Writing without Motivation

Look! There it is!
Look! There it is!

Well, we’ve all been there at one time or another. Needing to write, or haven’t written in a while, or gotten the glimmer of an idea that really should be put down in words – but the actual motivation to really sit down and write has gone completely AWOL and shows no signs of returning any time in the near future. I’ve dealt with this issue many of times (and I’m actually going through it right now, as a matter of fact – probably this darn heat), and I’ve learned a few tips to get me writing again, even though the process is quite laborious and difficult to work through. Anyways, I thought I’d share some of these methods with you today. Enjoy!

First, relax. One of my major reasons for lack of motivation is either dealing with stress or just coming to the end of a stressful situation. When this happens, I find a way to calm down and just relax. For some people, it’s a bubble bath (I’ve never liked those – they tickle too much) or a romantic movie or just a great deal of sleep. Me, I either go to the gym to work out for a couple hours while listening to Evanescence and Within Temptation, or I watch TV. My current shows fulfilling this purpose are Firefly, Dexter, and House, in case anyone was wondering. Working out while listening to music relaxes my body and calms my mind; watching TV refocuses me and keeps me from rehashing whatever stress has happened/is happening. Once I’ve sufficiently relaxed (last time it took 6 episodes of House), I sit down to write. The actual motivation may still not be there, but I’m calm enough to have the discipline to make myself sit down and get something written, however long that may take.        

My new favorite serial killer. This show is strangely relaxing.
My new favorite serial killer. This show is strangely relaxing.

Another method that works for me is the reward system. Whenever I would get swamped with homework during undergrad, I’d help myself get the work done by breaking it up into sets and treating myself at the end of each set. Getting my Homer paper written and my Spanish vocab done meant that I could read a chapter from my new book of Edgar Allan Poe stories, for example. Then I’d do the next set, and at the end, when all the work was done, I’d give myself a real reward – ordering pizza or watching Wrath of Khan or something like that. I’ve discovered that similar things work with writing. This one actually provides motivation, because there’s something waiting at the end. I’ll reward myself with something small after every 500 words or so, and then when the story is finished, I’ll turn off my computer and go to Sweet Frog or catch a movie at the Dollar Theater. This is the one that works for me the most, because it provides a tangible reason for me to stick to the writing until I get enough done.                                         

Finally, I’ve found that a change of scenery can often help. When I lack motivation, I’ll sometimes pack up my computer and go elsewhere: the local library, Starbucks, campus, anywhere other than my house. Occasionally, even just sitting on my front porch helps as long as it’s evening and relatively cool outside. A location change very rarely actually fully motivates me, but just being somewhere else often makes me feel like I at least have the energy to get something done. Failing that, I tell myself that I can’t go home until I get a certain amount written. That usually does the trick, and stuff gets done!

I hope that this helps someone trying to push through a lack of motivation. It can be difficult, but it’s definitely worth it to get some writing accomplished. What are some ways that y’all use to keep writing even when you don’t feel like it?

In the Opinion of the Intelligent Readers Club…

Alright, well Cassandra is taking a break for a while, but I have a great sub for her! This is the first of several posts that you’ll be seeing from Canaan Suitt:

Machiavelli’s most famous work, and arguably his most influential. The Prince is one of the few books that I’ve read multiple times. It’s magnificent.

“The Divine Comedy,” said my professor, visibly irritated, “a work which everyone likes to talk about but which no one has read.” He could have substituted the Iliad, the Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, The Republic, Plutarch’s Lives, The City of God, Beowulf, The Prince, Paradise Lost, Hamlet, The Federalist Papers, Moby Dick and many other renowned pieces of literature and the same censure would hold true. Just today I had a discussion with a friend who expressed disapproval of Machiavelli’s “wretchedness,” but when I asked him if he had actually read The Prince, he responded that, of course, he had not. Or there was the pompous interlocutor who attempted to discredit Alexander Hamilton’s “big government” stance but had not even glanced at The Federalist Papers to discover what Hamilton actually said (besides, Jay and Madison wrote most of the section on the Senate which my friend was bashing). Anyone who actually reads books can only express dismay at such foolishness.

