Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 7, 2018

How to Restore Your Love of Writing

by Colleen M. Story

 When the money doesn’t come flowing in or when the market ignores your book, it’s easy to lose the joy in writing. Fortunately, you can get it back.

What Rewards are Writers Seeking?

In almost everything we do, there are two types of rewards involved:

  1. Extrinsic rewards are those we get from the outside world, including money, recognition, prizes, and praise.
  2. Intrinsic rewards are those we get from inside ourselves, including a sense of accomplishment, personal satisfaction, mastery of a craft or skill, or simply the pleasure of pursuing something we enjoy.

Though both methods can be effective when you’re pursuing a goal, it depends on what kind of goal it is. Some research has suggested that extrinsic rewards—particularly money—may in some cases be detrimental to creative goals.

In one experiment, for example, scientists asked elementary and college students to make “silly” collages. Teachers then rated the projects based on creativity, and found that the students offered money came up with the least creative results.

In another related study, researchers asked creative writing college students to write poetry. One group was given a list of extrinsic reasons for completing the project, including making money and impressing teachers. The other group was given a list of intrinsic reasons, including self-expression and the enjoyment of playing with words.

Twelve independent poets then judged the poems. Results showed that participants given extrinsic reasons to write not only wrote less creative poems, but also created less quality work than those given intrinsic reasons.

“The more complex the activity,” wrote lead author Teresa M. Amabile, “the more it’s hurt by extrinsic reward.”

Researchers have some theories as to why this may be:

  • Extrinsic rewards may make us feel less autonomous in pursuing the activity, and lead us to believe we’re now controlled by the reward, making the activity less enjoyable.
  • Rewards encourage us to complete the task as quickly as possible to receive the reward, and to take few risks, reducing creativity.
  • Extrinsic rewards may simply make the task seem more like a “job.”

Signs You’re Thinking Too Much About Extrinsic Rewards

To discover if extrinsic rewards are causing you to lose the joy in writing, ask yourself these three questions:

1. What are you thinking about when you’re writing?

While writing, do you notice thoughts like, This book isn’t going to be as good as my last one? Do you worry the reviews will be lackluster, or that this book won’t get the green light from your publisher? Are you secretly hoping this book will the one to garner you the publishing rewards you long for?

All of these types of thoughts are centered on extrinsic rewards, and even if they occur only sporadically during your writing time, they can derail your focus and sap your motivation. When you find yourself thinking something like this, let the thought go and bring your focus back to the story, alone.

2. How much pressure are you feeling?

Perhaps you’re trying to “write quickly” so you can get more books out there and make more money. Maybe you’re trying to please an editor so you can hang onto a multi-book contract. Maybe you’re trying to prove that the time you spend on writing is really worth it by getting the story done and published, already.

Feeling stressed and pressured quickly takes the joy out of writing, and stress and pressure usually come from focusing on outside rewards. Try to think back to why you started writing in the first place, and see the blank page as a place for fun.

3. How do you feel about yourself as a writer?

It’s amazing how many of our feelings about ourselves as writers are tied up in outside approval. When children create, they do so simply for the fun of it, until they start to get the idea that it matters what others think about their projects.

If you’re feeling down about your writing or about your ability as a writer, you can probably trace it back to something outside yourself—a bad review, negative comment, lost contest, or publishing rejection. Remind yourself that the emotions you’re feeling are because you are seeking approval outside of yourself.

When to Use Extrinsic Rewards to Your Advantage

Sometimes extrinsic rewards can be beneficial to a writer. Think about those writing-related tasks you don’t usually enjoy. Scientists have found that extrinsic motivation works most effectively for them. So if you don’t like promoting your work, for example, you may find more success by providing yourself with extrinsic rewards each time you complete any marketing-related task.

Put together a successful book launch? Give yourself a weekend away. Update your website? Take yourself out to dinner. Write a series of guest posts? Get yourself that new outfit you’ve had your eye on.

“External rewards can be a useful and effective tool for getting people to stay motivated and on task,” says Kendra Cherry, author of Everything Psychology Book. “This can be particularly important when people need to complete something that they find difficult or uninteresting, such as a boring homework assignment or a tedious work-related project.”

Restore the Joy in Writing

If you’ve lost the joy in writing, it may help to remind yourself of the many intrinsic rewards you receive by doing it. Here are just four examples:

  1. Writing promotes healing self-expression.

In one 2005 study, researchers found that those individuals who had experienced an extremely stressful or traumatic event who wrote about the experience for 15 minutes four days in a row, experienced better health outcomes up to four months later than those who didn’t write.

“When we express our feelings honestly,” says writer Nadia Sheikh, “we are better equipped to deal with them because we actually know what we are feeling instead of denying it….we feel more in control of our thoughts and feelings, and we understand them more clearly.”

  1. Writing creates personal satisfaction.

How many people can say they’ve actually completed a poem, short story, or novel? As writers, when we finish a project, there is a blissful sense of satisfaction. We may re-read the words later and wonder, “Where did that come from?” or “How did I do that?”

