Motivation Monday: Sometimes, in Writing and Life, You Just Have to Let Go

Yesterday I wrote about resistance.

But today I’m writing about its opposite, letting go. Which is funny, right? Like life is funny.

Anyway, here’s the deal. This past weekend, the hub and I took an overnight trip to Eugene, a hundred-ish miles down the road from Portland, and home of one of my alma maters, the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!).  We were going to attend a birthday party for my friend and client, Kim Leval. (And what a fun party it was–but that’s a story for another day.)

When we take a short road trip, I usually make ask my hub to drive so that I can knit. (I wear these so I don’t get carsick.)  This past weekend, I had the perfect idiot knitting project (one you can do without paying much attention to). It is an airy scarf that I hope will be wide and long enough to wear as a shawl.   I’m not that far along on it, but I made good progress in the car.

However.

Something bad happened to my knitting.  It started slanting.  As far as I was concerned, the thing was supposed to come out all nice and neat, eventually forming one gargantuan rectangle I could artfully wrap around my shoulders. But instead it was freaking slanting.  I kept telling myself it just appeared to be slanting, and that if I yanked on it enough, it would stop. So every knitting session turned out to be a marathon of yanking on the edges of the damn thing, then holding it up to see if that made any difference.  

It didn’t.

I wasmaking myself crazy trying to make the shawl into something it was never going to be.  And I might just as well have been getting my teeth cleaned for all the enjoyment I was getting out of it.

Finally, driving home yesterday I had an epiphany: the shawl is slanting because it is creating a bias drape as I knit. I have no idea how or why this is happening. (I’ve been knitting since I was a kid, and still the craft offers mysteries to me.) But it is happening and no amount of yanking is going to change it. So I decided to quit fussing over it and relax and enjoy it.

I no longer care, either. It will be what it will be. Maybe it really is forming a bias drape, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it will magically become the giant rectangle I have in mind! But most likely it won’t. Doesn’t matter.  Because, suddenly, the knitting is fun again.  I am no longer resisting the natural shape of the shawl and instead I’m relaxing and enjoying it.

I don’t know about you, but this is all too familiar to me in other areas of my life. Like all the times I’ve tried to force a character (or a real person) do something they have no interest in doing.  Or when I hang on to the idea of how a scene should go when it is clear that is leading itself in a different direction.  Or when I keep trying to do the same thing over and over again in my career when it is clear it isn’t working.

And when I finally let go (which is surprisingly hard) the relief is so sweet.

Is there something in your writing or life you’re hanging onto that you need to release?

Update: I almost forgot! (Well, technically, I did forget.) My How To Get an Agent Class is tomorrow! Come join us! Just in time for summer pitching!

 

Motivation Monday: Where’s the Joy in It?

Sitting in church yesterday, one word kept popping out at me, even though the message wasn’t really focused on it. And that word was joy. I kept thinking about it in terms of writing. I wondered: where’s the joy in it? Lord knows, writing is a tough business full of rejection and low-paid work. So, is it worth it to keep at if there’s no joy in it? Am I still finding joy in it? Are you?

I am one of those writers who can’t not write.  Even if you told me that I’d never make another penny from my work, never see anything published ever again, I’d still keep writing. I love the puzzle-like fun of putting a novel together and continuing to discover things about my characters. I love the self-discovery that ensues from a good journaling session.  And I love writing about writing (and motivation and inspiration and all that good stuff) in my blog and newsletter.

So yeah, I still find joy in it.  There’s nothing like the feeling I get after a good writing session, when I look up and find myself in love with everything in the world. That’s what sustains me when I get another rejection or I can’t seem to think of a topic for a blog post or the vicissitudes of life keep me away from my writing.

It’s the joy of it.    

The joy of the creative process, of putting words on the page, one after another.  When it is going well, it’s bliss.( Of course, when it’s not going well, it’s hell—but that’s a topic for another day.)  That’s what keeps me going. And I assume, because I’m pretty sure you and I are not so different, that it’s what keeps you going as well.

But what happens if you’ve lost the joy in it? What if you long to write but the fire has gone out?

Here are a few things to try:

–Write fast.  A lack of joy in writing comes from perfectionism, which manifests as laboring over every word.  Short circuit that tendency by vowing to write fast.  Set a timer and see how many words you can get on the page before it goes off. The words don’t have to be pretty, they just have to be on the page.

