You Can Do This: Staying Motivated as a Creative
A month ago, I got a Facebook message from a young writer named Haroon. I’ve known Haroon since he was 16 when he was an intern at an education nonprofit I worked for in New York City. Haroon asked me a few writing questions that evolved into this bigger discussion. With Haroon’s permission, I’m reprinting excerpts from our Facebook conversation about writing and staying inspired. His questions are questions every writer, artist, and creative person encounters and I hope my answers help anyone struggling with their work. Thanks, Haroon!
Q: Hi Jen! I have a writer’s question. Do you ever feel like you’ve lost your mojo? Like, you don’t feel motivated to write, and even when you force yourself to, it doesn’t seem as good? And words don’t come to you like they used to, it’s more like a salad of words in your head that you have to sift through? I’ve been experiencing that lately and am not sure what to do about it, thought I’d ask you for some thoughts.
A: Yes, every day.
I’m currently working on a first draft of a young adult novel to show to potential literary agents, and I will always find an excuse to do something else. “Oh, I should really wash these dishes. I need to read this article about Bernie Sanders to stay up on politics.”
Every writer experiences doubt and thinks their writing is crap.
I went to a writers panel with Brendan where our friend, the former head writer for The Daily Show, was speaking. The panel consisted of all Emmy-nominated TV writers for major shows. Almost every single one of them said that they wake up and think that this is their LAST great idea. They can’t possibly think or write anything else.
I say this because, every writer feels this way, whether you’re running a successful television show or writing a first draft of a book you hope to sell.
How do you work past it? Keep writing. Don’t listen to the voice that says, “This is crap. I’m a terrible writer. I am awful. Nothing I write is good enough.” Tell that voice, I’ve heard what you have to say and I’m going to ignore you now.
If you think your words are crap, still write them down. Throw them out at the end of the day. Then write more again tomorrow. As a writer and editor, you need to get your writer hat on and do the work. Then a week later, put your editor hat on and give your writing a critical eye—later. Don’t do it while you’re writing. You’ll never write.
The best book I can recommend whenever I feel this way is reading THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield. It’s very short. I don’t agree with everything he writes in there, but overall, he speaks to how writers can doubt themselves and resist their work. I read it whenever I’m hitting a lull or want to give up. Maybe I’ve gotten a dozen rejections that day. Or just feel unhappy with my writing. This book kicks my ass and gets me back in my seat and writing again.
This is a long answer to your brief question, but I take it seriously. I’ve had mentors and teachers who kept me motivated and saw my potential when I couldn’t see it. Every artist needs that person who says, you can do this.
Those are my two cents.
You can do this!