Archive for March 1st, 2010

Mar 01 2010

Discussion: consider the carrot

Published by under momentum,Writing

With writing, as in so much of life, your internal attitude or perspective is a large part of what defines how and how much you succeed. One of the more sad patterns I see newer writers (and sometimes those not-so-new as well) engaging in, is developing an almost (or actual) antagonistic relationship with their writing and process. It becomes a quasi-hated chore, to be avoided as often as attempted. Or perhaps they treat writing as a demanding parent, and they the rebelling teen. Whatever your analogy of choice, why does this happen?

Is it the old Puritanical saw about too much fun in the work you do being somehow sinful? Twisting the Buddhist premise that “life is suffering” to mean you should live in suffering? A self-destructive aversion to expressing your creative impulses? Old triggers from punishments for “doodling” or “scribbling” carried into your adult years? Shitty parents that you didn’t leave behind when you moved out, their ghosts undermining your confidence in your own mind long after their words cease echoing in your ears? A belief or attachment to the myth of the tortured, agonized artist achieving greatness? Guilt, in general or specific?

I think all of these happen, and likely more not listed, depending on the person involved. We’re far more likely to beat ourselves up, on average, than pat ourselves on the back. How many of you had a parent who, when you presented them with a “95” score on a test, said “What happened to the other five points?” rather than “That’s excellent, darling!” A lifetime of messages like that and you’ll quickly learn to look for the half-a-worm in every apple. Practice that enough, and looking for the worm first — or only — becomes not only reality, but the way it should be. It’s comfortable. Protective. Wanting good things only gets you hurt, in the end, right?

Consider: as an adult, you now have the power to give yourself gifts that no one else ever did. It is not always an easy choice or a smooth path, but you can learn more healthy models for caring and nurturing yourself than you previously knew. Taking better care of yourself than anyone else ever did is such a stronger slap-in-the-face for those oppressor types then following the self-destructive path they carefully laid out for you and “always knew you’d end up like”. Figuring out how to find moments of happiness, creativity, and contentment in your life is perhaps the only true revenge you can have, in the end, against the folks trying to keep you at their level of miserable.

One possible way to start working this out is ask yourself this: How do you self-motivate on activities you want to do, versus activities you don’t want to do but need finished anyway? (I presume the first question has already been pondered, that of “do you want to write? really WANT to?” Which can be its own scary process, because allowing ourselves to really want something can feel vulnerable, which goes right back to all that other baggage carried.)

The “stick” motivation can actually be reasonably useful in the second category, that of getting done the things you’d rather not spend time on but need to for functional adulthood. Sure, “carrot” can work here too, as delayed gratification, or gifts to your future self: you’ll be really glad later that you got this thing out of the way. However, some people have conceptual or even biochemical difficulties in future-based motivation; activities like going to work, washing the dishes, showering, and life’s other little maintenances have to get done whether your future self likes it or not.

Where “stick” makes much less sense is in activities that we actually want to engage in. Again, thanks to our current culture and common parenting practices, most of us don’t have much experience in positive feedback and reward-based models. Most dysfunctional households make rewards non-existent or deliberately capricious, so that you learn to inherently distrust them. One of the points of adulthood is learning how to have a less dysfunctional relationship with yourself (whether you can achieve same with your family-of-origin totally depends on the family; your responsibility first is caring for you).

So what are activities that you actually enjoy and seek out? A favorite show you keep up with, games you play, a craft or hobby you enjoy obsessing over randomly? How do you feel when you do these things? What are some aspects of deciding to engage in a pleasurable activity that you can bring to your writing (or other creative act)? Shifting from habits of avoiding your writing as a tedious chore, to seeking it out as a fun game you play with yourself, isn’t the easiest work in the world to do. There’s likely many years of low-grade frustration and resentment clouding the way. You are worth that work.

You’re allowed to feel good about being creative. You’re allowed to feel. You’re allowed to do a better job caring for you than your parents or significant others did/do. You’re allowed to have fun, and get work done. And definitely, allowed to create.


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