This sort of satisfaction seems to be even more delicious when the project is difficult. If you had to bang your head against the wall to get through the middle of your novel, but then you figured it out and finished it, that creates a feeling that’s hard to match with any other sort of activity.

“An immense amount of pride and self-satisfaction follows a completed, perfected, edited, and published novel,” says bestselling novelist David Perry.

  1. When writing, you can create your own world.

For some writers, the craft provides a sort of sanctuary, a place to go no matter how chaotic the outside world may become. For others, this immersion into another world stimulates a state of “flow”—that sense of being completely absorbed and lost in one’s work to the point of losing track of time, which has been linked to increased happiness.

“Writing is like being in a dream state, or under self-directed hypnosis,” Stephen King says. “It induces a state of recall that—while not perfect—is pretty spooky.”

  1. Writing makes us feel more like ourselves.

Writing can bring us peace, and make us more comfortable with who we are. That may be because it helps us understand ourselves and others, because it relieves stress and anxiety, or because it allows for that self-expression that helps us make sense of our own jumbled thoughts.

Freelance writer and sci-fi/fantasy storyteller Rand Lee said it well when he wrote:

“I have to face the appalling truth that I have to stop worrying about fame and fortune, and focus upon writing pieces that, first and foremost, produce within me a sense of wonder and delight. Rereading my works with this in mind renews my enthusiasm for the creative process and gets me back in the saddle.”

What rewards do you enjoy from writing?


Amabile, T. M. (1985). Motivation and creativity: Effects of motivational orientation on creative writers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48(2), 393-397. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.48.2.393

Baikie, K. A., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(05), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338

Bramley, C. (n.d.). Cathy Bramley's 5 favourite things about being a writer. Retrieved from https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/on-writing/why-i-write/2017/aug/the-best-things-about-being-a-writer/

Cherry, K. (2013, June 3). How Does Extrinsic Motivation Influence Behavior? Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-extrinsic-motivation-2795164

Coleman, T. K. (2018, January 17). 5-on-5: The Challenges & Rewards of Writing Every Single Day | Praxis. Retrieved from https://discoverpraxis.com/5-5-challenges-rewards-writing-every-single-day/

ER Services. (n.d.). Incentive Theory of Motivation and Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation | Child Development. Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/atd-hostos-childdevelopment/chapter/incentive-theory-of-motivation-and-intrinsic-vs-extrinsic-motivation/

Kohn, A. (1987, January 19). Studies Find Reward Often No Motivator - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/motivation.html

Lee, R. (2018, March 22). Rewards of a Writing Career - Curiosity Quills Press. Retrieved from https://curiosityquills.com/rewards-writing-career/

Perry, D. (2015, August 3). The Rewards of Becoming a Writer - David Perry Books. Retrieved from http://www.davidperrybooks.com/2015/08/03/the-rewards-of-becoming-a-writer/

Positive Psychology Program. (2017, October 26). Writing Therapy: Using A Pen and Paper to Enhance Personal Growth. Retrieved from https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/writing-therapy/

Sheikh, N. (n.d.). Self-Expression and Creativity: Managing Feelings. Retrieved from https://www.smartrecovery.org/self-expression-and-creativity-managing-feelings/

Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. American Journal of Public Health,100(2), 254-263. doi:10.2105/ajph.2008.156497



Colleen M. Story is the author of Overwhelmed Writer Rescue—a motivational read to help writers escape the tyranny of the to-do list and nurture the genius within. The book was named Solo Medalist in the New Apple Book Awards, Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book, and first place in the Reader Views Literary Awards.

Colleen is also a novelist and has worked in the creative writing industry for over twenty years. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness. For more information, please see her author website, or follow her on Twitter (@colleen_m_story).




31 comments on “How to Restore Your Love of Writing”

  1. I love this post, Colleen! It lays out the logic I had buried in my brain, but never dredged it to the surface. The intrinsic reasons are why I continue. Not that the extrinsic aren't wonderful, but they're few and far between.

    And, I've found, that once you meet one extrinsic goal, you look for the next like a meth addict looking for a hit. Not good for longevity!

    Thanks for this.

  2. I both enjoy and feel reassured, calmed by your posts. Your advice is so clear, sensible, grounded that when I read the words, I actually feel my writer-stress-induced blood pressure go down. 🙂 Thanks for putting this together for us.

  3. This matters so much, and I don't think about it enough when I'm writing! Thanks for reminding me that it's the intrinsic rewards that motivate me most!

    1. Thanks, Julie, and yes, for those of us that stick with it, it's definitely the intrinsic working away...

  4. Though writing, particularly novels, may not be a good example. Who writes novels for themselves alone? The extrinsic reward of readership by others seems the main motive for writing novels. And where does this leave writing rules and advice, which are extrinsic approvals and dissaprovals? Not to mention the internalization of such rules etc. as the inner critic?

    The best answer I can think of offhand to my own questions is that there is a time and a place for both forms of reward.

    Thanks for this!

    (Incidentally, the 'Writing and Wellness' link is broken at the moment.)

