Far too many stories of mine have gone unfinished simply because I lost motivation to keep writing (and it doesn't help that I manage to convince myself each project will be my magnum opus). How can I keep myself with a project or keep myself from dropping it until I see it come to fruition?

7 Answers 7


Man up, chief.

Stop looking for excuses. Sit down and finish the damn thing already. Really, that's all there is to it. Turn off the phone, disconnect the Internet, reprogram the TV with a shovel, sit down at the desk, and finish the damn story.

  • The more you look into the science of motivation for your answers, the more you become a scientist of motivation, and less a writer. "Those that can't do, teach."
    – Mudly
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 19:48
  • 1
    I don't remember mentioning motivation at all. Wait, let me check ... No, I didn't mention it at all.
    – Ricky
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 20:22
  • I'm more or less agreeing with you. I figured since the questioner did mention motivation, it might be helpful to add a bit to what you said.
    – Mudly
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 19:09

For a while, try writing shorter stories that you can finish before your motivation wanes.

Also, try to distinguish between:

  • losing motivation
  • fear of finishing

Writers often fear finishing a story because finishing means:

  • now they gotta think up a new story idea
  • now they gotta show people their story, and that scares the pajamas off of them

It turns out that neither of those things is true. You don't have to think up a new idea. You don't have to show your story to anybody. You might choose to. Or you might choose not to. Whatever you choose is okay. And you can make the choice later.


There are only two motivations:

  1. pain
  2. pleasure

The only difference between the two motivations is what your mind makes of circumstances. In other words, one person thinks writing is pain another thinks it is pleasure.

Dopamine Release : Science Behind Motivation

Modern neuroscientists have discovered that basically anything you associate with pleasure releases dopamine into your brain. When dopamine is released into your brain you like the thing you are doing more. It is a self-perpetuating system and why people become addicted to odd behaviors which make them "feel happy".

Program Yourself

Over time, the world has programmed you to believe certain things are pain and certain other things are pleasure.
Consider this, why do some people find escargo a delicacy and others believe them to be disgusting. It is this same type of thing.

If you are placed in a situation where writing is a chore and considered pain (think secondary school and college where it is a requirement simply to pass a class) then you may have programmed yourself into the belief that writing is pain.

Heavily Used Circuits Fire Faster, Fire More If you've gone in numerous loops -- as many writers have -- where you write a little, think it is a pain, get rejected, then stop and start often you've basically programmed yourself to think writing is pain.

A Possible Solution

  1. Set specific times to write, which will only last 5 minutes.
  2. When the time comes, do nothing but write.
  3. When you write for those 5 minutes, write about whatever you want, as if no one will ever see it. Free yourself entirely.
  4. Do not judge your writing at all. Write for the pure exhiliration of writing; examining interesting words and thoughts, enjoying sentence construction that may not even be grammatical, studying the beauty of language itself.

Evaluation of the System

Finally, evaluate how you feel after these 5 minute writing sprees. Ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Did you write at the scheduled time?

If you continually miss the scheduled times or simply never write for those 5 minutes, then it is advisable to stop writing. Why? Because you really don't want to write. Go do something that you are actually intereted in.

  1. Did you enjoy writing

It's okay if you still did not enjoy writing. Maybe it's not your thing. This way, at least you are honest with yourself.


This simple program of writing for 5 minutes may very well help you create a positive dopamine release in your brain which will transform you into a prolific writer. Try it and see what happens.

If you never try the program for even 5 sessions of 5 minutes? Answer: You are not a writer. That's ok. Move on.

  1. Create a Schedule
  2. Share your schedule
  3. Build slop time in to your schedule
  4. Be honest with yourself when making your schedule
  5. Set realistic goals, not too crazy or challenging, nor too easy.
  6. Save the editing for later, do the writing now
  7. Do it every day, even if it's just 5 minutes.

I look at writing the same way I look at reading. If I am thoroughly enjoying a book that I'm reading, I will definitely finish that book, even if it takes me a lifetime. When I'm really excited to write a story nothing stops me from finishing it because I can't wait for the reader to read what I have produced.

So if you have multiple projects that are unfinished (as I'm sure we all do) go through them again. Finish the ones you are still excited to read and delete the ones you can't even bring yourself to look at. Lightening the load and narrowing your projects to the ones your more likely to finish will help your productivity considerably.


Pick One Thing and Stick To It

The thing you are working on right now will (probably) not be your magnum opus. Finish it anyway.

Ricky's answer would have been sufficient, but it feels necessary to add, in the context of multiple competing projects, that if you intend to finish things, you need to keep working on one of them.

Carry one project through to the end. It's fine if that story isn't everything you imagined it would be. But if you're ever going to write a magnum opus, first you have to write a thing. Not half a thing, or a quarter of a thing. All that nonsense of "the journey of a thousand miles" isn't actually nonsense. If you're 36,543 steps into something, keep adding steps. Don't ask for motivation - just tell yourself you're going to finish something, and don't let yourself start a new story until you do.

It's okay to not complete every story you start, but if you've recognized that your problem is not completing things, the only way you're ever going to fix that is to stick to a thing until it's finished.

Writing is work as well as play. Accept the work aspect, and work at it.


Get yourself a deadline. Contests are very good at providing deadlines.

A lot of contests for fiction and poetry are listed in Poets & Writers.

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