When You’re Not Motivated to Write

I’m reposting this post because I feel it’s so timely. Many are struggling with concentration and motivation, and maybe it’s not the time for you to write or expect so much from yourself. I hope this material encourages you.

For everything, there is a season. So says the wise writer of Ecclesiastes (King Solomon). Some of us were first introduced to this aphorism with the Byrds’ famous song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” I think as we get older, we truly understand the truth about seasons in our lives. They are part of the natural cycle of things, and while we often buck the cycle, we do better if we ride with it.

What am I talking about? The seasons of writing and refraining from writing. Just as there is “a time to plant and a time to reap, a time to laugh and a time to weep,” there is a time to write and a time to not write.

I feel it’s important to consider this, for many reasons. The whole point of Solomon’s words, to me, is acceptance. “This is the way things work,” he seems to be saying. Just as the seasons of the earth come and go in cyclical cadence, everything in our lives works similarly. Why should writing be any different?

Important reason #1: Writers, like other creatives, can be obsessive. We can push ourselves hard, thinking we must write every day or get X number of books written each year or else. Or else what? We might be considered failures or amateurs.

Does this go against my philosophy about cranking out books? I wrote an entire book on why writers need to be super productive and how they can manage that. Not at all. How about: “There is a time to crank and a time to refrain from cranking”?

Sometimes we go through seasons, whether due to events in our lives that pull our attention or just our emotional state or present frame of mind, when we don’t feel like writing. That season might last a week or many years. We can get anxious, frustrated, and/or self-denigrating if we don’t accept with grace this season of “not writing.”

Sure, it can feel awful to not write. I took ten years off after writing my first three novels. I was discouraged. My agents couldn’t sell my books. I had two young children and a bed and breakfast to run full-time. I focused on “more important things.” But a lot of the time I felt frustrated, unfulfilled, and off-kilter. This is common with creative people who just need to create.

It was a wonderful feeling to get back into writing novels, which I did with full immersion when that season of writing presented itself.

I’ve learned to recognize the subtle and blatant signs telling me I need to take a break from writing. And also when I need to go back to it. When I’ve pushed myself to write when it was not the season, the results were lame and frustrating.

Sometimes we feel we are procrastinating when we don’t write, and it may be that we are. I’ve written a lot of posts about procrastination (which you can find by putting that word in the search bar above). There are “good reasons” for procrastinating and “bad reasons.” Only you can determine which camp your excuses fall into. Laziness, insecurity and self-doubt, and many other things can cause us to procrastinate. So it’s important to look at your reasons so that you can comfortably justify (and not self-condemn) when you  declare it’s a season to not write.

Important reason #2: Sometimes we take time off writing to let a project sit and simmer, so we can approach it with a fresh perspective. That’s one good reason to take a break from writing. Of course, you could write other things, or develop a new project when you’re not actually writing chapters for your book. You can do research.

But sometimes even doing anything centering on writing can exhaust us. Sometimes our brain needs a break. A big break. I try to go camping and backpacking every summer. I make sure my projects and blog posts are caught up so I can completely disconnect from anything writing related. I need to do the “clean slate” thing before I can get super productive in the fall.

Sometimes my brain feels as if it is going to explode or implode from all the heavy thinking. My mind gets tired, at times to the point where I become somewhat disfunctional. I might chalk it up to aging or having too much on my plate or the current political and societal climate. And all those surely contribute to my malaise.

I’ve learned to tell, however, when it’s the creative brain work that is impacting my functionality. It makes no sense for me to push myself to write when in that condition. These are surely seasons of resting instead of planting.

Rest is crucial. Not just physical rest as in naps and sleep. Our brains need a break. Even God, all-powerful, rested a full “day” after creating the cosmos. It wasn’t that he was tired, either. He sat back, looked at what he’d created, and called it good.

There’s a lesson for us in that . . .

Important reason #3: Take the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Don’t be so neurotic! (I’m saying this to myself!) Be amazed at what you’ve created. Call it good. Even if it needs work. Even if it was an early attempt at wrting and you think it now sucks (and you want to hide it under your mattress). Embrace the process!

Listen, it’s so much better to value every step along the way and not just the final destination. Creativity is process. We live in a world that is very end-result focused. The process is negated if the end result isn’t a “success.”

Don’t fall for that. Try to get into the “season” of creativity. A season lasts for a time. It isn’t just one minute or one day. Rejoice during and throughout your season of creativity. And, likewise, rejoice and revel in the season of rest and reflection.

