MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

12 Hints for Rekindling Your Creative Spark

by Dr. Ken Atchity
Reprinted from Writer's Digest

Sometimes the struggle to publish can drain even the strongest creative dynamo. Here's how to recharge your creativity, to keep your career going...and going...and going...

When you began your struggle to establish a writing career, you were no doubt highly motivated. The joy of challenge, the lure of creativity, lured you into your dream.

But now you've struggled for so long that you may not be feeling that same joy. You may not be feeling it at all. What once seemed so promising now seems like folly at best, madness at worst.

What's happened? You've allowed the struggle to overpower the hope and positive energy you began with. You've forgotten that the creative process follows a natural cycle, from concentration to abandonment. The cycle begins when motivation leads to work; which, when not punctuated with appropriate rest periods, leads naturally to exhaustion; which leads to frustration; then to depression; then, ideally to reassessment and renewal. If you're pursuing a "creative" career, the process of keeping yourself motivated, like the challenge, is endless.


So what do you do when you're not feeling motivated? Try the following:

Remotivation Rule #1: Keep moving forward despite your moods. You cannot allow achievement to depend on mood. If you always must be in a good mood to accomplish your work, then it's probably time to consult a therapist. You haven't grown up. Grown-ups have to get the job done no matter what mood they're in. Imagine a firefighter throwing down the hose because he's no longer in the mood, or a super Bowl game dependent on a quarterback's moods, or an Olympic gold medal contender announcing she's not in the mood to skate in the finals. Edmund Burke said, "Never despair, but if you do, work on in despair."

If Rule #1 fails because the meeting with your agent went badly, or because you stared at a blank computer screen for an entire week, you apply...

Rule #2: When things get tough, take a vacation. But do so in a carefully limited way. Say, "I need three days off." At the end of three days, you're likely to feel much better. If not, try a few more days off: "I need another week away from this project." Never decide to abandon your project when you're tired. Things always look worse when you're tired. Remember that you're taking a vacation only from your work, not from your commitment to the work.

The moment you're officially on vacation, allow this to percolate in your mind:

Rule #3: The difficulty you are experiencing is normal -- and necessary. Writing is the highest expression of human creative potential. So how could it be easy? If it were easy, everybody would be doing it (instead of just talking about doing it). Sometimes writers have a hard time with the stress simply because they haven't realized their stress is necessary. It's not simply par for the course; it is the course. I once spoke on a panel with the late Louis L'Amour. he had just published his 93rd novel, and said to the audience that night, "I feel I'm finally beginning to master my craft." Afterward, one writer told me she was quite discouraged by L'Amour's statement. "discouraged?" I said. "You should be elated! What that tells you is that no matter how long you live or how many books you write, you'll always feel challenged by this endlessly challenging craft."

What better way is there to live than with the assurance that your work will provide you with endless discipline and demands for excellence? Doesn't it make more sense to congratulate yourself for having the courage to write than to berate yourself because you haven't "succeeded"? If you're making progress, you're succeeding. Now you understand what St. Catherine of Siena meant when she said, "All the way to heaven is heaven."

Rule #4: Don't doubt yourself. Identify the negative influences that have caused your resolve to falter. Maybe a well-meaning relative made a remark about how painful it is to see you wasting your life pursuing a dream of being a writer. Maybe the doubting Thomas is your own dark angel -- the little voice inside that tells you to forget about a writing career.

Either way, it's time to refurbish your self-confidence. You may have to reevaluate the amount of time you're putting into your writing, making adjustments that will help you feel more comfortable about the effort you are putting into your writing career. You may also have to remind yourself that what other people say can't affect you unless you allow it to. One way or the other, it's time to talk to yourself, asking the various parts of your mind, "What's going on in there?"

Lack of self-confidence is for all of us the greatest enemy. No matter how successful you become, you'll see -- it never goes away, but the successful person has managed to move forward despite his or her lack of self-confidence. Self-confidence increases when you continue to act (in this case, write) with no regard for your insecurities.

Rule #5: Face your fear, and make it your ally. According to popular anthropological accounts of the Malaysian Senoi tribe, a child dreaming of being chased by a monster would be told that the monster was, instead, his friend and that he should turn to face the monster the next time he's chased in his dream. We all know by heart that crises, when confronted directly, provide opportunity as well as danger. The first step is to acknowledge and face the fear, remembering David Viscott's observation (from his book Risking): "If you have no anxiety, the risk you face is probably not worthy of you. Only risks you have outgrown don't frighten you."

