I wrote this last year for the Renegade Writer's but I think it still holds true - specially in light of the recent demise of so many dear magazines --
My email box has been overflowing with messages from friends, students, strangers all worried about the economy. If you think fear is a great motivator, forget it — in these emails I am seeing signs of panic. People are getting paralyzed with fear and in effect not able to take action. I quote from some emails (with permission)” “Is there really work out there?” “No one is answering my emails” “What is going to happen to me, I write about high-end luxury products, who is buying stories about that at this difficult time?” Yes, these are hard times. But it is more important than ever to be brave, motivated and at your productive best at this time. Like my father likes to say, “It is always easy to be a good manager/worker/employee/you-name-it when everything is going right.”
So how can you motivate yourself during this rough period? How can you nurture the writer side of you so that you bring out your best side and your best work? Here are some tried and tested ways that have helped me, my students and many of my friends:
1. Feel the fear. Pure fear has to be one of the most powerful emotions known to man and it is, I believe, important to acknowledge the emotion in order to gain freedom from it. Each step of the way in daily life — fear of failure, fear of the empty page, fear of lack of income — fear lurks. Fear calls my name many times in the middle of the night, fear has had me waking up in hot sweats. So how do you get over this fear? I don’t think that anyone really ever does. I love the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and I read the book in two days and then re-read it and then read it again. It helped me realize — I was not alone. This was a universal feeling and yes, people do deal with it. They make it part of their life.
So treat fear as a companion. In my case, it is my savior in matters of success (so my ego never can grow) and in matters of failure (so I know that he is alive and well). I cannot control my fear — the only thing I can control is my reaction when my companion, fear, rears his head in the morning. “Today,” he says, “today is the day when it will all come to an end. You will be unable to write/editors wont want to work with you/you will have to hide forever since you could not make this new career work.” My reaction had always been to do just that — go hide and sometimes even cry. Feeling the fear helped me to deal with it instead of wanting to go hide. Now, when he appears each morning, I leave the house. Go for a walk. Call a friend. Call my husband (of course, after a few months of these calls, hubby told me that for him to stay gainfully employed, I needed to get over my fear and stop driving him nuts). The best antidote, I have found, for my fear is to keep writing. As long as I am writing I am in a different world, a world that knows no fear. It is only when I stop that he reappears. Fear is here today as I write this post. I am drinking a cup of steaming hot coffee sitting here in Starbucks and he is peeking right over my shoulder and reading this as I type it. Read it, I urge him, I recognize you are here. Thanks for being there.
2. Whine. One of the best things about being a writer is being able to write — no, I mean seriously! So if you want to whine about the hard times, go right ahead. But here is the twist — don’t whine to a friend, a stranger or your dog. Instead, whine on paper. Open up a journal every morning and just write for 15 minutes non-stop. Artists swear by it. I do, too. It really works. Instead of calling a friend and complaining about the economy/weather/ whatever is bothering you and having them annoy you more (!), write it down. As Julia Cameron says “Put the drama on the paper” where it belongs and leave it there. Once you have un-cluttered your mind of fears and worries, it is time to start working. If the need to whine creeps in again at anytime time, go and write some more. My friend and guide Gwen Moran helped me implement this and it has been one of the best things I have done for my writing life.
3. Brush your teeth with the wrong hand. No, I haven’t totally lost my mind. How does this motivate you? Well, there is science behind it that says, new ways of doing things cause different receptors in your brains to connect — so take a different way home each day, read a book you never thought you would like, listen to your ten-year-old explain to you what recycling means, always do the crossword — or this week do Suduko — my point here is do something you don’t normally do. Not only does it break the routine, it offers your brain new ways of thinking. Worried about not selling luxury items? As I was brushing my teeth yesterday, with the wrong hand, I began to pay more attention to what was going on in my mouth and under my feet and I kept thinking of how cold the floor was, and pitched a piece on it. It is under consideration.
4. Don’t clean your house. Focus is critical during hard times. There are plenty of distractions around. I find that when I have market myself, try and find new editors or discover new writing venues, I will find seventy-six reasons to clean my kitchen at that very moment. There are plenty of distractions, self-created and otherwise. The key is to keep your focus each day and take constructive steps towards doing your work whether it is finding new markets, sending out letters of introduction, reading relevant blogs/newspapers/magazines to mine for ideas. This is work that will keep the flow of cash coming in. And don’t let anyone tell you that people are not buying food/travel stories — most food writers I know are busier than ever.
5. Get-butt-out-of-chair. When I coach writers who are unable to write, I always tell them to leave their writing space — at least for a while. Go out and explore. Pick up your favorite chocolate bar and head to the newest museum/bookstore/clothing store in your area (or even better, outside your area) and just spend sometime looking around. It is a great way to nurture the writer-side of you that is looking for new experiences to write about. Maybe while wandering the children’s museum you noticed the brand new systems installed in the bathrooms to dry your hands (NO JOKE), or the poor way a cross mother handled her son or the fact that the entire menu being served at the museum cafeteria is now organic — I am making this up but you would have never known this if you did not go out. One point here — this is something to do on your own and not with a kid or friend in tow. You want to give your mind the ability to think and look for new things not gossip about Clooney’s new movie or worry about your baby’s diaper.
To succeed you need to own your intentions. We all face demons and many of ours are self-created demons that are ready to defeat us at the drop of a hat. The biggest tool against the demons of doubt, anxiety, frustration, low self esteem (or insert your own here) is to stay focused on your work and to persist in the effort and not worry about the results. Good work always yields good results. Always.
A chef, whom I have interviewed often, has a saying which I adore and I leave you with it now – “Good luck takes a lot of hard work.”