    1. Would we keep writing if there were no readers? That always is the question, right? I think some would. But yes, most writers want readers. But when focusing on that outside reward, we can really drag ourselves through the emotional mud when we don't get it. Focusing on the joy the writing craft itself brings us helps us continue no matter what happens with our work in the outside world.

      Yes, definitely a place for both types of rewards, and it's individual how much you're affected by either.

    2. Thanks for the heads up about the link, John. It worked fine last night, but I can't get it to connect today. I'll try again later. In the meantime, you can get to the information through Colleen's site as http://www.colleenmstory.com .

      1. My TV, laptop, car, and phone all broke down during the last 24 hours. Then I read that an Amazon warehouse robot malfunctioned and put dozens of workers in hospital. It's the Great Machine Revolt, I say! Watch out!

      2. So sorry my sites are down! Sudden problem and I'm working to fix it but unfortunately it looks like it's going to take some time. 🙁

    3. John, I feel like the first draft needs to be only for me and my Muse. Then in the editing phase I can give the Inner Editor/Critic reigns and start thinking about the readers and how the book meets genre conventions and expectations, writing rules etc. Those are two entirely different mindsets and if you judge your book too much while writing it, you'll stiffle your creativity.

  5. Wow, Colleen.This article explained quite a bit about why my writing process changed after my first book was published. Thank you! I'd thought maybe I'd lost my mojo, but you helped me see how the extrinsic rewards, which I rarely worry about, had intruded.

    1. It can be difficult to be aware of the issue in our day to day lives for sure. It's like you have to step back and observe what you're really thinking about.

  6. Enjoyed the article and agree each has their own motivation that keeps us going. Mine is Intrinsic somewhat I admit a huge rush of motivation carried me for many years when I was in college (late in life, started at 40 and over many years at 6 to 9 credit hours at a semester, teachers praise and grades did provide a great incentive to write. I'm not great at craft and I'm beginning to feel I am the one providing the pressure that is getting in the way. After reading this piece I realize I am so hesitant that I will make a mistake I don't know how to properly fix and can't afford at this point can't afford to hire an editor to fix. And to be honest I hate that I have to pay someone to fix when I should be able to do it myself. I have a bookcase full of "help on craft" books I've read and done all the exercises. My problem is when I reread my work I can't find a mistake if it sounds ok to me. As and Okie what works for me doesn't for a lot of readers. I've been swimming in this for almost 3 years so I guess I'll get across the lake sometime. I would quit but it won't let me. Maybe I have it too good now. I have a large bedroom (the master one with the bathroom) for my office with a desk, live alone now except for the dog, can write when I want for as long as I want so as I said surly I will fine the gate that lets me back in. Not looking for a fix from you just wanted to let you know I "got it" and your right even for unpublished writers. Thanks!

    1. I can definitely hear and relate to your struggle. I would say that good editors are definitely worth the investment. I am always so grateful to mine. It's just so hard to be objective about our own work, and my editors always make it better.

      1. Thanks so much for a direct answer. I usually get a yes it would be good but it is a big cost to you. Thanks so much I'll start with my hunt for an editor tomorrow. Is it better to try to get an agent to work with and then send to an editor?

        1. 50at70 - An agent & editor's jobs are different. An agent sells your work, but it has to be in salable condition, first. Some agents will help 'tidy up' a manuscript, but nothing like what a good editor will do. A good editor is golden! I'd also urge you to get a critique group or partner or two. They help get the manuscript fit for an editor!

          And don't feel badly, none of us can see our work objectively. No. One.

          Best of luck!

        2. I agree with Laura. Go with an editor first. It takes some looking/asking around, but there are some good ones out there that can really help.

          1. Thanks for the words and I think I will start with talking to the Creative Writing Head of the Dept. He may know some and give me a list and talk to him about what questions to ask to find a good fit. Thanks to all who replied I needed it.

  7. Thank you so much, Colleen, for this post. Most times, I write to figure out how I feel, or what I think about a topic. Then, I do hope my work will find readers. I'm hoping I can detach and let it go at that point. The research you shared about money is fascinating. I'd like to be detached about that aspect of the business as well. That's why I plan to keep my day job.

    1. That study is interesting isn't it? We do have to walk a fine line when making a business out of writing. I'm with you on the day job! :O)

  8. Colleen, your posts always give me so much food for thought! And that last reason to write really resonated. I do feel more truly myself when I'm writing regularly. I'm funnier, I'm calmer and I'm more able to deal with whatever each day brings. Thanks so much for pulling this information together in exactly this way. I needed it!

    1. Thanks, Jenny! I heard Andre Dubus III (House of Sand and Fog) speak once about growing up in a difficult childhood, and how as a young adult he finally sat down one day and started writing a story. When he finished writing he said that was the first time he'd felt truly himself, and he was hooked from then on. I definitely related to that.

  9. I found this article very helpful. Thank you for writing it, Colleen. And you're so right, when I focus on the story the words flow. But when I think of extrinsic rewards outside my control, I can see those dark clouds gathering.

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