Sunday, June 22, 2008

Motivation Anyone?

I'm a pretty disciplined person. I like notebooks and to-do lists and filing systems—although you will still find my office (home and work) repeatedly falling into a state of chaos. Still, I strive for order and focus.

In my writing life, I stick to a routine. I write almost every day, at the same time and in the same place. I know that for me, waiting for inspiration is a mistake—the book will never get written if I wait to be inspired. Rather, I need to sit and do the work, every day, whether I want to or not.

I advise beginning writers to do the same, at least until they can figure out their own writing process and working style. My kind of routine isn't the best way to work for everyone. But I do believe that beginning writers need to get past the initial fear of writing and need to understand that writing is work—not magic—and it takes practice to become good at writing and revising your work.

But I have to admit that even I lose my motivation. I get it back with a very simple trick: I pay myself. I bought myself a nice pottery jar at a seconds sale and placed it on my desk. And when I'm truly struggling to get my butt in the chair to write, I put a dollar in the jar every day that I do it. When I've gathered enough money, I buy myself something. Right now, I have 6 bucks in the jar, which means I've been doing all right. But I'll be paying myself, as the book I'm working on becomes more challenging. Plus, I'm a big fan of Levenger notebooks and I've been mooning over a bunch of stuff in their latest catalog. Writers and their notebooks, right?

If you're having trouble finding motivation for your writing or whatever creative work you do, you might try paying yourself to do it. You'd be amazed at how just one dollar can make a difference in how you feel about sitting down to work.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

You're Never Too Old to Play Pretend

Here's a trick I learned a while ago. When I'm nervous about anything—a presentation, a public-speaking engagement, a job interview, any situation that makes me nervous—I pretend I'm not nervous.

The same goes for confidence. Whenever I'm going into a situation in which I'm lacking self confidence, I pretend I have all the self confidence in the world. It can be tough when you're doing creative work to keep up your self esteem, especially in the face of near constant rejection. That rejection can lead to poor self image, which starts a downward spiral to some deep dark places. No spelunking, please!

The urge to dive can be very hard to resist, though, and we easily give in to those feelings, that we have nothing to offer, that we'll never make it, that all our hard work has been a waste of time, that we are, in fact, worthless.

And this is not limited to the creative process, by the way. I'm sure you know people who are going through a job search process who feel this way, or a college search process, or who may be starting their own business. Pretty much any endeavor that requires putting yourself on the line will cause you to question your very existence.

If you've plunged into one of those places, pretending can be the lifeline to pull you out.

Yes, pretending. You remember what it was like to play pretend, right?

First of all, though, I'd like to point out that it’s important to recognize that the way you see yourself sometimes—quite often, actually—is wrong. We don't see ourselves for who we really are. We are our own worst critics. We all tend to minimize our faults and our excellent qualities as well. Both of these tendencies are detrimental to our self esteem and to our ability to realize our full potential. If we don't fully recognize our faults, we will never understand the full extent of how they get in our way and thus they will always hold us back. If we don't fully recognize our excellent qualities, we can never use them to their full benefit.

Now to the pretending. When you're lacking self confidence, when you're self esteem is at its worst, pretend that you are the most confident person in the world. Pretend that you have great self esteem. Pretend that what you do is not worthless, but worth a lot to a lot of people. And with that, your self esteem will start to lift out of that deep, dark cave.

Whenever I'm in a situation where I am overwhelmed with nerves, I pretend I'm not nervous. Whenever I'm in a situation where I lack confidence, I pretend I'm confident. And it works every time.

Try it. What have you go to lose?