Mm: Motivation, Daily Effort Generates Motivation

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.


Mm: Motivation
Daily Effort Generates Motivation

For at least a couple of years before committing to daily practice, I lamented: Where does motivation come from? How do people do it? I had colleagues who worked as hard as I did as college instructors, but they still managed to raise children, publish manuscripts, and jam in bands, while I orchestrated my day around how quickly I could get myself back to the sofa for a nap.

Eventually, I learned that motivation — at least self-motivation, motivating yourself to practice your craft even if no one else expects you to or holds you accountable — comes from the most aggravating source: action.

It’s the troubling paradox of trying to get hired for a job that requires you to have experience in that job, but you need the job before you can get the experience, and round-and-round you go.

Unless there’s exterior pressure for you to get your work done — a boss, a stern friend, a classroom of students waiting for you — you have to motivate yourself. To do that, you simply get to work.

“But that’s the problem,” you’re saying to me, “I don’t want to get to work, so how do I motivate myself to get to work?”

I don’t remember who first said this to me this way, but it rang loud and true:


Yup. You get motivated to work after you start working. How bassackwards is that? If you don’t feel like sketching, in fact, you’d rather mow the lawn with fingernail clippers, you will feel like sketching once you get started.

It’s as true as it is aggravating.

Make yourself physically walk to your craft, pick up a tool, and make five minutes’ worth of effort.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’ll stay there as long as the day’s obligations allow. In the rare instance you truly detest being there, leave after five minutes and call it a day. (See also J.)

Based on my experience with writing daily, I almost always want to continue after five minutes and wonder why I resisted it so much.

Even weirder, I often feel most satisfied and do my best work on these days of resistance. I suspect, after watching thousands of students engage with the writing process and studying my own process, many of the days we resist our craft are the days we’re on the verge of something new, something challenging that we haven’t done before, and some part of our brain knows that and wants to keep it all safe and simple.

When I’ve pushed myself through malaise and pulled students through resistance, the work sometimes takes a leap in complexity and strength. That kind of work takes more effort and energy; the mind and body want to conserve energy and protect you from the rigors of growth and art.

Not that this leap in ability happens every time or even needs to. The annoying truth is that to get motivated to work on your craft, you must get up and go work on your craft.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Mm: Motivation, Daily Effort Generates Motivation

  1. Solveig says:

    This is so true. As I started to write again I was not motivated in the beginning, but then I started to have the feeling that I should continue all the time. The great thing about blogging and especially the A to Z challenge is the motivating and encouraging words we receive from other bloggers.

  2. Alex Hurst says:

    Yes… A sad reminder, but one I’m going to have to get used to. After A-Z, I’m on it!

    Alex Hurst, A Fantasy Author in Kyoto
    A-Z Blogging in April Participant

  3. Rose L. says:

    I feel so lacking of motivation. It is as if I am a wall blocking my own goals. I seem to be filled with excuses.

    • TRISTA says:

      Oh, I so totally get what you mean about being “a wall blocking my own goals.” And when I feel that way, it’s so, so, so very hard to make myself do a little writing. It almost always makes me feel better, however. Occasionally, I give it a few minutes and quit, and that’s fine too.

  4. I covered this very concept in a lecture recently. 🙂

  5. EcoCatLady says:

    Wow… how counter-intuitive is that! But I know exactly what you mean. I sometimes have trouble getting my rear off the couch to work out – so I keep a yoga mat and some hand weights nearby. If I can just convince myself to roll onto the floor and do a few curls, next thing I know I’m into it.

    I’ll have to try this with other things I avoid. Hmmm….

    • TRISTA says:

      HA! That’s hilarious!!! I could see myself doing the same thing, and literally rolling off the couch and onto the yoga mat. Once, during a particularly unmotivated day, I rolled out the yoga mat, put in a pilates DVD, and then got a bowl of cereal and ate it while watching the DVD! Obviously, I just needed to give it up for that day. With practicing writing daily, as long as I’m right back at it the next day, a one-day unplanned break isn’t always bad.

  6. Pingback: Halfway Into the A to Z Challenge – Inspirational Insomnia – Thank You All | Solveig Werner

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s