The Fight for Creative Motivation

The Fight for Creative Motivation

Sir Isaac was right:  “An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced

force.” This isn’t only the first law of motion, but also the first law of freelance – that is to say, chiefly self accountable creative professionals.

It’s how you know you’re freelance. At least until that project you’ve been chasing lands with both feet on a due date, you hear yourself saying things like (feel free to use these):

  • This freelance life is so stressful I deserve a break.
  • Getting out of the office will be good for me.
  • I need inspiration; all I’m doing today is read at the coffee shop.
  • Play is good for my head; I’ll come back refreshed.

These bullets are actually dead on true, so why after completing all four has the unbalanced force eluded?

No definite deadlines. No particular accountability; no tangibly urgent “do this or else” – hence, there appears to be little procrastination if you have no goal other than: “if you don’t you’re career will eventually die a slow, lingering death.”

Cool definition: “motivation is the psychological feature that arouses an organism to action toward a desired goal.”

We ADD professionals know about arousal; with the right provocation we’ll work till we drop from exhaustion, but where does that stimulation live exactly? I want to drill successfully like the Deepwater Horizon for oil. I’d rather struggle to cap it than frequently hunting it.

An amateur’s motivation is uncomplicated. I do it because I love it; I have a passion for ____________ (insert “X” hobby here).  Pay for play and things change. Suddenly my time for passion has a posted value beyond self satisfaction. Motives morph – however slowly – from intrinsic to extrinsic, and extrinsic is deadly for creatives.

“I don’t leave the couch for under $10K”

So it goes like this: We’re passionate about hobby X. We practice with enthusiasm creating great skill for X. We quit our day job to create a business out of our passion for X. Creative businesses can take years to develop profitability – a recession hits – and we find our passion for X waning as our fiscal liabilities intensify.

You’re freelance, you know about cash flow; some months are easier than others. Like passion – sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. Your number one job is keeping a strong grip on passion’s handle, however, with passion driven businesses your credit line is self discipline.

Consider using these principles:

The passion path: Objectives > Goals > Strategy > Tactics – in that order. Design your path. Once your path is designed, reverse the order, head-down, looking up occasionally to keep track of progress and results. Ride whatever passion you’ve rallied down the path; keep a map if you must.

Self discipline: Your path design needs to be well defined. Imagine walking through a forest, if the path isn’t well defined you feel confused and stop to look for clearing. What looks vaguely like a path may turn into a big waste of time. The more efficient paths will have few obstacles and distractions; automate as much as possible.

The carrot: Know your rewards but avoid extrinsic motivations whenever possible. I remind all my artist friends (and myself) that if their passion was money they’d be rich. Seriously, the rich aren’t rich because of any extrinsic motivation. They love money; dare I say the more they love it the more they have? So it’s a bummer; your passion is for X; suck it up – money won’t drive you. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get rich off your passion, but the moment you pursue someone else’s money, your driving  south.

Nothing Like Success: The magic in doing is that completion feels like success regardless of outcome.  If your out of shape no one tries to run a marathon straight out of the blocks.  Do I even have to write “set realistic goals“? Try making promises if you need deadlines, collaborate if you need accountability.  Giving it away is good if in return you actually get something you need done. i.e. portfolio pieces, new songs practiced, new techniques learned, articles published, etc.

Permission To Suck Manifesto Laws Applied:

6.    Your creativity is about your heart, not their surface. Creativity is your world view filtered through your talent. It’s your passion, experience, expertise, inspiration and your rules that drive you to create wonderful things that you’re destined to hate because they’re not good enough, and others are open to admire because they couldn’t do it.
11.    Find a way to turn your weaknesses into strengths, but don’t tell anyone you’re doing it.
15.    Lose the habit of being successful.  Success can doom your career to mediocrity. Embrace the fact that you’re never going to make it and find comfort in other things.  Once success becomes your work, it’s over and if you’re a creative professional, success looks an awful lot like cash and cheering crowds.

For more on motivation try:

Clay Shirky
Dan Pink
Dan Heath

Here are a few works on the subject from Scott BelskyFounder & CEO, Behance – yet another great knowledge resource.

Creativity X Organization = Impact

Inspiration, Motivation, PTS Manifesto

2 Responses to “The Fight for Creative Motivation”

  1. Gary Dowd Says:

    Your post is spot on and couldn’t have come at a better time. All things I knew, in bits and pieces, but never connected in this way. 2 years in to an unplanned freelance career and, to the outsider, I have THE LIFE – success, freedom, accolades, etc.. The inside view is quite different. Thanks for taking the time to help me organize these thoughts and thanks for suggesting what seems to be a valid process for the creative professional.

  2. Dean Logan Says:

    Bruce, you posted this a couple weeks ago and I couldn’t find it. Thanks for reposting. This is exactly the kind of thing I need to absorb on Monday morning where it feels like all my freelance leads and prospects have come to a dead stop.

    Thanks for the jolt and the kick in the ass to get myself moving again.


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