Someone very close and dear to me came to me last night with a problem. She’s been unhappy with her ability to simply get things done. We all suffer from this. We’re human. We’ve all meant to go do “that one really important thing” and then spent the next seven hours on Facebook, on YouTube, watching Netflix, basically doing everything under the sun that ISN’T the thing we set out to do.
I know that #thestruggleisreal more than most. As an aspiring author, sometimes the last thing I want to do is sit down at a computer screen on a beautiful day and write for hours on end while other people go out, have fun, play laser tag, or whatever else. You feel this insatiable desire to create, to get something down on paper, to be productive with your day, and yet all you seem to be able to do is stare at Facebook like some zombie-child who has no self control. So. Here are five ways to get out of your social media induced stupor and get productive.
#5-Realize Inspiration is a Luxury
If you’re like my friend and super gifted at everything you do, maybe you’re used to picking something up and mastering it in a day or being able to sit down and really crank out that project. Well take my advice and leave that misconception behind.
Sure, we all have some days where we’re just in the zone. Nothing can get us down, nothing can distract us. Words flow seamlessly from mind to page, pictures seem to paint themselves, and you spend hours on your After Effects project, because, lets face it you’re really freaking good at special effects. What you’re feeling during these times is called inspiration. Don’t get used to it, it’s a luxury, not a necessity. If people only created when they were inspired, bookshelves would be empty, art galleries empty, films would come out once every ten years, and, in short, nothing cool would ever get done.
“But wait!” You say, “Other times when I did other projects/when I was younger I always felt inspiration when I did stuff.”
Ok sure, let’s look at that for a minute. Chances are, if you’re struggling with this problem, you never tried to commit yourself to a long term project. I’d wager that those instances you’re thinking of in your head were short(er) projects that only took a sitting or two (max a couple days) to complete. The end was never far off. When the finish line is in sight, it’s easy to stay motivated and put in 110%. Also, when you were younger, you probably weren’t doing as advanced projects as you are now and you were still learning the craft. It’s easy to be filled with wonder when you’re learning something, and once you’ve learned it you were dying to use it in a practical setting. It’s easy to get inspired when you’re excited about something.
So, replace inspiration with discipline. Discipline holds you over until the inspiration comes back around. (Don’t be discouraged, it always does).
#4 Set Small Goals for yourself.
Going along with discipline is setting small reasonable goals for yourself. If you’re trying to develop a talent, chances are you’re already at least passably good at it, and when you were first learning, you probably picked it up with relative ease and made leaps and bounds with it. Now you’ve plateaued out and you’re finding yourself struggling.
For me, setting small, reasonable goals helps trick my brain into doing work. So, for example, every time I go to write, I open my computer and say “Alright, I’m going to read what I already have, make edits, and write at least 500 more words, no matter how hard they are to get through.” By setting a goal I know I can achieve, even on days with the worst headaches, it lets my lazy brain thing “ok I only have to do _____ much work and then I can go back to being lazy.” Now, here’s the trick: When I do this, my brain usually gets kicked into gear and the words start flowing. After 500 words, I start feeling good and soon 500 more follow, and if I’m lucky 500-1000 after that. It’s intimidating to sit down and say ‘ok brain, I need you to think up of 1,500 quality words today, have at it.” Thinking of it this way takes the pressure off and gives me breathing room.
However, if you feel totally awful after that initial goal is met, then stop. Frustrating yourself will do nothing but add to your creative block. Walk away, try again tomorrow. This is all about building creative tolerance. You wouldn’t wake up tomorrow and run a marathon with no training, would you?
#3 Take Breaks
There’s a reason a work day has a lunch break, why schools have anywhere from 5-15 minutes between classes, why work outs are designed with recovery minutes: humans are weak. We tire easily. Sometimes discipline isn’t simply pushing through the desire to quit or laziness, discipline is knowing when your body/brain needs a minute to recoup and get back on track.
