How to Sustain Motivation

I find it odd that I am writing a blog post on motivation, particularly on sustaining motivation. I don’t exactly have the best track record for it. I do a little, then stop, then do a little more, and so on. In November 2005, I finally finished a novel with the help of NaNoWriMo, but I then went another whole year before writing any more. I finally got in the habit of finishing my novels, but still, it seemed to only happen in November. Then, I tried being a teacher, and well, the writing pretty much dried up altogether.


Something changed in April 2017. I had been working at my usual stop-and-start rate on Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel course. I’d been doing it mostly during Camp NaNo in July and sometimes April, and once for NaNo proper in 2016. But in April, I started posting more of my progress on the forums at Holly’s site. And then she came out with her new Writing Voice class, and I used that to finish up my requirement for Camp NaNo the last week of April, since I was starting a revision lesson that I knew would take longer than a week. Since then, I have written something every day, whether it is free-writing, part of a short story, this blog piece, or the novels I started during NaNo.

Tip # 1

So, that is my first piece of advice for sustaining motivation: find a writing forum where the members are supportive of establishing and maintaining habits. The forum site that comes with any Holly Lisle class, including the free flash fiction course, is a good one. There are at least two threads on maintaining the habit of writing in the main writing forum, and usually similar posts or threads in the forums for the bigger classes. People frequently add their own posts of their progress on a particular lesson in the big classes. And everyone who posts is incredibly helpful and supportive…and at all stages of the writing adventure. It’s a very intimate and personal forum where everyone cheers for everyone’s success.

Tip #2

The next piece of advice is probably only useful to those who find external accountability helpful. What has made a significant difference for me is to seek out writing challenges. The most well-known is, of course, NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a novel of 50,000 words during the month of November. The site’s forums are also open all year, but they do quiet down during the off-season. They are bigger and less intimate overall than the HWC forums, so aren’t quite as supportive long-term, especially during the off-season. They also run two Camps in April and July, where you can set your own word count goal, or another goal of lines, hours, minutes, or pages, that can support other types of creative activity. As you can see from my introduction, NaNoWriMo and the Camps have had a huge effect on my own motivation, both for new words and for revision.

However, NaNoWriMo is not the only writing game in town.

I’ve recently discovered, which has inspired me to write over 20,000 words this past December — the month when I usually write least, after NaNoWriMo in November. 4thewords is an actual writing game, and it starts out the way many games start. After creating an avatar, you’re given a quest to find an amulet, and the amulet is obtained as a “drop” from killing a monster. The twist? You kill monsters by writing enough words to beat them in a given amount of time. The easiest/first monster is called a Reenu, and you have to write 200 words in 30 minutes. That’s pretty doable. There is a random assortment of monsters, each found in specific areas of the site. All of them have different word count and time requirements, and you can either write in the editor that comes on the site or write in your own program, then paste in the words later.

What really helps with sustaining motivation, though, is the Streak calendar. Every day that you write at least 444 words on the site, you either start or continue a writing streak. There are different game-relevant rewards for getting to certain lengths of a streak, and at 30 days, you get your first set of wings that you can add to your avatar. You get better and bigger wings at various intervals, culminating in long, elaborate angel wings for hitting the 2-year mark.

A downside is that there is no way to edit any prior days so you have to actually add words to the site every day to maintain your streak. You can extend or repair streaks by using something called a Stempo, but they are only available as streak rewards or rewards for certain quests … or for pay. Which brings me to the final negative: as a game, 4thewords does require payment on a subscription basis. You buy Core Crystals with real money, then use the Core Crystals to pay for your subscription. You can also buy Stempos or wardrobe items with Core Crystals. It is not expensive, especially if you win NaNo and get the NaNo discount, but it isn’t free, other than the free trial for your first thirty days. If you are interested in signing up, feel free to use my referral code: OEWZN95940 for the free trial (the referral code is not required for the free trial).

I also recently discovered a site/community called Get Your Words On through You can set yearly word count or writing habit goals and check in at monthly intervals throughout the year. I signed up, but haven’t started yet, so I don’t know how helpful that will be in the long run.

The last part of motivation I want to discuss concerns writing sessions themselves. It’s important to delineate these as writing time. You don’t have to do anything special, but typically, I like to set a timer or use a preset playlist of a certain length. Some people like to signal them in other ways.


Kirsten Borda wrote a great post about different timer apps to use for the Pomodoro technique, which you can find here: Pomodoro Technique Timers Ripe For the Picking. However you decide to set up your writing sessions, the important thing is that you only write during a writing session. Between sessions, you can do other things, but aside from emergencies and biological necessities, if you are in a writing session, you should be writing.

Wondering what to write during those writing sessions? If you’re not already working on a specific project, I highly recommend Holly’s 24-Hour Intensive: Find Your Writing Voice class. It starts out with 144 writing prompts, but those can be mixed and matched almost to infinity. You won’t ever run out of something to write for 10 minutes, and you’ll improve your craft as you go. There are also many different prompt generators online, or you can search for anthologies which often have a prompt to write to in order to submit.

In the past, I’ve been great at large spurts of writing activity, but not so good at maintaining a more modest but consistent writing practice. All that changed this year, so I wanted to share the tools that allowed me to get there.

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Holly Lisle

Novelist, writing-nerd, dissector of thought processes, writing course creator and site owner here, Holly Lisle has a cat that plays fetch and a whole lotta stuff on for both readers and writers.