When you began to establish your writing career, you were highly motivated. The joy of the challenge, the exhilaration of creativity lured you into going for your dream.
But now you’ve struggled for so long you may not be feeling the same joy. You may not be feeling anything at all. A future that once seemed so promising now seems like folly at best, madness at worst. What’s happened? You’ve allowed the struggle to overpower the hope and positive energy you began with. You’ve forgotten that the creative process follows a natural cycle, from concentration to abandonment.
The cycle begins when motivation leads you to work which, when not punctuated with appropriate rest periods, leads naturally to exhaustion; then frustration; then to depression. It’s at this point you need reassessment and renewal.
If you’re pursuing a creative career, the process of keeping yourself motivated with a fresh challenge is important. So what do you do when you’re not feeling motivated? Try this re‑motivation technique.
Step 1: Keep moving forward despite your moods
You cannot allow achievement to depend on your mood. If you must always be in a good mood to accomplish your work, then it’s probably time to consult a business coach. You haven’t grown up enough yet.
Grown-ups have to get the job done no matter what mood they’re in. Imagine a fireman throwing down his hose because he’s no longer in the mood to fight the fire. Or an All Black who only plays hard when he’s in the mood. Or an Olympic runner saying she’s not in the mood to run in the finals. Edmund Burke said: “Never despair; but if you must, work on through your despair.”
Step 2: When things get tough, take a short break
But do so in a carefully limited way. Say, “I need a day off.” Head straight to the beach, or a fast flowing river. This is where the ozone level is highest. At the end of a day, you’re likely to feel much better. If not, convince yourself you are better.
Never decide to abandon your project when you’re tired. Things always look worse when you’re tired. Remember you’re taking a break only from your work, not from your commitment to the work. The moment you’re officially on holiday, allow the idea of mental refreshment to percolate in your mind.
Step 3: The difficulty you are experiencing is normal
Writing is the highest expression of human creative potential. Higher than sculpting, painting or making music. So why expect it to be easy? If it were easy, everybody would be doing it (instead of just talking about doing it). Sometimes writers have a hard time with stress simply because they haven’t recognised that their stress is necessary. It’s not simply par for the course, it is the course.
I once spoke on a panel with the late Louis L’Amour. He had just published his 93rd novel, and he said to the audience that night: “I feel I’m finally beginning to master my craft.” Afterwards, one writer told me she felt discouraged by L’Amour’s statement. “Discouraged?” I said. “You should be elated! What he’s telling you is that no matter how long you live or how many books or scripts you write, you’ll always feel creatively challenged by this endlessly demanding craft.”
What better way is there to live than with the assurance that your work will provide you with endless opportunities, satisfaction and demands for improvement and excellence? Doesn’t it make more sense to congratulate yourself for having the courage to write today than to berate yourself because you haven’t been published yet? You’re on your way!
If you’re making progress, you’re writing every day, you’re succeeding.
Step 4: Don’t doubt yourself
Identify the negative influences that cause your resolve to falter. Maybe a well-meaning relative made a remark about how painful it is to see you wasting your life pursuing a dream of being a writer. Maybe the ‘doubting Thomas’ is your own dark angel – the little voice inside you that tells you to forget about a writing career.
Either way, it’s time to refurbish your self-confidence. You may have to re-evaluate the amount of time you’re putting into your writing. Making adjustments of emphasis will help you feel more comfortable about the effort you’re putting into all aspects of your career. Remind yourself that what other people say can’t affect you unless you allow it to.
One way or the other, it’s time to talk to yourself, asking the various parts of your mind, “What’s going on in there?” Lack of self-confidence is the greatest enemy for all of us. No matter how successful you become, you’ll see—it never goes away. But the successful person manages to move forward despite his or her lack of self-confidence. Self-confidence increases when you continue to act (in this case, write) with no regard for your insecurities.
Step 5: Face your fear, and make it your ally
According to the Malaysian Senoi tribe, a child who dreams of being chased by a monster would be told that the monster was his friend and that he should turn to face the monster the next time he’s chased in his dream. The Chinese symbol for crisis says ‘opportunity’ plus ‘danger’.
The first step is to acknowledge and face the fear. Recall David Viscott’s observation in his book Risking: “If you have no anxiety, the risk you face is not worthy of you. Only risks you have outgrown don’t frighten you.” When a student tells me he’s filled with anxiety, I assure him not only that it is a good and normal sign he’s afraid, but he should try to be more afraid.
