4 Aspects to evaluate your motivation

June Leung
Creative Thoughts
Published in
10 min readFeb 6, 2021

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The million-dollar question: How to stay motivated?
My short answer, I don’t stay motivated, and it is fine. You also don’t have to stay motivated, but you can still get your project completed.

Staying motivated vs getting motivated

Staying motivated and getting motivated are very different questions that require a different answer. Staying motivated is the act of sticking on to what one is already doing while the other talks about how to create the desired action in one’s life.

For me, it is far easier to stay motivated than to get started. To answer this question, it is important to know why we are thinking about it and what we want to achieve by answering this question.

If the goal is to find out how we can continue with a task, which often doesn’t give instant results, then it is required to decide on whether this is the most productive question to be asking. For writing in specific, the action required is to sit down and write, until one day the product is completed.

Through observation on various online channels and places, most people consider motivation as a drive that gets one to wake up daily and pursues their goal with much energy. Sometimes it is trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Back to the question at hand, I should jump right into how one keeps staying motivated, with the expectation that they are already motivated.

If motivation is the lightning, there has to be a way to catch the fleeting.

Habit and routines

It is far easier to have hobbies and routines in place instead of motivation alone. I think this is a way we get to seal the lightning. Usually, writers get motivated when a shiny new project pops up in their mind, they get motivated to work on it for a while, then they stopped getting motivated, eventually, they drop the project in wait for the next project that would motivate them. And so the cycle repeats itself.

Hobby and routines are the way for one to finish a project. It is not to say one can’t stay motivated through the whole process, but it is really a long time to stay motivated.

Take an average novel as an example. For ease's sake, I will assume it is a 60k word novel. Seeing how Nanowrimo is a writing challenge most find challenging (1667 words per day in November every year, ending with a 50k first draft), let’s make the model writer we are talking about to be one that can write 1k words every day without fail. The book is going to take them two months to get done.

When talking about a finished writing project, usually we don’t mean the first draft, we mean a book that is ready to query or publish depending on the route one chooses. Even if our sample writer here can actually produce a publish-ready first draft, they need to stay motivated for two months, which is not an easy task. Not to mention quite a number of writers plot their book before they start, like me, plotting would take at least a few extra days.

But if the writer can establish a writing routine when the project is fresh and they are more motivated, there is a higher chance they could keep at it. Establishing a routine or a habit deserves its own topic, so we should stick to motivation for now.

The four factors behind change

There are four main factors that contribute to how motivated we are, desire, need, ability and reason.

Desire

This is the internal drive that pushes us to want change in our lives. Getting to write in itself is desiring a change. It is just a thought with no detailed plan for how we are going to do it. For example, most writers want to have their book published, this is a desire.

When people say someone doesn’t want something enough, most likely, the want they are talking about is about desire.

Need

If desire is the pull factor for us to promote change, then the need is the push factor that encourages us to get away from someplace we don’t want to be in. It is how important what we are going after actually is for us. Or in other words, how bad would it get if we don’t do the thing we said we wanted to do.

For most writers, writing doesn’t come with a strong need. This is normal as most of us don’t make a living from writing. There are no severe consequences if the day’s writing doesn’t get done. Of course, it would lead to the writing project not completed, but as we’ve established, the project is going to take a long time, the short-term setback isn’t carrying the instant consequence. Before I side note into behavioral theories, let’s stop at immediate effect is more change provoking than an effect that won’t show for a while.

If you work as a freelance writer or you are a full-time writer, then you probably know more about the need than I could explain with my lack of experience as one.

Ability

This is the factor about how we see the steps needed to achieve our goal. If it is too hard to actually do, it is all too easy to give up before even starting. Even if you managed to start, it is easy to fall off the plan and the goal post soon looked too hard to achieve.

Lucky for a writer, the bar to entry is low. Pen and paper or a laptop would work well. There are also countless resources out there that are either cheap or free, which makes it very viable to get started and to keep on writing.

Reason

I think this is the more distilled version of desire. If desire is a flame, reason is the trusty old stove that could keep the pot warm. (Yummy food example, anyone?) It is very hard to keep doing a thing if it meant nothing for you. I think for some, the day job becomes a drag because they didn’t see the meaning in the job (or the job really was meaningless. Meaning is in the eye of the beholder).

So the question boils down to why do you want to write? Why do you want to be motivated to write?

If you have the time, take out a paper and jot down what is your answer to the four aspects, the more you get down, the stronger your motivation would be. Put the paper somewhere you can look at when you need to stay motivated. Nothing is set in stone though, so feel free to change it. Changing it is not bad either. Different phase in life requires a different approach and a different method to get through.

Expectation

From my personal experience, it is hard to keep going when I got an expectation too high. I know my typical typing speed after writing and tracking for almost half a year. While I don’t track my editing speed, I do know how long it generally takes for me to edit my work. If I set the bar too high, it is much easier for me to procrastinate. It is also easy for me to slack off.