Would you throw 200 pounds on the bench press and blast through it 30 times? Would you run 4 miles all at once at your 3 mile race pace? Would you run constant suicides for the next hour? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, go back, stop lying to yourself, and try again.
The smart athlete would break his run up into sets. Instead of doing suicides straight, basketball players do 3 sets of 4 with a break in between each set. And if any of us mere mortals tried to bench 200 pounds 30 times in a row we’d end up with cracked ribs. Why should creativity be any different?
For every hour you work, take a 5-10 minute break. It can be anything, getting a cup of coffee, taking a short walk, getting a snack, just get up, walk around, and stay off Facebook.
#2 Stop taking yourself so seriously–Let yourself suck.
Yeah. We get it. You want to be the next Mozart, Hemingway, Hitchcock. Whatever. You’re not there yet and you’re not going to get there overnight. In fact, if you keep comparing your work to theirs, you’ll get discouraged and never want to do anything related to your interest ever again. Good art takes time and revision and, in the words of one of my fellow writers, Alex, “First drafts suck, and if you think yours is hot sh*t you’re just an amateur anyway.”
The secret to this is IT’S OK TO SUCK. Seriously. Write for the sake of writing. Draw because, well hell, you freaking wanted to draw today. Let Picasso keep his weird surrealist paintings. Your the best at what you do. If you’re having trouble with a fight scene, write “Much blood, so sword, such fighting, wow.” George Lucas, when writing the third star wars movie wrote “then they fight” every time a fight scene was involved. Then he went back and fleshed it out with other people who knew what they were talking about (too bad he didn’t do that with the actual scriptwriting, huh?)
A lot of the time, people paralyze themselves because, hey, they see what’s out there and they think “wow, I’ll never be that good.” Let me share a story with you.
I started running track my sophomore year of high school. I was middle of the pack, never came in first place, never even scored points (save for a relay once or twice) for the first two years I ran. But it was something I loved, something I wanted to do, so I kept at it. Fast forward to today. I have four school records and the stadium record at Penn. State Behrend for the 400m dash. I worked and worked and worked, and one day I realized, “hey, I’m beating people, cool!”
My point is, if I had gotten discouraged by the fact that I SUCKED at track for a while, I never would have gotten anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, it sucks to suck. It’s a blow to self confidence and no one likes it, but get over it, move forward, and strive to get better. You’ll never get better if you never do anything.
#1 Take pride in your work
Someone once said that a writer must think of his work to be the best words to ever hit the planet and the worst crap to ever be written ever.
Take pride in your accomplishments. Hey, you wrote 300 words today? That’s great! Oh you’re not happy with them? Why is that? You think you can do better? Good for you! Worry about it tomorrow and have a beer for today.
Take pride in what you do, no matter how small it is, it’ll give you a huge boost and will allow you to really dig in to the work. If you’re always feeling like what you’re creating isn’t that good or isn’t good enough, you’re going to spend all your time with writers’ block because you’re going to be afraid to put bad words on the page. Seriously, get over it. The important thing is that you did something today. You can change it tomorrow. Remember, We’re not trying to write the best first draft ever, we want to write the best novel ever. No one wins the warm up, and that’s exactly what first drafts are–whether its a novel, sketches, an early special effect, blog post, anything.
So celebrate the fact that you did something creative today. Celebrate the fact that you did more than yesterday. It’s hard to break through the haze of writers’ block or laziness, or just plain fear that your work won’t be good enough. In the beginning a victory is a victory, no matter how small.
And don’t downplay your accomplishments! When the day’s over and you’re going to sleep and you’ve done only half the things on your list instead of the whole list take pride in the fact that you got half of the things done! Now you have all of tomorrow to do the other half. Celebrate your accomplishments, don’t bring yourself down because you didn’t perform exactly how you wanted to.
Keep on plugging, my friends, and stay happy!
Bonus Advice: Stay off facebook. Like seriously, what the heck do you think you’re doing.