Your writing flourishes when you face your fear, owning it as yours. If you dare to turn the door knob behind which the pain lurks, your fear can become a positive force. The hero’s fear becomes a powerful ally, making his entire being alert and engaged.
Step 6: Associate with positive people, and stop associating with negative people
Nothing is more helpful than a positive support group, and nothing is more damaging than constant negative carping from friends and family who don’t believe in you. Make whatever adjustments are necessary to reduce or eliminate your contact with naysayers.
The positive people in your life are those who encourage you to pursue your dream – no matter what. They are your true saints, inspiring you to go on living to the utmost of your ability. German philosopher Johann von Goethe said, “If you treat people the way they are, you make them worse. If you treat them the way they ought to be, you make them capable of becoming what they ought to be.”
Positive people are those who treat you the way you have imagined yourself to be, that is, at your best.
Step 7: Take personal responsibility
One of my artist clients told me, “I never get personally involved in my own problems.” I hadn’t realised how often creative people fail to remain detached from their own problems, such as money, housing etc. Worry is a defence mechanism which limits your effectiveness.
I called this magic thinking: “If I’m really good, if I work hard and stay patient, the world will eventually honour me. OK, I’ve been good, worked hard, so now I’m waiting for the world to honour me.” But the world hardly ever works this way. Most successful people have struggled long and hard. They endure multiple failures before finally achieving their success. Walt Disney went broke seven times before his films and theme parks came right.
Step 8: Take charge of your own thinking
You can control your own mind better than you may believe right now. Not all the time but, as you practise, more and more of the time. When you think, “I am succeeding at being my best self” you are succeeding.
Motivational experts agree you must see your success, be able to envision it internally, before you can experience it in your actual outer life. Remember, you can’t fail at being you. You’re the only one, in fact, who can do that— which means everything you do is important.
Step 9: Let go of the wrong kind of control
You can do only what you can do, and then you’ll have to let God/ nature/ fate do the rest. Control what you can do; don’t fret when you can’t control the rest. Even the most successful people can’t control everything, so don’t get upset about things you can’t control: like weather, the price of petrol, and other people dying. The things you can control include work you can do in the next hour, or today, outbound calls, emails and letters that will sell your work.
Step 10: Figure out what you really want – and start living as though you already have it
Function follows form. If you commit yourself to the form of your optimal lifestyle, it will follow in function. But function follows only when your commitment is truly in place. Important to your re-motivation agenda is reaffirming your commitment to being a writer. I call this fine-tuning.
Your career will profit from fine-tuning. But be careful what you wish for as you’re likely to get it. A screenwriter client told me she’d got her wish: she’d been hired to write for a TV series. But she’d forgotten to wish for a successful, intelligent series. So you’ve gone past fear and returned to action and now you’re concentrating on the details of your work. Now, it’s time to …
Step 11: Congratulate yourself and celebrate!
Recognise your courage. After all, you’ve freely decided to take this road less travelled. You will never be choked with tears of regret. The creative path, we all know by experience, is the more difficult path. It’s the path of anxiety and sometimes failure, as well as the path of challenge, elation and triumph.
LACK OF CONFIDENCE IS THE WRITER’S GREATEST ENEMY. Self confidence increases when you continue to write with no regard for your insecurities.
You deserve self-respect for the courage of your commitment (even when it doesn’t feel like courage). You can’t control receiving respect from others; but you can control receiving it from yourself.
Step 12: Try just coasting for a day
Focus on the present rather than on the future. “If bad becomes worst,” an actress friend told me once, “I’m happy now.”
It’s hard for creative people, who probably work alone without regular validation from the world, to keep from living in the future. It’s hard not to do this. But you can give yourself the gift of the present, when the present is actually satisfactory on most levels of life. You have enough to eat, a place to live, friends and family. Don’t deprive yourself of life’s simple pleasures.
Meditation helps. Exercise helps, especially long walks in new places. Short holidays help. These breaks in routine help by taking you out of yourself temporarily. They bring you into contact with the present, allowing you simply to be here, now. When this happens you’re able to regain your perspective.
Do you feel a creative stirring deep within your spirit?
Discover your own ‘voice’. Learn how to develop a plot, characters, dialogue, structure and personal style. It’s even better when you get paid for doing something you enjoy.