Sometimes I will pick up a novel I wrote years back and read it. Sure, when I proofread it ten times before publishing, I got sick of it and swore I would never read it again. But, guess what? Years later, it’s a fresh read. Honestly (maybe due to senility, though other, younger writers say they experience this as well), I read some of my scenes and can’t remember writing them. I get delighted when my own writing surprises me. I love rediscovering my stories that I’d put aside.

The other day, I racked my brain trying to think of one of my characters’ names. Sheesh! She is the protagonist in a novel that is 450 pages long! But having written twenty+ novels and perhaps hundreds of characters, great and small, I suppose it might be normal for me to forget a name (they say names are the first to go as you age …).

All that to say: there is a seaon to write and a season to not write and instead go back and read what you wrote. Call it good. Enjoy that feeling.

It helps remind me that, yes, I accomplished something beautiful and amazing and astounding and gargantuan. We might write dozens of novels, but we should never forget what hard work they are. We should pat ourselves on the back from time to time for the herculean effort it takes to plot and write and polish a wonderful novel.

There are many more reasons for embracing a season of “not writing.” But I hope this brief look at some of the reasons will get you in a good frame of mind at the end of this year, this season. Perhaps you are in the throes of a writing season. Perhaps you are deep in an “unproductive” season.

Don’t look at “not writing” as unproductive. That’s an unproductive attitude! Instead, appreciate the season. If it feels dry and fallow, be reminded of the farmer who waits patiently for rain. The half-brother of Jesus wrote in a letter that it is wise to be patient. “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.” You are a farmer. A farmer of words that produces crops of prose.

The rain will come. It always does.

For everything, there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.

Your thoughts?

Featured Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

7 Responses to “When You’re Not Motivated to Write”

  1. Audra September 21, 2020 at 9:04 am #

    Bless you for reposting these thoughts. My dry spell has lasted far longer than I ever imagined, but the desire, the NEED to write still glows bright. It’s just that an entire novel of thoughts are not gel-ing together, even though a sweet series of books hangs like a carrot in front of me.

    Yes, there is a season for everything. And if the good Lord wants to pile all the obligations He’s heaped on me into one tidy “time not to write,” well, who am I to argue. My “time to write” will come and I will be ready.

    Thanks for reminding me I have permission to wait until the time is write 🙂

  2. RJ Thesman September 21, 2020 at 12:56 pm #

    So true – for those of us who thrive on writing and producing – letting ourselves fallow is tough. But as a farmer’s daughter, I know fallow ground will later produce the best harvest. A difficult lesson I’ve had to learn.

    • Richard Regan September 21, 2020 at 4:46 pm #

      Thank you for this post. I have been been struggling with motivation recently and feeling guilty about it. Your thoughts have helped put things in perspective.

  3. Rolena Hatfield September 21, 2020 at 3:34 pm #

    Such a good reminder! Thanks for reposting. It’s hard to rest when you feel the pressure to always, always be productive. But rest is oh so important.

  4. Paul Chernoch September 22, 2020 at 9:16 am #

    Timely words – I am writing a book about Ecclesiastes! I usually write on the weekend, but was too exhausted this past weekend, what with visiting my dad, fresh out of the hospital following a heart attack.

    To your analogies of Solomon’s words, you could add these from chapter 12:

    “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” (Eccl 12:12 NIV)

  5. pat dreger October 7, 2020 at 1:08 pm #

    This is a great article, timely always, and pertinent to every writer that ever lived. I have been “not writing” for almost 4 years. It probably sounds dumb, but the reason is that my country has been going through a severe crisis that has affected me personally every day. I have been sulking, heavy hearted, not writing. Oh I kept in a “sort of” writing mode, photos, an occasional article about something, reblogs of some of my 900+ posts since Sometimes debut in 2011. I don’t know how many of those 900_ have been about writing and not-writing, whining about not writing, complaining about not writing.

    I understand about sometimes not recognizing my own writing. I try to copyright almost every scrap that I write…there are a few things in my notebooks that I won’t ever use because I don’t know if I wrote them or not.

    • cslakin October 12, 2020 at 9:27 am #

      I hear you, Pat. I feel like this a lot, and I know many others do. I hope you’ll write some short pieces this month and send to me in November for the October 2020 book project. Just write short bits uner 300 words and share what you’re feeling!

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