On Motivation

May 18, 2011 at 11:27 am 3 comments

Some writers suffer from writer’s block. I suffer from motivation block.

Motivation, more than inspiration, is a slippery business for me. I’m never really lacking in inspiration (I think being fairly easy to please has something to do with that. That and a crappy memory which means I can watch something I love over and over and still experience the same tremors of surprise and joy that I did the first time, or at least shades of them. Bruce Willis has been dead this whole time? You guys, this is CRAZY). I enjoy the work of others more than a lot of people and so it’s fairly easy to be inspired.  I find motivation far more difficult to grasp with two hands.

The grand, overarching motivation of “This is what I want to do” sometimes just isn’t enough. The carrot of “If I succeed in this, I can quit my other jobs and just focus on this” isn’t TANGIBLE enough to be effective. It could take years for this to come true. It might not ever happen- I might always have other jobs that I enjoy less, that frustrate me, to pay the bills and keep me independent.  I’ve come to terms with that. I have to or I will go insane.

The “I need to escape my real life with creative work” motivation worked in high school and a bit in college but, truthfully, my adult life is pretty great- I make all the rules here. I have full control over where I live and who I spend my time with. I eat great food, I have an awesome dog, I’m close to my family, I have awesome friends, I get to travel, Parks and Recreation was not canceled- not really a lot to escape right now. Which is GOOD. I don’t think it should be necessary to move into a dungeon and flagellate myself just so I have a reason to write. Some writers may disagree (which is why we all drink whiskey and moan a lot, in case you were wondering) but I’m not going to miserable, not even for “art.”  I refuse.

I bring this up now because motivation for finishing Book 2 had escaped me completely. I’ve been swallowed up by my real life- deadlines, personal stuff, friend stuff, other projects– and I let it slip away. For a month. A MONTH. When I saw the date of my last batch of notes, I swallowed hard. Not good. Really not good. I pledged to get back to work because I found that last date so disheartening. And in the course of going back to work, I made a little discovery:

Monday- I woke up early and got back to work. And I felt good. Really good. Better than I had in weeks. But I didn’t realize how good until Tuesday.

Tuesday- my least favorite day of the week, I found myself unable to get out of bed. And I went to day job without having written at all- I was a surly mess all day, a tangled mess of anxiety and ick.

This morning, I slapped the alarm when it went off at 5:20am and I had the same old internal debate I always have: Should I? I should. But what if? And then I could? But no. That won’t work. But? No. But if? No. I have to? I have to. If I don’t do it this morning, I won’t get it done.  So I got up. It never feels like a small victory, not ever. It feels like I just won a marathon, winning that debate.  This morning, I won. I worked. It felt good. I feel good now, as I type this.

And then it struck me- my motivation. I found it and it’s so simple, I feel like I just got smacked in the face with a frying pan. It’s the same one you use to eat well, to go to the gym, to call your mother first, to pay your bills on time. When I do this, I feel good. When I don’t, I feel bad.  That’s it.

Suddenly, my motivation isn’t intangible at all- it’s the simplest answer to the most basic of questions: Do you want to feel good or bad? And I have always, always been good at answering that question.

When I don’t work in the morning, you can see it on my face the rest of the day. You hear it in my voice. I am heavier on those days, weightier, and I look it. What’s worse is that I feel that heaviness everywhere but especially on my heart. It’s bigger than guilt or shame, more complex and uneven and more… awful. I am failing myself on those days- pure and simple. And there is a cost, an actual, physical cost.

And there is just simply no excuse good enough, or big enough, for feeling that way. None. Not when I can help it. Not when the solution is staring me in the face at 5:20 in the morning, thin red lights blinking against blue.


Entry filed under: My Books, The New Book. Tags: .

Kate In Which I Am Viciously Attacked by a Rabbit

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jen Preston  |  May 26, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Okay so I’ve been rolling your post around in my mouth for about 2 days now…two painful days of very few written words. Ass in chair = check. Words on page? Nope. UGH! I even had a seance with all the dead writers and future literary critics in my office and told them that they have to hit the road, or I’m not leaving out any more brie and crackers out at night. Still, nothing was working, and all I can think is “Who’s going to read this, who’s going to like this? who’s going to laugh at me, who’s ever going to publish this???”

    Then, I took a break and did a little reading and I had a thought that became another thought and before I knew it, I was having a breakthrough (i think?)

    So here it is. I’m a creative person. like, creating is in my BONES. I can’t stop myself really and at any given moment I have at least 4 unfinished scarves to knit, bookshelves to construct, recipes to make, paintings to paint, etc. Here’s the kicker…never, in any of my projects do I think “no one’s going to like this” or “what if it turns out ugly” or “I don’t know how to do this.” I know people will like it because I will, it won’t turn out ugly because I won’t let it, and even if I don’t know how to do this, I will figure it out. I mean, of course I will, that’s what I do!

    So why do I find writing impossible? I’m actually fairly good at it, have had positive reinforcement on it. What’s the deal? Why with all my other creative pursuits am I full of confidence, and yet with this novel, am I sitting here eating brie while the ghost of Hemingway is reading my manuscript and snickering at my overuse of adjectives?

    It’s because (and Judi, you’ve told me this before, but like all things, I needed to figure it out for myself)…drumrolll… I’m writing for someone else. I’m writing for a potential agent and publisher and for booksales and (embarrassed to admit this) awards and accolades. I’m writing for everyone but me. I NEVER do that with art. I never create for someone else because if I do, I end up hating whatever it is I just made. It is the kiss of creative death.

    Here I have 5 very formed characters in my head. Each of them is in the middle of a life-altering crisis (I should know, I put them there!) Each of them needs my help to get through it, and here I am concerned about dead writers and potential a-hole book reviewers who are too busy criticizing my book to create their own? My characters need me! And they need me to finish them how I started them, with the utmost confidence that I am creating something great. I think that’s the only way I can do it.

  • 2. JC  |  May 26, 2011 at 10:31 am

    JENNY. If this was an AA meeting, there would be a round of applause right now.

    I’m happy for you mostly because I know what a RELIEF it is to have this revelation- don’t you feel a giant weight is off you now? To know that the problem isn’t whether or not you can do this at all but how you’ve been addressing the whole situation?

  • 3. Jen Preston  |  May 26, 2011 at 10:36 am

    yes. and I just threw my copy of Moveable Feast out the window. Hit a duck.

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About This Lady

I am a writer who has lived in DC, Los Angeles and Chicago. In the morning, I write novels. During the day, I write ads, brochures, websites and blogs. At night, I don't do any writing because that's too much writing.

Trying to be Auntie Mame but right now I feel more like Liz Lemon in execution. It's a process, people.

I have a food/fiction blog called Some Kitchen Stories.


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