Some time ago on Twitter, a friend groused about his lack of motivation when trying to get something done. I told him, “Motivation is really just intimidation in disguise.”
It wasn’t a tough observation, as it’s something I deal with all the time.
Sure, there are plenty of other time-sucking gremlins out there, ranging from social media to the new season of Peaky Blinders to being dumb enough to take on a part-time job. But none of these are truly as damaging as those nagging voices in our heads assuring us we’re just wasting our time. Whether those voices are telling us “nobody’s going to read this” or “this is crap” or “you’d be better off doing X for the day gig or night gig,” they all come down to the same thing: intimidation.
When I read “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators” at The Atlantic, it really hit home. I crushed it in my English classes. My creative writing teachers in both high school and college told me my work was publishable. I had journalism teachers in both high school and college pushing me to do more and more work. Another English teacher read some goofy poetry I wrote at random in a foreign exchange student’s organizer and told me I should be in her drama club. I wrote some passages for a college placement test and got credit for English 101 and 102 without having to take either course.
So hey, I thought I was pretty good at this writing thing.
Then I hit the real world. Slush piles. Editors. Readers. Not nearly as easy. Rejections really didn’t bother me, but lack of sales? That shit stings. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m not successful, as that’s a relative term. I’ve got a Bram Stoker Award statue collecting dust in my office, and Winter Kill has a pile of healthy reviews on Amazon. These things just aren’t putting food on the table, and I allowed it to reshuffle priorities.
Which is funny, because I do still enjoy writing. When I can put off the other distractions and shut out the voices, it feels good to be putting words on the page, whether it’s just a couple hundred or I have that rare good day I hit a thousand or more.
That shifting definition of success brings on a whole new level of intimidation, however. My oldest demon tells me if it’s not generating cash and concrete results, it’s not worth doing. If it’s not better than this or that writer’s work, it’s not worth doing. This demon does it’s job in four little words: “May as well quit.”
The problem with defining success by these accomplishments is so much of that success is out of one’s control. With the glut of content on Amazon and in book stores, it’s damned hard to get noticed. Publishers’ slush piles are bigger than ever, and the 1000 True Fans so many of us are looking for have more content available to them than ever. Social media was supposed to be the great savior for creators of all types, but now we’re all just shouting into a global cacophony in the hope just two or three people will glance at a post on their busy streams.
If we’re going to weigh the act against the results, of course it’s going to be intimidating. The act of creation—whether we’re talking writing, illustration, photography, or recording—takes a lot of time and effort. A lot more time and effort than most people understand. Even in those rare moments when the writing itself comes easy, the rewriting and the editing and the proofreading is a difficult process.
We have to stop thinking about success, however we definite it. Success—and failure, which is also relative—are results. Instead, we should concentrate on purpose.
Why be creative? Because we enjoy it. Because it’s who we are. Because it’s fulfilling. Because we’ve got to get this shit out of our heads. Because it entertains others. These things can all be accomplished whether a book is sitting on a bookshelf, is self-published to Amazon, or is distributed to half a dozen friends by email.
Why, then, should it be intimidating? Because someone may not like it? Big deal. That, too, is a result. That’s getting back to success or failure.
For a work to be seen, to be loved or hated, to make a buck or not, it has to be made.
Get to work.