On Writing: Motivation vs Willpower

I had to write a feature article for work the other day discussing the difference between motivation and willpower—especially when it comes to achieving personal goals. My research went pretty deep (since it had to be an intelligent-sounding write-up, as opposed to my usual blah-blah-blah-life-is-sunshine-and-daisies perspective), and a lot of what I unearthed fascinated me. I mean, most of it wasn’t anything I didn’t already know since I had to study a lot of that sort of thing as part my Human Behaviour degree, but it was still really interesting to look into it all again. And it was especially cool to look at it from a author’s perspective now, and apply it all to writing. So I figured it’d be cool to share some of what I discovered with other fellow writers—that being you!

I’m not going to make this some deeply introspective, philosophical, or even intellectual (gasp!) blog post, since anyone who has followed me for a while knows I like to keep things pretty casual and bubbly here… Plus, I’ve already completed the ‘smart’-sounding article for work and I don’t want to, like, plagiarise myself. (Can I even do that?)… But I still want to pull a couple of elements out of it to discuss from a writing POV. Actually, pretty much what I want to talk about comes from where I wrote this:

In his article titled, Should I Get Motivated Or Use Willpower? The Ultimate Guide For Taking Action When You Don’t Feel Like It, Stephen Guise says, “At times, you can conjure up the motivation to be fit or write 5,000 words, but other times, you will end up taking a nap, watching TV, or drinking beer instead.” He goes on to say that for lasting change to occur, it’s not motivation, but habits that help make or break success… habits that lead to actions, which are a direct result of willpower.

To nutshell it, I discovered through my research that motivation is the warm-and-fuzzies that get us feeling like doing something, while willpower is what makes us do something even when we’re not in the mood. For any writers out there, I’m sure there have been times where you just haven’t felt like writing. That doesn’t mean you don’t love writing—it just means you’re not feeling it for whatever reason. Like, for me, I’m personally one of those people who, at any given time, is solely in reading-mode or writing-mode. If I’m in reading-mode, I’ll easily devour between 5-10 books in a week (depending on how big they are and how much of a social life I want to have outside of work hours… so yeah, probably closer to 10 books, haha). BUT the catch is, when I’m in a hard-core reading mode like that, I simply can’t write much. I just can’t do it. Then the exact opposite happens when I’m in writing-mode. I can sit my backside down for 14 hours straight and throw out 10,000+ words in a day—a day—but I can’t for the life of me connect with reading any other story that’s not the one I’m writing during that time.

So, when I’m writing, I can’t read. And when I’m reading, I can’t write. Not effectively, anyway. I mean, sure, there are exceptions… But that’s the general rule. I’m not motivated—depending on what ‘mode’ I’m in.

That’s… uh… kinda getting off track for my point here. Oops. What I’m (ineffectively) trying to say is, when I’m not motivated to write, sometimes I just have to make myself write. Do you know how many books are out there in the world? There are definitely enough that I could easily stay in reading-mode forever (and then some) – but that would mean I’d never get back into writing-mode, which would be super craptastic for my dreams of becoming a full-time author. And let’s face it, I’m pretty sure my publishers would kill me if I didn’t deliver on the rest of the books in my series. That would definitely be all kinds of awkward. So, as you can imagine, I can’t always wait to feel motivated in order to write. Sometimes I just have to rely on good, old, faithful willpower—which I believe is the foundation underpinning healthy writing habits.

Here’s a good example… I was on a panel at an author event on the Gold Coast last week and one of the other panellists mentioned that every day she has a schedule that she sticks to, rain, hail or shine. Every day she gets up and goes for a walk on the beach (for physical and mental health) and then she does her odd jobs and housework etc. all in the morning, but at the stroke of twelve o’clock (midday) she sits her butt down and writes until 5pm. Every single day she commits those 5 uninterrupted hours to writing. She has a scheduled writing habit that has been conditioned in her, not from motivation, but simply by her willpower to write—regardless of whether she’s ‘feeling it’.

As for me, I can’t do what she does. I can’t stick to 5 hours at a specific time—because when I get on a roll, I just don’t stop (thus the 14 hours and 10,000+ words p/day). But I do totally respect what she does. And in my own way, I use my own version of that—when I have to. Meaning, at the times when I’m feeling wholly unmotivated, I’ll just make myself open up a WORD document and write whatever comes to mind. Sometimes the result is awful and I end up feeding it to my imaginary dragon (aka my PC’s recycle bin). But it doesn’t matter if it sucks, because once I start writing, inevitably, sooner or later, something worth reading will come out. As Louis L’Amour says, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” I mean, seriously. How good is that quote?

But anyway… I guess all I’m trying to say here is, it’s awesome when we feel motivated and excited and totally inspired to write the novel that we’re certain is going to change the world… But sometimes we still need to remember that we don’t need to feel motivated in order to write. So, for all the writers reading this, I want to encourage you to channel your willpower and start writing out of habit, not just when you’re ‘feeling it’. Who knows what may come from it!


36 thoughts on “On Writing: Motivation vs Willpower

  1. I totally agree with all of this! I actually find my willpower motivating. I have a spreadsheet which I use to track my writing progress and when it’s got days in a row of writing I feel super motivated that I had the willpower to write that much :)

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