Not to say that anything bad has happened, because nothing really has. Most of the problem is my own neuroses--every so often I have periods like the one I'm in the middle of right now: spans of a few days to a few weeks where I feel like everything I touch spoils and all of the skills I thought were in my possession really aren't. My productivity and self-concept both plummet during these periods, which makes going about the business of everyday life a slog on the good days and all but impossible on the bad ones. So far, I've managed to meet all of my obligations, self-imposed and otherwise, but I've done so with considerably less determination and energy than usual.
Motivation, as you might expect, is difficult to come by in these periods. The spark of enthusiasm that I rely upon during my more manic periods is conspicuously absent, and the flow of words slows to a painful trickle.
The way that I've dealt with these low periods has changed over the years. I mentioned in my last post that I had a tendency to abandon my writing. In that post, I blamed my lack of planning--which was certainly part of the problem. But the loss of motivation was just a much a factor--if not more.
In the near decade-and-a-half that I've been writing, I've learned one important thing: motivation is a load of crap.
Maya Angelou knows what's up.
I understand the appeal of image of the creator visited by the muses, wrapped up in inspiration pouring forth pages and pages of magnificent words. Pages filled as if by magic.
But it never works out that way-- at least, not in my experience.
Writing when motivated is easy and without risk. Inspiration takes the work out of writing.
But writing, no matter how much I love it, is work.
The thing about motivation is that it's fickle. The situation has to be just so for motivation or inspiration to show up. And even if it does deign to visit, it often doesn't linger. At best, there might be a furious burst of activity before falling again into a rut.
In my experience, writing when I'm inspired or motivated or what have you means not writing very much at all. There are so many excuses for not spending my time working on my writing. I've got too many other things to do. I spent all day at work, and I'm tired. The house is too noisy. I can't get comfortable. If I don't have the ideas, the writing won't be good. And on and on and on.
The trouble with all of these excuses is that they're just that--excuses. My writing's not better when I wait to be inspired. In fact, it's usually worse, if only because I'm out of practice. Writing, like any other skill requires practice, and, like any skill, it can atrophy over time. Waiting for motivation and inspiration can also mean allowing long spans of time to pass between writing times, making it easier for the various threads of a story to become confused or lost (most of my early experience with writing is opening a document that's sat abandoned for months and asking myself "Where the hell was I going with that?").
Motivation and inspiration are not reliable. They don't help me get things done. In the same way that I never finished anything before outlines, I never finished anything waiting on motivation.
In the last several months, I've been reevaluating the way that I write, trying to determine what does and doesn't work with my process, and trying to make myself a more effective, more productive writer. And if I've become sure of anything in that time, it's that my reliance on motivation and inspiration has to go.
When I started graduate school, one of the faculty members in my department told my cohort that, when it comes to success, being talented matters less than being tenacious. Certainly, that's a truth in grad school, but I think it's true outside that realm, too.
I haven't been motivated this week. I haven't felt particularly talented. But I've been tenacious. I'm nearly 15,000 words in on a first draft of my latest project. It's a first draft, so it's quality is hit or miss (all first drafts are--well, you know), but at its worst, it's better than the work I've done in the past.
I'm not motivated this week. But I'm not going to let my lack of motivation stop me.