Motivation or Commitment? Only ONE is Necessary

I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation lately, mostly because mine seems to be fizzling.

Motivation simply doesn’t last forever. Sometimes it is gone before the morning is out. We writers try hard to stay motivated so we can meet our writing goals.

However, when motivation starts to fizzle out, you need rock solid commitment to keep you moving ahead on your writing goals.

Same or Different?

Sometimes we use the words “motivated” and “committed” interchangeably. We say “I’m motivated to write today” and “I’m committed to write today.” Even so, the words aren’t the same. Being motivated to write today can help you meet your daily quota of words or pages. Being committed to your writing will get the book finished.

Motivation involves getting yourself to do things because you feel like it. Commitment will cause you to do things even when you don’t feel like it. Getting that novel written—developing your writing career—will only happen if you have commitment that keeps you moving through the motivational lapses.

Motivation is Big Business

Motivation happens at writing conferences, writing workshops, and when we start new classes. That’s why we read blogs and writing books about the emotional life of writers. There are motivational websites, and you can hire a motivational writing coach. Don’t get me wrong. All of these can be wonderful. If only the motivation lasted!

Commitment, on the other hand, is about doing what is needed no matter what. (Picture being up with the teething baby in the middle of the night. You don’t feel eagerly motivated to get out of your warm bed, but you’re committed to that little darling.) You need to develop that kind of commitment for your writing. (“But how?” you’re asking. We’ll get to that in a bit.)

Fluctuating Motivation is Normal

Undeniably, a shot of motivation makes the commitment to your writing easier. It’s great to write down dreams and goals. But unless you commit to those goals, your chances aren’t very good that you’ll reach them. You’ll only write when you feel motivated or inspired.

Remember: motivation is always temporary. It will fluctuate, ebb and flow, come and go. Do NOT be alarmed by this. It happens to all writers throughout their writing careers. And there are just too many things that can poke holes in your motivation. Physical aches and pains, emotional upheaval in an important relationship, or mental worries can puncture your motivation like a popped balloon.

Instead, focus on strengthening your commitment, whether you are motivated on any particular day or not.

Defining Our Terms

If we want to have a writing career, if we want to finish a book, we need to find ways to move our writing life from the “motivated to write” side of the ledger to the “committed to write” side. So…how do we do that?

Maybe the answer—or part of it—lies in the definitions. Motivate means to “stimulate toward action or give incentive to.” Things that might stimulate you to write would include having lunch with another writer or reading a published novel that inspires you to do likewise.

Commitment, according to the dictionary, means several things: a pledge, an obligation, a promise; something that restricts one’s freedom of action, and official consignment of a person to a mental hospital. (That last definition is reserved for the worst writing days.) It says that a commitment implies responsibility (something that takes up time or energy), loyalty (devotion or dedication to a cause or relationship), and is a previously planned engagement (a planned arrangement or activity that cannot be avoided.)

I think this definition is a good measuring stick. Using this definition, here are some possible signs of a committed writer:

Have you made a promise to yourself to write as close to daily as possible?

Have you placed non-negotiable restrictions on your freedom in order to write? (e.g. less TV, no Internet in the mornings)

Have you given up time and energy to write? (Do you have a weekly pages or hours quota?)

Do you make definite writing plans that cannot be changed? (Do you write at your scheduled time despite phone calls, invitations to lunch, or the continual call of the refrigerator?)

A committed writer writes most every day in some form, whether she feels well or feels like writing. A motivated writer writes when she feels excited and inspired. Maybe that’s why contract deadlines work so well for most people. Whether you “feel” like writing or not (motivation), you get the work done (commitment to fulfilling the contract).

The Olden Days

While motivational seminars and books aren’t new, they have become big business in our day. Previous generations seemed to rely more on commitment. My grandparents on both sides were farmers. I can’t imagine any of them hiring a motivational coach for doing their jobs, taking care of their families, or sticking with their spouses. They had hard lives too. Commitment was more of a given in previous generations. I believe we can develop that mind-set for our writing.


The Bible describes three different pictures of commitment:

A soldier who fights every battle until he has won the war

An athlete who keeps running till he crosses the finish line and wins the prize

A farmer who continues to weed, cultivate and water until a crop is ready to harvest

In each case, the individual is rewarded by winning the “prize” or reaching the goal.


Conversely, motivated individuals might look like this:

A soldier who fights when he feels brave, but not otherwise, and ends up losing

An athlete who runs until tired, and then quits

A farmer who stops work in the field, lets weeds take over, and harvests no crop

In each case, there is no real fruit for all the effort made.

[Next time I will finish this article. It was way too long for one blog post. Next time we’ll talk about how to go from being an occasionally motivated writer to a committed writer.]

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