How to Maintain Writing Enthusiasm When the Creative Urge Dies, Part I

How to Maintain Writing Enthusiasm When the Creative Urge Dies, Part I

Let’s not beat around the bush: At some point in any project, and more likely at many points in the project, you will experience a sudden and complete disinterest in the work.

Sometimes actual hatred.

Yes, it happens.

That’s natural, because work is really freaking hard and typically we’d rather do easy things. Thanks caveman brain. That means you will lose your ability to maintain writing enthusiasm at some point.

So you tell yourself you deserve a break, just until your creative juices return. But then the same thing happens the next day, and the next. What was a brief interruption to refuel becomes a hardcore loathing of the prospect of ever returning to the project.

Now you’re way deep in your head, caught in a loop that gets worse with every passing day. All because of a simple truth:

One of the biggest contributors to procrastination is a simple lack of enthusiasm. We just don’t effing feel like it anymore.

A Simple Trick to Maintain Writing Enthusiasm

Before we wade into the why and how and what on Earth to do of this post, I want to propose a simple fix that you were probably already taught by your mom or dad or Kindergarten teacher or the otherworldly being who raised you in a cemetery. (Sorry, just finished Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Expect more references.) Seriously, listen when I say this fix is simple:

Because a step as easy as the 10-Minute Rule can turn your whole life around.

The fact of the matter is, when you’ve put off a project for a week, you are utterly unable to assess the True Heinousness Level (technical term) of any pursuit. Even if it’s something you enjoy (and creative projects typically are), you just can’t see the forest for the trees. Well, the one tree, really.

The Large Tree of Suck and Dread standing right in front of you and blocking all possible satisfaction and flow.

It’s surprisingly easy to get around this tree and start appreciating the forest again, though. You simply have to sit down in your chair and get started. Then stay there for 10 minutes.

Now, I know, this advice seems ridiculous and pat, but it’s very true. You might not like how it feels to be working. You might still want to abandon ship and shake it to old-school Shakira instead, but a huge amount of the time you’ll find you have the ability to stay put. Try it.

And save that Shakira thing for your coffee break.

What Happens When We Can’t Maintain Writing Enthusiasm?

Granted, just sitting down and making it happen doesn’t always work. Let’s take a closer look at what’s actually going on behind the death of creativity and fiery crash of enthusiasm.

First, note that this isn’t merely a personal problem. Whole teams can experience it. Here’s a metaphor I adore, courtesy of Bernie Hollinger:

Over the weekend I was in my garden, spending some much needed time weeding. It is a fairly large area and I tend to let it go because it takes a couple of hours to do the job right and besides – I hate weeding.

I had all the tools ready. Sturdy gloves to keep my hands relatively clean, a hand trowel to attack the soil, a bucket for the weeds, and a cushion to kneel on. As I started with a trowel in one hand to loosen the soil and the other hand pulling out the weeds, it was fairly simple. The soil was easy to get through and my enthusiasm was high for the project and I had a system that was moving me right along.

About a quarter of the way through the bed, I noticed the soil was getting much harder to go through. I had put my weight behind digging into the weeds to loosen them, then put the trowel down and pull out the weeds. They sun came out, making me hot and tired. My process slowed considerably and my enthusiasm became non-existent. I had to force myself to continue. I kept thinking of things I would rather be doing, but I persevered.

In the last third of the bed the soil loosened up again and my speed increased. I could see the results behind me and the end was in sight. My time had been well spent and I was excited to see the end result.

Hollinger draws this metaphor around to teams:

In the beginning of a project there is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm with you (and possibly your team). The energy level is high and the staff is excited to be part of a new project. You, whether alone or in a group, find it easy to maintain writing enthusiasm.

Somewhere about a third of the way in, the responsibility of the additional duties, the snags that all projects seem to go through and the lack of resources begins to take its toll. Members of your team begin to lose their enthusiasm for the project.

Now, you might be the only member of your team. Or you might be working on a project with a friend, a spouse, a group, a child, whatever. (Procrastination and disinterest don’t really care how many of you there are; they’re equal-opportunity.) The same factors are still at play for the loss of enthusiasm:

  • Resources (time, money, energy) get scarcer
  • The mystery and glamour are gone; this project is no longer a “shiny object”
  • You have mastered the difficult skill that drew you to the project in the first place (for instance, learning to use a piece of new equipment)
  • It’s just plain hard

There’s a difference when this happens at work and when it happens on your own watch, too. In a workplace, you have to get the project done. When weeding the garden, you don’t. When writing a novel, you don’t.

Maintain Enthusiasm with the Ready-Fire-Aim Approach

So here’s your second fix: Avoid “planning” for too long.

I’m an advocate of the ready-fire-aim approach, which I talk about in Get the Hell Over It: How to Let Go of Fear and Realize Your Creative Dream.

If I plan absolutely everything upfront, then all that’s left is the work; nothing shiny whatsoever. I find that leaving some mystery there helps pull me through later on. That might not work for you, but I think every teeny trick for beating procrastination is helpful. Up to you.

Here’s another short trick: Before you begin, make and post a list of all your reasons for engaging in the project. That way, when you experience a deep and profound desire to do anything, dear Lord anything, but the work you should be doing, you’ve got something to lean on.

After all, nobody tied you down and made you write that list. Past You wrote it, which means that somewhere, at some point on the great space-time continuum, there is a You who believes wholeheartedly in what you’re doing. Present You will just have to take Past You’s word for it.

Another quick trick?

Ask Your Friends to Help You Maintain Writing Enthusiasm

Make a list of people you can turn to for tough love when the going gets rough. Your mom isn’t a good choice; she’ll support anything. (Except for that rough period in high school. She did not support that.)

We’re talking creative friends who won’t be that understanding when it comes to the 57th instance of abandoning a promised project. These are the perfect people to whom to turn because they can also turn to you, so you don’t have to feel bad bugging them. Put that in your toolkit.

In the second post in this series, we’ll talk about an interesting phenomenon that actually hails from sports. Yes. Sports can help you become a better writer. It’s totally a thing, so go check it out.

Meanwhile, feel free to check out the Free Resource Library, and access a wealth of resources to get started as a copywriter or freelancer. One of the best ways to maintain enthusiasm is to keep new information coming in, so I’m here to help you do that. Just click the image below.

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