There is nothing more frustrating than feeling motivated to do … SOMETHING? … but having no idea where to put that desire to act.
If you have ever wondered why this happens — or the opposite dilemma, when you have ideas but no desire to execute them — it is likely because you didn’t know the difference between inspiration and motivation, or that there was even a difference at all.
A lot of people confuse inspiration and motivation, which are technically two different things — and knowing the difference could completely change the way you work and create.
As writers, when we talk about inspiration, we are only talking about a feeling. It gets confusing because of the whole “inspirational quotes” movement and somehow expecting that a hopeful saying will magically give you everything you need to succeed.
Inspiration is important — essential, in many cases. But it’s possible to feel inspired with nowhere to direct that energy, and that’s when people get frustrated. Inspiration might give you an idea for a new blog, but without the motivation to make that blog a reality, your inspiration is just empty hope.
Motivation is actually a completely different part of the equation. When we talk about motivation in writing, we are talking about the end goal that is going to get you writing — the reason you want to sit down and write.
When you are feeling motivated to create, you can look straight ahead at your finish line and see clearly all the steps that are required to get you there. You know that when you do, you will achieve the reward you are seeking, and for you that is enough to help you decide you want to follow through with whatever you are working on.
A motivator can be something as simple as wanting to hold a finished copy of a book you wrote and published in your hands. That dream, that goal, is the reason you sit down to work on your novel at nine o’clock on a Monday night even though you would much rather be doing … well, anything and everything else imaginable.
Unlike inspiration, motivation is tangible — there is something you could theoretically reach out and grab. Even if it’s just a daydream about what could be, it’s there, and you want to hold it in your hand as soon as possible.
Motivation is the thing you want as a result of your effort; inspiration is the internal driving force that fuels the effort.
The problem is that both of these things can and often do occur one without the other — and you actually need both in order to Make Words Happen. This could be the main source of your frustration when it comes to your creative efforts and you didn’t even know it.
Example: I have been feeling very inspired to create lately. I have written down a handful of ideas, I’ve been doing a lot of daydreaming about things I want to do in 2020 (no shame!). But I haven’t gotten much writing or planning done despite feeling inspired because I haven’t had the motivation to do anything. I just haven’t been able to connect the promise of a reward with my desire to do the work required to get that reward.
Even more frustrating? This can work the opposite way, too. Sometimes I wake up feeling hyper-motivated to do a thousand things when there are only three things on my to-do list. What do I do? Where do I go? I have motivation but for what? I don’t want to waste it!
So how do you obtain the missing piece that you need in order to put your creative energy to good use? If you are feeling inspired but not motivated — or motivated without even an ounce of inspiration whatsoever — what do you do about it? How do you do the work so you can enjoy the reward?
I don’t know you and I don’t know what does and does not work for you, so my thoughts on this by no means speak to the masses. But what I can do is tell you what I have learned through personal experience, in hopes it helps you take a few steps forward and continue your creative journey toward success.
The most important thing I have learned about inspiration is that it sometimes does not hit you until you are already doing the work you feel you require inspiration for. Take last month’s National Novel Writing Month endeavor — one I survived, but barely? That’s a story for another time. Basically, the majority of November, I did not feel inspired to write when I was not writing. I was grumpy and tired. I was dealing with unfavorable things at my day job, I was letting all the excuses get to me, and even though I wanted to write, I just couldn’t get excited about it.
But when you are working on a tight deadline like that — writing 50,000 words minimum in 30 days or less — you can’t avoid writing simply because nothing has inspired any new ideas in your brain in the past week. You have to sit down and do the work, and hope the inspiration hits at some point along the way.
For me, some days it didn’t, and getting those 1,667 words in honestly almost felt like torture. But to make up for that, there were also days I felt like I could keep writing forever and never run out of ideas — but that often only happened after I had already started writing.
Finishing National Novel Writing Month was my end goal — the motivation was there all along. But my lack of inspiration was what almost knocked me down past the point of no return. I had to keep writing in order to stay inspired. It was the only thing that worked.
But if doing the work is the easy part, and you lack the inspiration to narrow your focus and keep you moving forward, you really have to find and learn to rely on the things that get you in that “inspiration zone.” For me, it’s usually one of two things: Working out, listening to music, or both.
I don’t do these things specifically TO feel inspired. But I do know that the good feelings that often come along with these activities more often than not result in me having the inspiration necessary to act on my creative impulses and go back to my office and make something cool.
But don’t confuse wanting to feel good with needing a reason to keep moving forward. Again — not the same thing. You have to know the difference.
When you are sitting in front of your computer frustrated that you aren’t feeling inspired to create, you might actually be on an interpersonal quest for motivation, or the motivator that will convince you to put in the effort required to Make Words Happen.
This is why it is so important for a writer to “know their why.” You need — some days much more than others — to be able to refer back to your reason for doing this. Especially when writing gets really challenging and you start to wonder whether it might be time to give up and find a new hobby or dream.
Know your motivator. Know what gives you “the good feels.” Put them together and see what happens. Chances are you will create something, and who knows? It might even turn into something wonderful.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.