How To Stay Motivated Without Deadlines or Money

No MoneyA little backstory on me… I have not worked a regular, paying job this past year. I used my savings to quit everything and just write a novel. I’ve had many friends ask me how I stay motivated without the threat of deadlines or reward of money. This is how I do it…

1)   Schedule. Pretend you have a normal job and make yourself a schedule of what to do and when to do it. Don’t worry if it takes a few weeks to find a schedule that works for you. Not everyone operates best from 9 to 5. For instance, no matter how hard I try, I am not a morning person. So in the AM when my brain is mush, I take care of things like emails, Twitter, my blog and my website. By late morning I’m awake enough to start writing. Once you find your schedule, stick to it.

2)   Location. Just because you can write from home doesn’t mean it’s the best work environment. At the start of my year off I had trouble getting anything written at home, so a friend and I went to the library to work. It was quiet and free from distractions. I couldn’t do anything except write. Now that I’m well into my novel, I don’t need to go to the library to focus and I write at home, but in the beginning I needed that “office” space.

3)   Don’t Play Hooky. It is tempting take advantage of the fact that you don’t have a regular boss or deadlines by socializing and/or napping midday. Try to resist, but if you do succumb to temptation, don’t shrug and be like, “Oh well, no one will ever know!” Instead, reschedule that lost work time to the evening or weekend.

4)   Rewards. It’s hard to keep working when you want to bake cookies or check Facebook or play with the dog. Instead of denying yourself or giving in, make these things your reward for writing so many words, or writing a certain number of hours. Pay yourself in fun breaks!

5)   Hide The Smartphone. My phone is awesome, but a total distraction when I’m writing. It’s too easy to reach over, turn it on, and check my email/Facebook/Twitter, just for a few seconds. But those few seconds turn into minutes and suddenly an hour has passed! Now I leave my phone in another room where I can’t reach it and only check it every couple hours.

6)   Read. Nothing motivates me more to finish my novel than reading a great book or a terrible book. If it’s a great book, I’m inspired and learn from it. If it’s a terrible book, I’m enraged and motivated to write more because if that lousy book got published, the only thing standing between me and publication is my unfinished manuscript!

7)   Fear. Fear is a great motivator and need not be in the form of a tyrannical boss or looming deadline. I fear failure. I fear running out of money as I watch my bank account dwindle. I fear no longer having a screenwriting career to fall back on since I’ve been out of the biz too long. I’m terrified because I’ve left myself no other option but to succeed! Fear keeps me in line, adhering to all of the above steps, and motivates me to write, write, write!

You might notice that the obvious suggestion “Set Your Own Deadlines” is not on my list. That’s because this is my first time writing a novel and I don’t know how long it will or should take me to complete everything. Setting unrealistic deadlines wouldn’t be helpful. Instead, I write a certain number of hours each and every week, and track my progress. That way I get an idea of how long things take, and maybe for the next novel I’ll set deadlines.

So that’s what works for me. How do you stay motivated?

Next Up from Heather… Writing loglines. Because everyone needs to know how to sum up their story in one sentence!

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

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