Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Late October I decided to take the plunge and attempt NaNoWriMo. I haven't done much writing in some time and thought it would be a fun attempt to jump back into things. So far it's been pretty fun getting back into writing about something I hashed together from a weird dream.

But I'm also woefully under the NaNoWriMo average at 8111 words. Most of my writing happens during my train commutes to and from work via train. I've averaged to about 400ish words a day, which wont get me anywhere near 50,000 in time.

My problem is that as soon as I get home again, I'm hit by a huge bout of lazyness. My afternoons and weekends are spent slacking off or doing other things around the house. It's not that I don't have things to write; as soon as I sit down at my desk I'm hit by a huge desire to do anything and everything outside of being creative. It's like some sort of lingering nerosis from avoiding homework as a child or something. This sort of thing has also plagued me in the areas of drawing as well.

What should I do to overcome this almost aggressive form of lazyness? Should I rearrange my desk/room? Should I leave my PC off and just focus on my MacBook (the one I use for writing on the train)? Should I go to a different room entirely?

Edit: I want to note that I'm not actually stressing out over the 50,000 word thing. That may be the "goal" of NaNo but it's not the true goal behind the event, if you get what I mean. This is more about me being disappointed in myself that I have had the time in which I could have caught up (2 weekends) that I totally wasted due to this problem of mine.

Edit 2: Okay, so to rephrase this question: For someone who has had a similar experience, how did you overcome this type of inability to devote time to writing when at home?

share|improve this question
I don't know much of NaNoWriMo, but what I've read from their website (and I don't want to spoil it for you, but really), I don't think it's a good approach to writing in general. As they state themselves, “[i]t's all about quantity, not quality.” This forces you to do things I wouldn't recommend at all, like focusing on the number of words per day. That wouldn't help in case of a writer's block. – Marcel Korpel Nov 19 '10 at 0:17
This is not exactly a case of writer's block per se. I know what I want to write, but I can't focus myself when I have the time to write. I think the point of NaNoWriMo isn't really forcing, it's just more of an excuse to motivate oneself to be creative. It's only a self-imposed deadline and wordcount, and the only goal of NaNo is to be creative. – Tim Nov 19 '10 at 0:25
Please either rephrase this so there will be a single, best answer. As it is, it's a forum-style question asking for tips. (Codemwnci's answer is approaching a proper SE-style answer.) – Neil Fein Nov 19 '10 at 0:34
Also the "quantity, not quality" liner is just there to say that it's a competition about writing a first draft in a month, to leave the editing for a later date. – Tim Nov 19 '10 at 0:41
@neilfein "either" what? You didn't finish your train of thought there... – Tim Nov 19 '10 at 0:50

There are a lot of different ways you can overcome a lack of motivation, here are a few that I've come up with.

  • Write somewhere outside of your usual places. This can be a coffee shop or a home office, but it has to be the sort of place you don't do other things at. The idea is to take you out of the familiar places where you can fall back into the usual patterns. This shouldn't be the sort of place (or computer if you can afford it) that you use to play games or watch TV. It's a place for writing, and you go there to write.

  • Schedule a block of time. Sometimes just writing an hour everyday can help. It's worked for me when I've been in a longer slump.

  • Goal and Rewards. This is a simple one, how much do you want to write every day/week? Set the goal for that and then set your reward for meeting that goal. Not only are your bribing yourself you're setting a deadline.

  • Or another take on the same idea, Competition. Last year another writer friend of mine and I entered into a deal. The first person to miss their weekly writing goal before the end of the year had to by the other a DVD boxset of their choice. At the time we were both sipping all over the place. For the next six months neither one of us missed our goals... so neither one of us got a boxset. Well, the word count was more important.

share|improve this answer

If I have other things on my mind, I force myself to write two sentences before getting up from the computer/writing desk/typewriter. At least half the time, two sentences is enough to get me into some sort of rhythm.

Also, I do a variation of the 10/2/5 rule (work/write 10 minutes, do something anything else for two, repeat 5 times to total an hour, take a bio or other break). Mine's 12/3/4 -- same concept, just adjusted to the fact that I take a minute or two to "reset" sometimes when changing tasks. It really does help.

share|improve this answer

I find this a lot with projects I work on, and not necessarily just novels. I have this problem when starting software projects, websites, pretty much anything creative. Usually, the problem I have, is that I just don't know where to start, and that is because I don't have a plan.

If I sit down and properly think about what I am trying to achieve in the next hour, afternoon, evening, whatever, I actually find I can knock out a few pages, chapters, because I have a reference point to work from.

