Leave Yourself Something To Return To

keep writers motivated

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to keep writers motivated, but here’s one strategy that has regularly helped me move my writing forward: every time I sit down to write, I structure the end of my writing session to leave myself something to return to.

Imagining a brilliant idea for a book is one thing, sustaining the discipline to write for weeks, months, or years can be another — especially if there’s no publishing deadline or paycheck involved. What happens when your initial passion runs dry, you hit a difficult patch that leaves you creatively disillusioned, your laptop breaks and you have to wait days or weeks for repairs, or life dumps some other proverbial bucket of ice water on your head, causing you massive distraction and interrupted momentum?

In other words, from writing session to writing session, obstacle to inevitable obstacle, what keeps you coming back and getting your project over the finish line?

No single solution can keep all writers constantly motivated, but here’s one strategy that has regularly helped me move my writing forward: every time I sit down to write, I structure the end of my work session to leave myself something to return to.

Leave something almost completed

Are you almost done the first major section of your book, where you’ve laid out a central conflict and established an intriguing poker hand of characters who must solve it together? While completing such a chunk may give a great sense of satisfaction as you conclude a day of writing, leaving that section unfinished can provide motivation to start writing again at the next available opportunity. Beginning your next fresh writing session with such a satisfying “win” can springboard you to greater productivity as you use your remaining time and energy to work on whatever comes next.

Get something started

Are you at the point in your book draft where you’re eager to sink into a villain’s back story, sculpt a revelatory dream sequence, or explore a section of historical exposition you’ve been researching for months? Rather than simply writing until your creativity is depleted in any given sitting, consider getting a modest start on the section in question, then call it a day. While it may feel uncomfortable to choose to stop when you’ve just begun, you’ll walk away with motivation to continue writing next time.

Leave breadcrumbs

Let’s say you’ve just devised a subtle plot evolution that will have fascinating ramifications later in your book, but you only have a few more minutes before you have to shift your focus to something else and you won’t have the time to get the writing done. Scribble a roadmap so you don’t forget key points, bottle the excitement of growing the ideas as fully living text, and re-tap that gusto at your next opportunity to work.

Leave yourself something to discover

Early in my current novel-in-progress, the male protagonist has to say goodbye to his lover as she travels to a momentous and potentially dangerous meeting. How will he react while she’s gone? How will he spend his time? Will he create art, or sob in a corner? Will he sleep peacefully or not at all? As I worked on this section, I didn’t know answers to these small but important questions ahead of time. To keep the writing process exciting and to leave myself continually wanting more, I used the process of gradual discovery to my advantage. Even if individual revelations were quite minor, I always made sure to end my writing sessions with the potential for new details to be unearthed, both for the character and for me as the writer, the next time I began to write.

Leave a cliffhanger

Will the lovable couple at the heart of your story get back together before one of them boards a plane to Japan? Will your anti-hero protagonist betray his family for the good of the community to stop his town from being swallowed by a plague? How will your young hero react when she discovers that she has a twin sister with sinister goals? Will the ailing family patriarch reveal something vital to his heir before he drifts into oblivion? You may already know the answers to your own story’s central cliffhangers — or you may not — but if you feel yourself winding down in your writing productivity and eager to deliver a major plot corkscrew, consider letting the question linger and inspire you to resume working the next day.

Leave something that turns you on

Do you absolutely love writing action scenes, or vivid descriptions of food, or the moment when a character discovers something joyous or awful or life-changing? Whatever turns you on as a writer, tell yourself that’s where you’re going to start when you pick up your work the next day.

Remember that the particulars here don’t matter. What’s important is that you conclude your work at the end of each writing session in a way that tantalizes you, excites you, moves you to joy or tears, or otherwise leaves you inspired to continue the next time you sit down to create.

When it comes to your own writing, how do you leave yourself wanting more? Tell us in the comments below.


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  1. I can use all of these. I’m a smoker (go ahead, make your day, be nasty) and I allow myself my next smoke only when I’ve finished this particular scene or part of a scene. It could be chocolate, coffee, dipping into Facebook, or whatever turns you on.

    I also visualise myself having completed the scene and reading the first draft. How do I feel then? Will it be anger at injustice, a chuckle at my wry humour, or am I wiping away an emotional tear? That gives me a reward to work for, and it helps me find my voice.

    • No judgments here :) But I love the strategy you describe in your second paragraph. I’ve never thought of that, but will be sure to try it in the future. Many thanks for sharing.

  2. Imagine the main character’s next move and all that it will entail..characters or events and environments. I keep that thought in my head.

    • Thanks for writing – I hear you on all of this. The more vivid any aspect of your story may be in your head, the easier it will be to sit down and make it equally vivid on paper.

  3. Why is this all so fiction-focused? In my books, I just leave a big 45 pt. HERE to remind me where I left off. I will also dive into a random section to give it the ‘fresh eyes’ treatment. That’s always the funnest; you’ve written the bones, now you get to pain the thing cool colors.

    • Thank you for reading and writing! I wrote this article primarily from a fiction POV mostly because working on my novel-in-progress was what inspired it…. no deeper reason. Very similar strategies can be applied to non-fiction – and I’ve used such approaches many times with my own non-fiction projects. I like your idea of planting a big, fat HERE to remind you where to start, and I completely agree re: the fun of jumping back in randomly – thank you for sharing these ideas here.

  4. “You can’t have a rainbow without first some rain”
    When a rainbow appears, it seems to force you to pay attention to and appreciate the beauty around you, rather than take it for granted.
    Having a wonderful story to write about is truly a wonderful gift – like a beautiful rainbow


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