How does one rekindle that excitement one feels in one’s work? How does one revive one’s motivation?
Being a professional writer is about more than just writing. It’s about connecting with readers, sharing one’s work, putting it “out there” for readers to find and enjoy (and hopefully to buy, because let’s face it, writers need to eat too). It’s about motivation.
But “out there” can be a mighty big place and all the motivational posters, strategic marketing plans, goal-setting, and self-help gurus can’t always change how it feels to be an indie-author crying out in the wilderness. And the sense of desolation and desperation that stems from the difficulty of being heard can easily bleed over into one’s writing and one’s personal life, creating a downward spiral that ultimately leads to despair, despondency, and surrender.
So what to do?
Stop Caring Oh So Much
I know. You invested all this time, money, blood, and sweat into your book, you want people to love it. It means something to you, how can you stop caring about it?
Let me explain.
Care about the readers. Care about the work. Care about your manners and your attitude. These are things you can control.
But for the love of all that’s holy, stop caring so much about the reviews and the author ranks and the sales and the news of great successes around your circle of writing friends. These are things you can’t control.
Yes, you can put more and more money and time into marketing and advertising. But you can’t make people buy your book, or leave you a good review (or even a bad one). And that writer friend of yours who’s moving hundreds of copies a month? Maybe they’ve been at it longer than you have. Maybe they have a bigger circle of friends. Maybe they have a degree in marketing. Maybe they have some bottomless bucket of money. You can’t know why their success might be outstripping yours. All you can do is be glad for them and then run your own race.
Don’t invest so much of your own identity into your work. The trick is to be able to look at your own work objectively—which, admittedly, is not an easy thing for most of us to do. But if it seems like you take the success or failure (or overall critical response) to your work very personally, you’re bound to become despondent.
Caring about the wrong things doesn’t serve you well at all. It accomplishes nothing and drains your motivation. Examine everything that comes across your desk, and first ask if you should even bother with it, much less care about it and if not, toss it in the trashcan and move on to what matters.
Remember, there is the day-to-day work to be tackled and the future to consider. These are not the same. If you want to stay motivated in the present moment, you must turn a deaf ear to these inconsequential details. They do not matter and they suck your motivation. Do your job and do it well. Build a network of people you care about and do not concern yourself beyond that.
Do Only the Work That Matters
I will now tell you my greatest and most shocking lesson: It is not how hard you work, it is how smart you work.
No one cares how “hard” you work. Hard does not translate to numbers. Hard does not move books. Hard does not make you or anyone else look good. Hard is irrelevant.
Do what matters and that means learning to say “no” to petty work that gets you nowhere and does no good for your writing, your marketing, and your brand. This is the work that comes to you from a random writer asking for advice on their latest effort, a writer in another organization, an old colleague asking a favor, and on and on. The answer to all these lovely requests starts with a profuse apology followed by the fact that you are extremely busy with your current projects and have no time, even though you wish you could help them.
Before you can do this, you need to have some guts. Average guts will do; you don’t even need serious guts for this.
Building an author platform means making oneself available for public scrutiny, and public criticism. Working with other writers in co-operative fashion means promoting their work in the hope that they will promote yours.
And so, it’s easy to live with this one constant fear, amplified by all those around you: “Oh my god, what if author-so-and-so, with 10-gazillion followers, bad-mouths me because I said no to promoting their book on my blog?” And so one gets drawn into an endless cycle of favors and thinks, “I had better not say what I think and keep my head down and work really hard to help other people.” How does Tim Grahl put it? “Be relentlessly helpful.” So I myself used to say yes-yes-yes to everything and everyone who needed help.
But you have to realize that you need only do the work that matters to the bottom line of not just yourself, but that of your team and your readers. Then you must learn how to identify this work from the rest of the noise. When you can do this—and I know you can—you will gain better focus and a healthier balance to your work. As a result, your motivation will improve.
Watch Your Attitude Like A Hawk
Attitude is everything. It really is in writing and self-publishing. Even if a poor attitude doesn’t hurt your performance or your writing career, it hurts your reputation. People tend to easily forget kindness but they will certainly remember a single incident of a poor attitude and hold it against you forever.
Your attitude should be professional on every occasion. Be professional when you are asking for something, when you are frustrated about something, when you want to complain about something, when you are negotiating and especially when you are sharing disappointing news or a change in your plans. Refuse to become, with all your might, dark and jaded and cynical. Panic if you see yourself falling into this trap and immediately change it.
Most of all, never lose your conviction about the general goodness of people, no matter what you may have to deal with in your writing career. This single approach to your work will ensure that you feel proud about the exemplary character you show others through your positive and professional attitude, and that pride will improve your motivation.
Make a Date with Yourself
Yes, your schedule is jam-packed. Yes, there’s the day-job and the kids and the spouse and that coffee with an old friend.
But set aside times on certain days to do your marketing: social networking, researching new markets, finding places to have signings, and so on. If you wait for random moments of motivation to promote your work, you will find yourself doing less and less marketing. Make it part of your writing routine.
And never forget you deserve a writing rendezvous with yourself. You owe yourself some creative, meaningful time in your life. So make a date and keep it. Oh, and show up on time. And bring flowers.
How do you keep yourself motivated?