The other day, a friend said, “Covid killed my motivation, and fear covered the body like a wet blanket.” Her words rattled around in my brain, not because of a mystery writer’s tendency to prize clever phrasing but because it so perfectly captured the prevailing mood. Pessimistic. Despondent. Sour.
None of us wants to live in a perpetual state of dead motivation. As writers, how do we revive our sense of purpose and find inspiration?
Among other things, Covid-19 has given us the gift of time. Time at home is the thing our hectic lives probably needed the most in the period before the pandemic. In lockdown, we tackled tasks that had languished at the bottom of the to-do list: we organized paperwork, learned to play the guitar, mastered the art of French cooking, cleaned out closets, rooms, and garages. My Facebook feed was full of proud posts showing tidy spaces and perfect desserts. And then the good stuff petered out.
The gift of time came with strings attached. It’s hard to be motivated with kids underfoot 24/7, dwindling incomes, and speculation that easily slides into depression. It’s simpler to binge-watch Netflix and YouTube than it is to create something new. As uncertainty drags on, people who are able to self-motivate have the advantage. If you’re a writer, this will pay off in three important ways:
1. Creativity is a boost to mental health. By creating something fresh, you will not dwell endlessly on negative thoughts and will take pride in your accomplishments.
2. You can boost your bottom line by writing saleable content, such as books and freelance blog posts.
3. Any significant content you create will both sharpen communication skills and improve your résumé.
Tips and Tricks
Yet, as my friend said, motivation is dead. Gone. Disappeared. Pfft.
But, Lazarus-like, motivation can be resuscitated. Moreover, it’s free for the taking. It’s also infinitely expandable. One person’s motivation does not diminish someone else’s. It’s like it can just be plucked out of thin air. Some people know how to do exactly that.
Tim Ferriss, the überpopular podcaster and author of Tools of Titans, suggests a system of rewards and deadlines. If it’s a big project, break it into chunks. Create incentives to meet deadlines along the way.
Tara Mohr, a life coach and the author of Playing Big, suggests that motivation stalls out because some tasks feel overwhelming. “We’ve learned to associate the simple with the unrealistic, and the complex with what’s smart,” she says. How to counter that thinking? Think about where the positive energy is and start there.
James Clear, athlete, coach, and author of Atomic Habits, copes with fluctuations in motivation by finding ways to deal with off days with a “pregame” ritual that’s “so easy that you can’t say no to it.” Basically, he creates a simple routine to prep for productivity that includes actual physical movement.
Stefanie Flaxman, Copyblogger’s editor-in-chief, advocates “disciplined creativity.” In a 10-part “manifesto,” she writes about the importance of routines, following through, and finishing strong. “Serious writers don’t make excuses that inconvenience someone else or disappoint their audiences.”
King of Motivation
One of the hardest working writers I know is Vee James, a spinner of sly and clever fantasy, including the comic sci-fi tale The Little Ship of Horrors. He writes and edits multiple projects at once, constantly moving forward to not only entertain his growing audience but to hone his skills. I asked him how he maintains this level of motivation.
“Before I had a book out, I began telling myself: ‘I am an author.’ When I had one book out, I had T-shirts, notebooks, and anything else I wanted made with my book cover on them. Not to sell—for me to wear and get excited about being an author. When I had a few books out and began to make wonderful industry contacts, I thanked them with gifts to remind them of our partnership together.”
Vee also maintains an inspiration wall that he covers with sheets of paper bearing advice from fellow writers. “One of my favorites came from Jeanne Cavelos, the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop,” Vee says. “In encouraging us to write boldly, she said to tell ourselves, ‘It’s not like me, but I’m going to try.’ As the years went on, I began to replace those writerly catchphrases with symbols of accomplishment.”
Besides visualizing his success, Vee uses affirmations. “I never tell myself, ‘I won’t make it’ or ‘I’m not worthy,’ ” he says. “My words to myself, which I know are powerful, are, ‘I will make it’ and ‘I am worthy.’ ”
If you’re a writer, what motivates you to move forward? Small rewards, the flow of creative energy, routines, or visualizing success? Something else? Knowing what inspires you is sometimes half the battle.
When the pandemic restrictions ease and the gift of time is gone, what will you have to show for it? Hours spent watching content that you’ve already forgotten? Or a body of work that will pay long-term dividends?
Carmen Amato previously worked for the CIA and now writes mystery and suspense, including the Det. Emilia Cruz series set in Acapulco.