Friday, January 7, 2011

Fear, Opportunity, Joy: Motivation

Growing up with the last name of Early, I developed an irrational fear of being tardy. Every joker who hollered, “Hey, Early, you’re late!” burned that accusation a little deeper into my brain, where it still waits to sneak out and torment me. So deadlines scare me. I can use them to my own advantage to a certain extent. I schedule my top priorities on my calendar. At the end of the day, I hate to see anything not checked off because I’m afraid I’ll hear that nagging voice in my head. So, yes, fear can be a great motivator. Up to a point. I get overwhelmed from time to time; I find it harder to focus on my own writing toward the end of every semester. A calendar filled up with deadlines creates anxiety, which leads to resentment. Resentment turns into rebellion, and writing becomes an obligation, even drudgery. I have to drag myself to the page, and it’s much easier to find something else to do that seems more urgent.

Opportunity is another great motivator. Every mother who writes learns to fit her creative work into the cracks between family obligations. When our sons were little, I started carrying a small notebook around with me everywhere. I jotted a few words at a time in those notebooks, and I wrote short poems and picture books I could carry around in my head. As the boys grew more independent, I found myself with longer stretches of time. My writing opportunities expanded. I’ve collected a drawerful of those little notebooks, and I still carry one everywhere I go. But now that our sons have both headed off to college, my days are more open. I can consider more expansive topics. I’m writing novels. And I’ve learned that the more consistent I can be with my writing habits, the more actual progress I make. (Who would have guessed, right?) So I try to build opportunity into my daily schedule. I get up in the morning and head to the notebook or the laptop in my pajamas. I get up when my husband does, while it’s still dark out, before my inner critic wakes up and starts barking. Lately I’ve moved from my desk to a loveseat to start my day. It feels cozier there, more inviting. Under a blanket, my coffee cup on the windowsill next to me, I feel safe. I can focus. I can sink into my work.

When I do that on a regular basis, when I get to the page first thing often enough and regularly enough, a magical transformation takes place. Some gear shifts in the universe. The work starts to call to me. When I make opportunities and my head is clear of fear, fun bounces into the picture. Exciting new ideas burst into my head, and they all seem doable. I dream about my work in progress. I wake up in the morning eager to find out what happens next, and I can’t wait to get to work. These are the best days, the ones worth struggling for. Joy is the best motivation of all, the one that keeps me (as Esther says) going-going-going.

JoAnn Early Macken

11 comments:

Toby Speed said...

Nice post, JoAnn. Your shift to the loveseat in the morning has got me thinking. I wake in the dark, too, and stumble over to the laptop in my office. It's a little bit of a harsh transition to office mode, and I think I might look for a cozy spot first to get me in the right frame of mind. Wishing you all the best with the opportunities you're building!

Megg Jensen said...

Motherhood definitely does affect writing time. Last year I had more than I could use, but my son stopped napping this year - and *poof* - there went a good ten to fifteen hours per week of easy work time.

I've also been writing in between the cracks and I can't wait for next school year when he's in kindergarten every day...and then the year after when he's in all-day school! Heaven! :-)

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Thanks for the good wishes, Toby! Let me know how the cozier spot works out for you!

Megg, it seems like only days ago that our kids were starting school! I remember other mothers telling me those years would fly by. They were right!

Callie Feyen said...

What a nice post. I like how you describe your process - it's practical and inspiring. I have two young children as well, and carry around pens and little notebooks wherever we go. I also moved my desk into their playroom. It's nice to be creating all together every once in awhile.
-Callie

Sabrina said...

I loved your post! I am just reading the book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which speaks to exactly this. I still find myself more often in the anxiety, fear obligation phase - but I am trying, trying, trying to get to where you are! Keep writing these posts - they are motivating indeed!

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Callie, I hope your furniture rearrangement inspires even more creativity. What fun to write while the kids play around you!

Good luck, Sabrina! Keep going!

Pen and Ink said...

Excellent post. My kids are grown now, but I remember that the only writing I got done was poems. I could write them as I walked Repeat the savor them, polish them. Two pen and Inkers have five year olds and I marvel at the work them manage to get done. I did Nano for the last two years. I find that being compelled by a deadline helps me. And I LOVE it when the fear of not completing turns to the joy of the work. Thanks for reminding me.

Beth said...

I liked your insight, although it was sad to hear that you were teased for your name. Not an easy thing to get away from, and it must have gotten old awful fast! But I believe you're right—joy is the most powerful motivator because it comes from inside rather than outside.

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Pen and Ink, I also loved the energy of NaNoWriMo. I think the focus on word count made me forget about striving for perfection in the first draft and be satisfied with a rough version I could revise later on.

Beth, although the teasing about my name was tough when I was younger, I got over it and grew to love my last name so much that I kept it as my middle name when I got married. But teasing is still a sensitive issue--I'll probably write a story about it someday.

Carol Bender said...

No children in my house anymore so it's up to me to play all day. :) I can relate to the name teasing now that my last name is Bender. Oh that was me making up the stuff about air bending, fart=funny?! I still carry little notebooks. You never know when something inspiring should appear. Thanks for this inspiring post.

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Carol, I often notice other people's meaningful last names and imagine they've had similar experiences. I'm glad you enjoyed the post!