I haven’t put in the time for detailed research, but I think it had to do with my subconscious knowing that it is not a goal I can do (the ability aspect), therefore although I can say I care, I don’t really do as I said.

They said to aim for the moon so you fall to the star. But maybe for some, aiming for the star and find out they could work a bit harder and get to the moon is more motivating.

This also includes the expectation that you may fail at times. It is OK if things didn’t work out the first time, but better try to not get stuck the same way next time. It is not a failure until you stop trying. And feel free to pivot, maybe writing is not for you after all. It is not wrong nor a failure to switch track. I did it myself, and writing for now is better for me (a story for another day?). Of the many things in the world, it is fine to not know what you are good at with the first try, you won’t know if you never give it a try.

The important thing that deserved repetition: Most of the ‘failures’ can be fixed, and most don’t have a lasting adverse effect on your life.

Book recommendation

As you’ve read till here, I still think habit and routines are the better strategies, but motivation could still be useful at times. I got a list of books you may find interesting and helpful for this topic. (Affiliate links used)

The war of art
Almost ‘the book’ for me and probably many more. It focuses on how it is harder to get started in creating than keep creating. For a project like writing, it takes sitting down and write, day in and day out. The author explained why it can be hard to keep going and what we can do to fight the resistance to creating.

Atomic Habit
A good book about building habits and routines and the importance of it. It breaks down the process of habit creation well. It helps to see how we can use our already established habits to build those we wanted and to cut out the ones that are unproductive.

My experience

For me, staying motivated is not my current focus in my creative progress at the time of writing (Feb 2021). Using the four aspects from above:

Desire:

Yes, I want to write fiction and sometimes non-fiction (like what you are reading for now). I have a lot of stories I can’t wait to be able to share with others. I am the only one that would write the story the way they are in my mind. Getting up from bed is still sometimes hard (I am blaming winter for this), but then I know where I am going when I sit down before my manuscript.

Need:

Although I want writing fiction to be my bread winning activity, it is not happening any time soon. While I hope to be the unicorn and hit it out of the park, I know it is likely not going to be the case. Before I go down the rabbit hole that way, my monetary need to write is almost non-existent.

That being said, now that I have published books, my series and my readers are waiting for the next book. I already promised them with pre-orders on when the next book will be out, so I am going to give my everything to give them a book by that time, and a great book of course.

Ability:

I’ve written, edited, and published a book now. I know I can do it again. It requires me to sit down and put in the words one at a time and edit them one at a time, I can do it.
Knowing this, if I don’t hit the daily target, I only have myself to blame. Luckily, nothing cannot be fixed on the way.

Reason:

I am not sure whether I can’t not create something is a good reason. When I have a scene or a story in my mind and I write it down, my brain gives me another idea. Before I jot the ideas down, they lingered and repeat themselves. So it is kind of fun to see what it would come up with. Not to mention the ever-repeating storylines get boring some time down the line.

The next reason is, I’d like a souvenir for my time. Most people don’t work the full 24 hours, even if we take out the 8-hour sleep, few spend all their time working. Probably as with many others that are of my age, I used to spend a lot of my free time watching videos, playing online games. They are great and I had fun, but there’s nothing to show for after spending all the hours there. I’ve been in the NDS and 3DS era. While I had fun, after turning off the game, it didn’t matter much.

But with the creative field, I can hold the product and point at what I’ve spent time with. This is important to me, even more so when my copy of the book I published arrived. It is fascinating to hold the book I spent easily over a hundred hours on. It still feels like a dream up till now to see what was in my mind come out as a physical book. I may be biased, but the cover is stunning and so everything I could’ve imagined for the character.

For the years to come, I can’t wait to fill my bookshelf with my own books.

Last but not least, I like the control that comes together with being an author. It is my book and I get to create my world, my characters, and everything. Sometimes I need somewhere to escape from the often scary world, I like my writing to do just that. And if it is an escape for my readers, I am very grateful for that.

As an indie author, even the business part is my full control, together with the full responsibility when things didn’t work as well as I hoped. It is good to know I am the reason things didn’t work, at least I can fix myself.

Expectation:

I’ve been tracking time spent on writing and my word count, I know what I can expect from myself. I still try to improve on my craft and my productivity, but at least I’ve established the normal for myself. I make my own plan and make sure I stand a chance to get things done. And when I didn’t hit the mark, it wouldn’t crush me when I know setbacks are unavoidable.

Closing:

While I talked about the theory behind motivation and it seems I got a plan on what to do, it doesn’t mean everything is going to be great and easy. Someday, it is going to be better; someday, it is going to be hard. Instead of how to stay motivated, it is more important to pick ourselves up when things go wrong, which is inevitable in life and in the life of a creative.

Last repeat: It is OK to pivot and change, most of the setbacks won’t have lasting effects, just correct as we go.

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