I can't do it. The cup of coffee steams on my desk. My new office has hardwood floors and magnificent views of the mountains, which are bathed in the morning sunshine. But I'm darkly staring at my computer. It's Monday morning, and I'm already chewing on my lip.
My to do list for the week involves four different clients, two doctor's visits, teaching, and at least two hour-long meetings. And I overslept, so I'm behind.
Forget it, I tell myself, There's just no way to work on the novel today. There's no time. But two hours later, I close my computer on another few thousand words of new fiction.
Why Your Writing Isn't Sacred or Special
Many aspiring artists and writers view their creativity through a lens of sacredness or specialness or inspiration. As in, “This is my sacred craft,” or, “I’m an important person, a special person, and I have something important to share with the world," or, "I need to cultivate my inspiration."
This is the kind of self-important chatter that will leave you with writer’s block so thick it feels like a 2-ton rock sitting on your chest.
Don’t get me wrong. Your writing may be sacred to you. You may have something important to share with the world. Good for you if that’s the case. And who doesn't want to write when they're inspired?
These ideas, however, will put pressure on you and to make your creation process about as pleasant as doing your own dental work (and about as effective).
Tip #1: Dig Ditches, Don’t Create Works of Genius
Do you think that your average trucker has good weeks and bad weeks — that affect his ability to drive and do his job? Or does he climb into that rig, regardless of how he might feel about his job on that particular day? Think he gets trucker’s block, and just can’t seem to move that semi down the highway no matter how hard he tries?
Nope. Blue-collar jobs don’t work like that. He gets the job done, and how he feels about it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a job, something that he has to do.
Your creativity is exactly the same way.
Writing a book is like digging a ditch. Your creativity is really just sticking your shovel in the ground. Hit a rock? Dig around it. Shovel break? Get another one. Need some buddies to help you? Get help. Plod along.
If you set out to "write a book" you will be immediately screwed. Every time I’ve tried to work this way, I get caught inside a lofty idea, and then every day of mostly mediocre writing is a disappointment of unmet expectations. I start to beat myself up, and pretty soon the book grinds to a halt.
The reason? I have no idea how to write a book. I bet you don't either. But I do know how to dig ditches. And when I treat my writing like that, books get made.
Tip#2: Don't Believe (Your Own) Hype
You may consider yourself a goddess or someone very special, but if you write under that expectation, you'll soon end up eating some well-deserved humble pie.
One of the most prolific writers of our time, Stephen King, has two interesting things to say on writing.
King: “I’m the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.” This is a truly blue-collar attitude from an author worth hundreds of millions of dollars. How many of us would be willing to be so humble in our own work?
His other quote I love: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
In other words, dig ditches, don’t write books. No matter how you feel, what you're thinking, what you'd rather be doing, or anything else, sit down and write, everyday. If you can’t write, sit and literally stare at your computer screen for two hours, trusting that whatever nonsense is going on in your brain will work itself out, and that tomorrow will be better.
Tip #3: Forget About Talent
There are a handful of scary talented artists out there, to be sure. These are the men and women who inspire us not only with the power of their vision, but the beauty with which they capture it.
But most successful artists and writers -- the overwhelming majority -- aren’t any more or less talented than anyone else. What they are, instead, is in touch with their motivation. After all, what good is creativity, talent, and vision if you can’t sit still for a couple hours a day, and slug through the mess?
Tip #4: Understand the Real Reward of Your Work
Your work should be rewarding and not just work. But the reward isn't the thing, the goal, not the book or the painting or the exhibition. To be successful and prolific, it's the process that must become rewarding.
Once you start to enjoy digging ditches, anything is possible. You’ve started to love the process, not the goal, and now you’re free to create whatever you want. Nothing and no one can stop you, except you.
Tip #5: Uncover Your Deeper Motivation
How have I managed to get three books published, and to be knee-deep into my fourth?
The expectation is for me to say something like: I’m disciplined. Or I’m driven. Or that I view my work as sacred. People seem to suspect that I’m talented, or creative, or just plain lucky. The truth is it's none of those things. What I am is motivated.
Ask yourself this: What are the deeper values driving my desire to write this book? What is really driving me?
I can tell you with 100% certainty it’s not about getting your message 'out there'. It’s not about 'following your genius', or creating a platform for something bigger. It’s not about your creativity or your helping others. It's not about building your business, getting on Good Morning America, making art, or making money. Nope. It's not really about any of those things.
It’s much, much deeper. And much more powerful. When you know what it is, you won’t ever struggle for motivation again.
Until you find what that is, get digging!
Keith Martin-Smith is an award-winning author, content strategist, and Zen priest. He is passionate about human connection, creativity, and evolution.