Why do so many people use “inspiration” and “motivation” interchangeably? It’s one of my many pet peeves, as a writer.
To be inspired means something has planted a tiny idea seed inside your head that you just want to rush home and start watering like crazy. To be motivated means you’re able to act on those feelings of inspiration. Inspiration is a mood, of sorts. Motivation is a willingness to do something in the midst of that state of mind.
Someone’s TED Talk has inspired me to write a short story about poverty in food deserts. Yet I just can’t seem to gather up the motivation to actually sit down and start writing it. Hypothetically.
What makes this so frustrating – the fact that these two things are very different – is that you can be inspired without having any motivation whatsoever to actually do something about it. And you can also feel extremely motivated to do SOMETHING, but you burn through all that motivation trying to find something to use it on.
And they wonder why the life of a writer is so exhausting.
The other issue for many is that you can’t go “looking” for either of these things. Inspiration and motivation are not things to be found – they simply happen. Unfortunately, while The Sims 4 has us believing a quick shower can inspire us to write a novel, it’s not a cure-all (if ONLY).
Both of these things more often than not come from either consuming some form of media or actively engaging in creating something – which far too many writers aren’t willing to do, because they’re too busy scrolling through inspirational quotes on Tumblr.
I feel inspired when I am consuming (e.g., listening to a TED Talk) and motivated completely at random. Yesterday I woke up at 4am feeling motivated to get up and do something with all my energy – but, lacking a source of inspiration so early in the morning, I of course did not get up.
It’s different for everyone. Which is why this is one of far too many instances when I can only talk about something, and struggle to give generic advice to the masses.
How do you get motivated when you’re feeling inspired? You just do something, I guess, even when you don’t want to. “Not feeling like it” is the most annoying excuse you can give, even to yourself, for not taking advantage of your inspiration. And as for feeling inspired when you’re motivated – I’ve found that using my motivation to get actual work done first leaves more room for the fun stuff later. Honestly, I’m almost never motivated to work on my two unfinished novels. I work on them anyway, paragraph by paragraph.
Acting on your inspiration right away is both essential and uncertain – because while you might feel inspired to write a random short story on a specific topic, you might not have the time or the energy or the background knowledge supposedly necessary to do it right now.
So when you’re inspired, you have to focus on the idea, instead of the product, first. Develop the idea in your head or on paper before you start working on the tangible thing itself – it’s more fun (less work, or it seems like it) and not quite as overwhelming as diving into a project you don’t feel like you’re ready to tackle just yet.
Learning the difference between these two things, and how to take advantage of each – in ways that work for you – is how you handle the inspiration vs. motivation dilemma. In short, doing something is better than doing nothing when it comes to putting ideas into words.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.