By not having a plan, I distract myself with other things, until something comes to me that I can rush off and write down. But, with a plan, I know what I need to do next, and I just get it done.

So, whilst a change of scenery may help you, or indeed other focusing techniques, if you don't know what you need to do next, you will find new inventive ways to procrastinate. And when I say plan, I don't mean, write 1000 words tonight. I mean

  • develop character A
  • build subplot B
  • introduce the unexpected twist
share|improve this answer

I don't like having pending tasks (I use Outlook for them), so a good way I found to motivate myself (for doing anything actually) is adding tasks to it.

Before doing anything else I try to complete these tasks.

Adding tasks for writing at least a few paragraph (to start) would be a good way to accomplish it.

share|improve this answer

Change of scene is good, I think.

Maybe a park?

(I have the same problem, though it's more about being too busy at home with family/housework. I write on the train too.)

share|improve this answer

I've learned to write when I feel like writing, as in leave other stuff as much as you can and just write. Let it flow, then go back and clean up later.

When I can't write I go take care of stuff that needs to be done.

If I need to write (daily piece due here), I often head to a Starbucks or Borders, by myself, but in a change of environment. If I need headphones, I take them, but having some away time helps me focus.

share|improve this answer

Get away. Sometimes its easier to go somewhere where you can't have your normal distractions. Parks, Coffeeshops, etc, are fine and dandy but if they're in city, or have WiFi, it can be too easy to get distracted.

Rent a cabin in the middle of nowhere or a hotel room, and leave your cell phone, laptop, at home, and essentially give yourself nothing to do but write.

Also, airplane flights.

I tend to get a lot of work done on flights, and also have heard of one writer who used to go to the airport and buy a cheapest, long-distance round-trip ticket he could find. Something like fly from LA to South Carolina and back. It'd essentially give him 16 hours where he couldn't be bothered.

share|improve this answer
It sounds like a nice idea, but I have a feeling I'm my own worse enemy. If I try to intentionally isolate myself with a trip or cutting off internet, my superego will tear that reasoning to bits. I might try avoiding my PC and desk for a while though, just to get away from that particular rut. – Tim Nov 19 '10 at 3:07

The answers I find most useful for productive writing times are also the answers to other writing maladies:

  1. Routine, routine, routine. Set up a schedule to write at the same time everyday. Try to follow the same routine not just with scheduling, but with whatever little rituals work for you (I sit down with a cup of coffee in the same place, start my pomodoro time, fire up my editor, and go.

  2. Draft, don't edit. Just charge ahead. Some people use a typewriter mode so they basically can't go backward. I don't find I need that...it's just a mindset. You can edit later. I try to just let it flow, diversions and what seems immediately like a bad sentence or idea. Approach the drafting like brainstorming!

  3. Don't work in silence. I need white noise of some kind, not silence. I write in a coffee shop (no beret), which works well. For a long time I used a program like Ambiance on my iPhone to use nature sounds like rain on a tent, etc.

  4. If on-computer distractions are an issue, use some kind of full screen editor and maybe software that locks down your internet, etc. so you aren't tempted by Farmville or email or whatever.

  5. I mentioned my pomodoro timer...which helps with my operative principle that I need disciplined breaks to let my subconscious work.

share|improve this answer

I am new to writing as well. I can relate to lack of motivation. I've had the motivational issue pop up in other areas as well but I think they relate. Here's what I mean. I have always, always wanted to have a horse and enjoy training and working with it. Now, in my forties, I have two horses. Yet oddly, I feel a block. You would think that the idea of working with them would fill me with joy. The feeling registers as a lack of interest, a dull lack of motivation or enthusiasm. Slowly unpack it and i find an old identity rooted in some very negative experiences and messages. The joy IS still in there somewhere but so are some other things. As always when attempting something that takes a certain amount of belief in one's abilty to achieve success in some way, negative voices, old feelings and beliefs intervene and fight to "hold the floor" in my life.I don't think, though, that these negative things introduce themselves and say " Hi, I'm not really rooted in truth or reality but I'm here to use old past things to mess you up". Its not obvious what the general feeling of malaise is. Its a no brainer when we ask ourselves " Why don't I want to do the dishes, change the transmission in zero below weather or go to the doctor for a hemmorhoid operation? But when its something you love or really want to do, it seems insane that you'd hold back from doing it. I would suggest, without getting too deep into navel gazing, that you check and see if there are any beliefs or past voices that attack your attempt to go in a chosen direction in case something like that is part of the resistance you feel. Sometimes feeling undeserving or unworthy of success is enough to put a stop to that alive, free flow of creativity.

share|improve this answer

protected by Neil Fein Nov 16 '12 at 21:58

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.