiny bit of habit.

How to Turn Writing Into a Habit

A lot of us try hard to get motivated to write a novel. But writing a novel is a lengthy process. Being motivated doesn’t help much, but developing good writing habits helps a lot.

I learned long ago that exercise is hard when you’re starting out. If you run three days, you’ll want to quit at the end of them. That’s when muscle aches and fatigue are the strongest. But if you run for a week, you’ll begin to notice that you feel better on the days that you’ve run. Soon, the day won’t feel complete without some exercise.

Jumping into a project is hard. Working on a novel for one day doesn’t really get you very far into it. But if you try making it a habit—if you bundle all of that motivation up and say to yourself, “I’m going to write for one hour a day this week,” you’ll find at the end of the week that you just don’t really feel that your day is complete if you haven’t spent some time engaged in creative recreation.

Setting Goals and Keeping Them
lack of motivation

Over at Apex Writers we hold strategy meetings once a week. There I try to motivate my students to write daily, if only for a couple of hours. We’ve also been holding daily writing sprints where we can write together as a group. The goal in part is to teach the writers and get them to develop new skills, but just as importantly, I’m trying to get them into the habit of writing.

Quite often it works. I’ve gotten many letters from writers where the writer has said, “Hey, Dave, I got into the habit of writing at your workshop last year, and I’ve just finished my first/second/third/fourth novel!” Whenever I see that, I always feel as if the mission has been accomplished.

So Here’s the Key to Becoming a Writer: 

Use your motivation to create a writing habit. Long after you have run out of motivation, you’ll still be writing.

If you’d like more motivation, I’ve created a course called “The Story Puzzle” which you can buy individually, or as a bundle on mystorydoctor.com. For those of you who want even more help to get motivated, come to apex-writers.com and join our writing group where we will be holding daily writing sprints where authors work together to create their novels, get direction from fellow writers, and grow stronger as a community together. The courses including The Story Puzzle are all available at apex-writers.com 

Happy writing!

David Farland


P.S. keep reading to learn about some special guests coming soon to Apex Writers!

Dan Wells

Daniel Andrew Wells is an American horror and science fiction author. Wells’s first published novel, I Am Not a Serial Killer, was made into a movie in 2016. A former student of David Farland at BYU, a true hometown hero for the state of Utah. 

Brandon Sanderson

If you read fantasy and sci-fi, chances are you’ve heard of Brandon Sanderson, whether that’s from The Way of Kings, Mistborn, Skyward, Steelheart, or Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians. Brandon has become one of the most recognizable authors of the 21st century, and now he’s coming to www.apex-writers.com

Week of October 25
Come to www.apex-writers.com to hear from special guests!
T.C. Christensen is an American filmmaker who has won over 270 national and international awards for his work in directing and photography. In 2010, he was invited to join the American Society of Cinematographers.

Claudia Mills is an American author of children’s books. She is also an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Live and past recorded Apex Calls are one of the many membership benefits that are included with your subscription at https://www.apex-writers.com/

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