Some of the classics are wonderful, but honestly I think that some of them are over-rated… Everyone is going to have his/her own tastes in literature, don’t be ashamed of yours.

Perhaps we can forgive my friends’ vanity when we realize that the impression that we must read certain books (the “classics”) to be considered intelligent is inculcated in students throughout their education. For instance, I’ll never forget my high school English teacher who used to harp on the books that were “vitally important” to read before going into college or the condescension I sometimes received and at times gave to others when a certain book hadn’t been read. I was frowned upon for not having read 1984 in my senior year of high school; I frowned upon someone else because they hadn’t read The Screwtape Letters. First of all, this impression in and of itself is skewed. The purpose of reading “classics” is not so one can brag about one’s intelligence. It seems to me that the only valid reason for reading classics or anything else is to gain knowledge and understanding, not to obtain a membership card into the Intelligent Reader Club. But secondly, this impression isn’t even enforced by reading the books, which, it is insisted, must be read. My English teacher failed to enlighten me a great deal. Homer, Plato, Augustine, Machiavelli, Milton, and Shakespeare, are met far more frequently, and perhaps exclusively, through textbooks and other secondary sources than through what the actual authors bequeathed to the world. Like my friends in the foregoing examples, some people will feign knowledge of the primary works based on such superficial acquaintance in order to seem knowledgeable. Some people don’t read them (don’t even read the textbooks!) and don’t care, either. In both cases, the ignorance is disturbing.

Modern politics… Sophism at it’s best… or worst, as the case may be.

More generally, many people have the impression that they ought to have an opinion, and so they express it when, in fact, they don’t have one. In America, this is especially true in politics, a fact that has been proven to a superfluous degree this election year. What most people call their political opinions are the parrot-like recapitulations of their preferred pundit. Not only have people not actually read the books that would have greatly assisted them in forming their opinions, they haven’t even thought for themselves. In consequence of this uncritical mindset, peoples’ tempers flare and they become ludicrously defensive when their political opinions are assailed. For instance, I often wondered why voters become as emotionally involved as the actual candidates during an election when their preferred candidate is criticized–and not even with a good criticism! Someone gives an insipid criticism of a Romney gaffe and the Romney supporter goes nuclear with ominous prophecies of the future if Obama is reelected. It seems to me that unthoughtfulness accounts for this phenomenon. People would rather become polemical about sound bites and birth certificates and falsely pride themselves on having an opinion rather than confront real issues as well as the candidates’ stances on those issues and thereby possess an opinion worth verbalizing. I wonder if we are the most insecure people in the history of the world!

Plato’s allegory of the cave is presented in the Republic as an example of his theory of ideal forms. An example with great depth and breadth that has managed to successfully impact cultures from Plato’s own time to today because it strikes at the basis of human nature.

One thing my English instructor did teach me is that I ought to conclude my writings with a rousing plea, a challenge for readers to take up. Unfortunately, I will not meet that guideline here. All I can do is express my wish that more people would read and read deeply. All I can do is express my wish that more people would think and think carefully. In his essay On the Reading of Old Books, C.S. Lewis wrote that the only palliative to a narrow, uncritical mindset is to read broadly and deeply. He said reading old books help dispel the misconceptions of the current age like a fresh sea breeze. On the other hand, reading current books help dispel the misconceptions of the past and expose the tacitly accepted mindset of the present time. Reading a three-paragraph textbook summary of Plato’s Theory of Ideals, for example, will not reveal what Plato really meant in all his nuance and complexity–only Plato can do that, and he does a far better job of it than Editor et al. That goes for any of the works I listed before and many, many more. We must read carefully and then think deeply and then repeat. That is, we must do this if we really want to understand and be thoughtfully engaged in the world. The opinions which we love to have and express will follow naturally if we do this–and they will be worth hearing!