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Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.

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What would make your life more extraordinary?

Do you want to run a marathon, eat healthier, write a novel, move to another country, go back to school, finish a degree, travel the world, apply for another job? Maybe all of the above.

Too often, we wait for motivation to strike before we take that first step to pursuing our dreams.

“I don’t feel like exercising today. It’s too cold out. I’ll start tomorrow.”

“I know I said I’d eat more vegetables, but work has been so busy. I’ll just grab something quick, and start my healthy eating plan on Monday.”

“I really want to write a book, but I don’t have my character’s motivation figured out yet. Or the plot. Or what genre this is supposed to be. I don’t want this to suck, so I’ll just wait until I get everything figured out.”

How many times have you said or felt something similar?

The truth is, most of us are guilty of waiting for motivation at one time or another. We want that magical muse to show up and fill us with an inspiration so powerful that we simply have to take action.

But I’ll tell you a secret.

If you want to be motivated, if you want that muse to show up, you have to do something first.

You have to start.

You have to go to the gym when you don’t have time. You have to run your first mile when it’s raining. You have to sit down to write even when you have no idea what to write about, when you’re tired and the most painful thing in the world is sitting there and staring at that blank screen. You have to spend a little more time to make that salad instead of grabbing the grilled cheese sandwich.

One of the most powerful quotes I’ve ever heard about this came from Oprah Winfrey. Loosely paraphrased, she said, “Discipline does not come from doing what we want to do. It comes from doing what we know we should do, everyday, even when we don’t feel like it–especially when we don’t feel like it.”

So you have to start, but you also have to keep going. Don’t stop.

I love kickboxing. I love writing. But if I take enough time away from either one, it’s hell to get back into the routine again. The reason why is simple. Kickboxing and writing both take a lot of time, and a considerable investment. I invest physical energy in my kickboxing, and mental energy in my writing. If I stop either one, it’s not like that time and energy just stays there, waiting. It gets used up by other things. Usually things that don’t make me feel as good, but are easier. That don’t require me to expend as much energy.

How often have you been dedicated to something, fallen out of the routine, and then looked back and wondered how on earth you ever made time for it in the first place? Other things have rushed in to fill that void. You are now stuck in the comfort zone. You may be cozy and warm, but you’re not moving. You’re not growing. You probably feel guilty, because you know you’re not working up to your full potential.

As Rita Golden Gelman says, “Your comfort zone is a trap.”

The good news is, all you have to do to find your muse–to find that motivation again–is to start. Then wake up the next day and start all over again. Keep taking baby steps, and eventually you’ll find it’s not a struggle anymore.

And you’ll wonder what the big deal was in the first place.

What would you like to start? Is there anything you could do to make your life less ordinary, one step at a time?

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24 Comments

  1. Cee

    Another one that haunts me daily is this one from Steve Jobs, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ since the answer for me is so often a resounding, ‘No’.

    You are right, motivation doesn’t just materialize out of thin air. You have to push out of your comfy zone, get off your ass and do it if you want change in your life.

    Now if I could just start following that advice…

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Yes, it’s always easier said than done! That’s the problem.

      I hate those “last day of your life” quotes, because unless you’re rocking out on vacation, who is going to answer yes? I’m sure few of us would want to spend the last day of our life at work, even if we love our jobs.

      Reply
    • Frank Powers

      Even if I were on vacation, if it were my last day, I’d want to spend it looking for doctors who disagreed with that diagnosis.

      Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Good point, Frank, but if your experience with doctors has been anything like mine, your time may be better spent frolicking on the beach. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Frank Powers

    This one hit close to home. I often find myself waiting for inspiration to strike. I know the guilt of having not tried. I am working on it but as you said, it’s easier said than done. “I’ll do it later,” is replaced by, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” which is eventually replaced with even more procrastination.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, Frank. 🙂 What little step could you take today to move you forward? Could you write a sentence? A paragraph? There has to be something.