–Remember that writing is a process.  Too often we get hung up on product.  The joy comes in the process of writing, in that lovely feeling when you are so absorbed that time passes and you’re not even aware of it.  Let yourself focus on the process without worrying about the end result.

–Write any old thing.  If you’ve lost the fire for your novel, write an essay about a topic dear to your heart. If you’re struggling with your memoir, write a short story. Write a poem. Write in your journal.  Write a play or movie script.  Shake those brain cells and neurotransmitters up!

–Take a break.  Tell yourself you can’t write. Can’t work on any of your projects. Can’t journal. If you are anything like me, you like to rebel against yourself, and this is a surefire way to get back to it and kindle some joy.  If you really do end up taking a break, you’ll come back to it with space in your brain and heart to find the joy again.

I hope some of these suggestions help to motivate you. And if you are having a hard time finding the joy, might I suggest that coaching can help? Continuing through midnight on July 4th, I’m running a coaching special.  For three-month, paid in advance clients, I’m offering two free extra sessions.  That’s 14 sessions instead of 12. And for six-month, paid in advance clients, I’m adding on 4 sessions. Woot! That’s 28 sessions instead of 24.  Just think what you can get done in a few months of one-on-one coaching with me. You could get a huge start on your novel. Or finish the project that’s moldering in the drawer. Or start the process of getting an agent—or get your book self published.

Interested? Contact me and let’s chat.

Motivation Monday: Get Thyself to the Page

Happy Monday!

And dig that cool little graphic I just made. That’s because I am hoping determined that this will be a regular feature in the coming weeks. I won’t go so far as to say every week because then I’ll just rebel against myself.  But it will be regular in some form or other, okay?

Because I figure we can all use a little bit of motivation on our Mondays. (And it is also a thing, a hashtag thing, on the social medias.)

So let’s get to it.

I have long held that you can be the best writer in the world, but if you don’t have yourself a healthy dose of motivation, it won’t matter. Because if you aren’t motivated to get your butt into the chair and write, all the talent in the world isn’t going to write the book for you.  So motivation is key.

In the class I’m currently teaching, Do That Thing, we’ve talked a lot about motivation. (One whole session was devoted to motivation and inspiration, as a matter of fact.) And I learned something fascinating, which is the role that dopamine plays motivation.

Yes, dopamine. Our old friend who we associate with pleasure (and one site goes so far as to say sins and secret cravings). Turns out it also has quite a bit to do with motivation.  I’m not going to get all scientific on you and describe how the brain works, because, um, I’m not qualified to do that.  But as a quick refresher, dopamine is a neurotransmitter,  a chemical signal that passes info from one neuron to the other.

When your brain recognizes something important is about to happen (it can be good important or bad important), dopamine kicks in and get you motivated to do something.  That something can be running from the rattlesnake that’s about to strike you (bad important), or start a writing session (good important).

Okay, so that is a vast simplification, but you get the gist. People with low levels of dopamine have been shown to have low levels of motivation.  Dopamine gets you moving, literally–Parkinson’s patients have low levels of dopamine in the substantia nigra area of their brain.

I know, I know, I love anything to do with the brain but you might not. Rather you might be at this point asking how this information can help your motivation to write.  Well, if you increase your dopamine levels, you can increase your motivation.  And here are some ways to do that:

–Baby steps. We’ve been talking about this over and over in the class, because baby steps are the best way to get things done. My mother had a saying for it that I always return to: step by step we travel far.  Baby steps give you a sense of satisfaction and positive accomplishments increase dopamine.

–Micro-accomplishments. Cross items off your to-do list.  The  more you do, the better you’ll feel, and the more dopamine you’ll create.  I’m following this one today. I woke up totally unmotivated, cross and tired.  But I have my to-do list sitting next to me, and just looking at the things I’ve already crossed out is helping to energize me.

–Focus on results. As in, how great you’ll feel when you are done. Remember, dopamine fires when something important is about to happen.

–Eat dopamine foods.  Things like dairy, fish, nuts, foods rich in Omega-3, and, wait for it–dark chocolate. More here and here.

–Praise others.  Recognizing the work of others has been shown to increase dopamine in our brains.  Find some other writers to work with!

So there you have it, the first edition of Motivation Monday. Fun times.  While you’re here, please do tell–what motivates you?

And if getting published motivates you to write, the first step in getting a traditional publisher is finding an agent.  If you’re perplexed or overwhelmed by the process, I’ve got just the class for you–the aptly named How to Get An Agent. Read all about it here.

 

photo from Wikipedia.