When a client or student tells me he's filled with anxiety, I assure him that not only is it a good -- and normal -- sign that he's afraid, but that he should try to be more afraid. The writing flourishes when you face your fear, owning it as yours. If you dare to turn the doorknob behind which the pain lurks, your fear can become a positive force. The hero's fear becomes a powerful ally, making his entire being alert and engaged.

Rule #6: Associate with positive people, and stop associating with negative people. Nothing is more helpful than a positive support group, and nothing more damaging than constant negative reinforcement from "friends" and family. Make whatever adjustments are necessary to reduce or eliminate your contact with the naysayers.

The positive people in your life are the hero's allies who've encouraged you to pursue your dream no matter what. They are your true "saints," inspiring you to go on living to the utmost of your ability. The philosopher-poet Johan Wolfgang von Goethe said, "If you treat people the way they are, you make them worse. If you treat them the way they ought to be, you make them capable of becoming what they ought to be." The positive people are those who treat you the way you have imagined yourself to be, at your best. Which leads us to...

Rule#7: Take responsibility. When one of my artist clients told me, "I never get personally involved in my own affairs," I realized how often creative people try to remain detached from their own commitment -- a defense mechanism with all-too-limited effectiveness.

I call this "magic thinking": "If I'm real good, work hard, be patient, the world will honor me eventually, and I've been good, worked hard, so now I'm waiting for the world to honor me." The world hardly ever works this way. Most successful people have struggled long and hard, and endured through multiple failures before achieving their success.

Rule #8: Take charge of your own thinking. You can control your own mind better than you may believe right now. Not all the time, but as you practice, more and more of the time. When you think, "I am succeeding at being my best self," you are succeeding. Motivational experts agree that you must see your success, be able to envision it internally, before you can experience it in your outer life. It helps to remember that you can't fail at being you; you're the only one, in fact, who can do that -- which means that everything you do is important, even being depressed!

Rule #9: Let go of the wrong kind of control. You can only do what you can do, and then you'll have to let fate take over. Control what you can do; don't try to control the rest. Even the most successful people can't control everything -- so why are you upset about things you can't control? The things you can control include work you can do in the next hour, or today, and calls and letters that will help you market your work.

Rule #10: Try to figure out what you really want -- and start living as though you already have it. Function follows form. If you commit yourself to the form of your optimal lifestyle, it will follow in function, but function follows only when your commitment is truly in place. Important to your remotivation agenda is reaffirming your commitment to writing. I call this fine-tuning. Your career will profit from fine-tuning at every stage.

Be careful what you wish for, though, or you're likely to get it. A screenwriting client called to tell me that she'd gotten her wish: She'd been hired by the staff of a successful series. But she'd forgotten to wish for a successful, intelligent series. now she was paying for her oversight with ten-hour-a-day tedium.

You've gotten past fear and returned to action and concentrated on the details of your work. Now, it's time to conclude your remotivation vacation with:

Rule #11: Congratulate yourself and celebrate! "Let's drink a toast to folly and to dreams," writes Paul-Loup Sulitzer in his novel The Green King, "because they are the only reasonable things."

Recognize your courage. After all, you've freely decided to take this unsafe road; you will never be choked with the tears of regret shed only by those who lament "the road not taken." the creative path, as we know by heart, is the difficult path, the path of anxiety and despair and failure, as well as of challenge and elation and triumph. You deserve self-respect for the courage of your commitment (even when it doesn't feel like courage to you at all). You can't control receiving respect from others; you can control receiving it from yourself. But if all else fails, there's...

Rule #12: Try just "coasting" for a few days. Focus on the present rather than on the future. "If worse comes to worse," an actress friend told me once, "I'm happy now." It's hard for creative people, who probably work alone without regular validation from the world, to keep from living in the future. It's hard not to do this. But you can give yourself the gift of the present, when the present is actually satisfactory on most levels required for life: enough to eat, a place to live, friends and family. Don't deprive yourself of life's simple pleasures. Meditation helps. Exercise helps -- especially long walks to new places. Vacations help. These breaks in routine, by taking you "out of yourself" temporarily, bring you into contact with the present, allowing you simply to be here now. Most of the time, when this happens, you'll be able to regain your perspective.

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