      Reply
    • Frank Powers

      I’ve been asking myself that same thing. For today, I think I will be developing the cast of characters. If I could just think of names for them I would be off and running, which will be the subject of my N post.

      Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      That’s awesome, Frank! It all counts. When a name of a character is holding me back, I just put XXX as a placeholder and start writing. I can go back and fill in the Xs as the names come to me. Maybe that could work for you too.

      Reply
    • Frank Powers

      I’ve been using single word descriptions like “hero” and “wife” so far.

      Reply
  3. Steven

    Yes, yes, yes! Sometimes we have to light ourselves on fire instead of waiting to spontaneously combust. I had someone tell me the other day about his one day a week he does nothing but watches TV. Too many are scared/lazy/whatever and don’t want to dig in with a determination as solid as a mountain, seeing a task through to the very end!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Yes, it takes a monumental effort to dig ourselves out of a rut. I think part of the reason is that we’re always waiting for the perfect time. We need an hour to exercise, or a day when we’re not exhausted, or a full open weekend to write, when just going for a ten minute walk or writing a sentence would be better than nothing at all.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  4. Chrys Fey

    I do want to do all of the above, except run a marathon and I all ready eat pretty healthy. You’re right that you have to start. A dream will never come true if you don’t do something to help it come true. You’ll never be motivated unless you motivate yourself first. One step at a time, one day at a time.

    Excellent post!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks, Chrys. I’d love to hear your steps for sticking to a healthy eating plan while writing. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed and grab something fast.

      I’m still a work in progress myself.

      Reply
  5. Rhonda Parrish

    Oh dude, this speaks to me. A lot. Especially in regard to eating right. It’s always SO EASY to explain to myself why it’s okay to eat something I shouldn’t “just this once”. Again. And again. *sigh*

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      So…if you were to take one small step in the right direction today, what would it be? What are you eating for dinner? 🙂

      Reply
  6. Donelle Lacy

    So excellent! I felt that “how did I ever make time for this?” about my novel, but it’s all about scheduling. I set aside time for it, and, well, I also didn’t have my current job.

    This advice is the kind of advice I tell myself, but don’t listen to enough. Given the choice, people will almost always take the easier path. Any time I make things harder on myself for the fun of it, it must be something I’m really into. Like… deciding to write a series instead of just one novel. Once you’ve made a decision like that, you feel like a novice swimmer too far from the shore. You have to just keep swiming!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Agreed, Donelle. Glad this resonated with you. Keep doing that dog paddle…you will get there. Don’t let that job keep you from achieving your dreams, because you are exceptionally talented.

      Reply
  7. Emma

    No truer words were ever spoken. I have a lot of things I was motivated to do and got distracted by something else and never got back to them. So I have a lot of unfinished business I need to get back to. Great post.

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks, Emma. Even trying to spend ten minutes a day on your projects makes a huge difference. It’s a lot better than doing nothing at all. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

      Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      You’re not alone, Elizabeth. At least you know that now, and can work with it. Do you have a daily writing goal? Time, word count, page count?

      Reply
  8. Tui Snider

    I find that making tomorrow’s to-do list just before calling it quits with my daily writing helps a lot. That way, I instantly know what needs to be jumped on. When I don’t do this, I tend to fritter away my time trying to figure out where to start.

    I’m also a big fan of the idea that “writing is a muscle.” I try to flex it every day.

    Oh – haha! I use XXX as a placeholder all the time for my writing, too.

    ~Tui Snider~ I’m dropping by from today’s #AZchat on Twitter!
    @TuiSnider on Twitter
    My blog: Tui Snider’s Offbeat & Overlooked Travel
    I am also part of the #StoryDam team, a friendly writing community!

    Reply
    • Holli Moncrieff

      I’m a huge fan of to-do lists! I tend to do the same thing–I’ll make quick notes about what’s coming up next in the book before I stop my writing time for the day. Especially helpful if you’re a pantser.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply

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