What drives you to write?
To earn some green-backs and keep the wolves from the door? To earn praise? Create a community?
Or maybe you’re convinced your story will help someone else? Or that you can help other people find important information?
Are you compelled to write because you’ll settle for nothing less than changing the world?
You know how to get to Carnegie Hall, right?
Motivation, man, motivation.
Okay, so I mangled the old joke, but the point remains — you won’t get far unless you’re motivated.
Just any old motivation won’t do either – it has to be the right motivation and you have to be honest about what it is.
If you’re writing to build a business, but your real motivation is attention and validation from peers, you’re going to go off the rails.
Dan Pink, author of the terrific new book Drive, says that real, self-directed motivation is based on three things — autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
When we’re motivated, we achieve all of these things. So why do we think it’s so normal to be unmotivated?
Lack of motivation isn’t normal
Notice when you’re not motivated.
Don’t get used to it and teach yourself that it’s normal. It isn’t.
When your motivation starts to slip, you need to address it immediately. It’s telling you something is wrong with the way you’re thinking about your work.
Maybe you don’t feel like you have autonomy any more. Or that you’re not growing as a writer. Or that your work no longer has purpose.
Let it slide and your declining motivation will strip your confidence until you forget why you ever wanted to write in the first place.
How do you fix motivation that’s starting to slip?
If you’re unmotivated, start by looking back to Pink’s three factors:
1. Give yourself more autonomy
When you’re able to have a say over what you write, how you write it, and when you write it, your work becomes a task you can tackle with creativity and a greater sense of ease.
That may mean you need to make room to work on your own projects, rather than spending all of your time on other people’s deadlines. Or it may just mean that you need to be more conscious of what kind of clients you’re working to attract.
2. Increase your sense of mastery
If you’re able to increase your skills and capability as a result of your writing, then you’re really onto a winner. You get something done and you get better in the process.
Work on your craft. Get passionate about the fine points of whatever kind of writing you do. Push yourself to get better every day.
3. Expand your sense of purpose
If your work means something to you, it feels right, like you’re making a real contribution.
Know that what you do is important. Know how it benefits your clients. Work on projects that support your values, rather than conflicting with them.
But . . . motivation isn’t everything
It’s nice to read about drive and passion. That message is everywhere. And while it might end up making you feel lovely inside, it doesn’t offer you any insight as to why passion and motivation aren’t enough.
See, what Dan Pink didn’t mention is that while congruent motivation and the ability to course-correct are essential parts of success, no amount of motivation can be enough without a supporting belief.
As Bruce Lee once said, water adapts to any container. In other words, your life shapes itself and adapts to the barriers you’ve set. It doesn’t matter if you pour 20,000 gallons or a glass of water into an empty swimming pool, the water is constrained by the dimensions of the pool.
How big is your swimming pool?
You could have all the motivation in the world to build your business, but if you have a belief that says you “can’t” or that you’re “not good enough,” then guess what?
You’ve just built a wall that stops that motivation in its tracks, or at the very least turns it into one hell of a struggle.
Your beliefs about your writing and your ability to build a meaningful business act like the circuit-breaker in your home, shutting down the power when there’s a perceived risk.
But here’s the thing — you don’t need protecting. Those beliefs that limit you and keep you “safe” in your comfort zone aren’t necessary.
If you were a house, you’d be one that can grow and move. You’d be a house that can add, remove, and re-order rooms as it needs to. You’d be a house that can rewire itself on the fly. You’d be a house that can repair itself and strengthen itself. You’d be a sentient house with arms and legs and hair and . . . okay, the house metaphor’s gone too far.
Here’s what it boils down to:
You’re more than a match for any challenge
Your capability is bigger than any problem your business can throw at you. You are designed to take on meaningful challenges and learn what’s necessary to succeed.
You’re great at stuff. Really, you are. But you won’t be able to do any of it until you reset the boundaries of your beliefs so that they allow your motivation to flow where it needs.
Build a pool with no boundaries and what you’ve got is an ocean for your motivation to swim in.