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Moving Mountains with Motivation
Article by muddasheep, August 14th 2009, 00:49:48
You may remember my article about motivation from 2004 (and I sincerely hope you don't!). Here is the completely rewritten version of it, containing my current ideas on how to motivate oneself when working on any kind of project. Enjoy!

Facing Reality

Time is of the essence. In general, this means you will have to sacrifice time, which you could otherwise spend with family or friends. Sitting around every evening watching TV should be an exception, not the rule. You have to be capable of providing your project with what it needs the most: unconditional devotion.

Love and Care

No matter what you're creating, is it a book, a webcomic, a game or a collection of songs, you need to be inside the world you create, you need to live and breathe through its structures, and look around and feel what it needs. If you completely understand the project you're creating, its progress will be a lot smoother. Put love and care into your project, and it will return the favour.

Planning

In most cases, it doesn't hurt at all to plan ahead. For webcomics, writing the dialogue and a quick panel-by-panel description about characters, their expressions and surroundings doesn't require a lot of time and will get the strip done a lot faster than by simply starting a trial and error session. Though, too much planning may end up restricting the natural flow of your creation process or simply waste precious time by being too detailed. If your sketches are as awesome as your actual comic strip, you will need the same energy twice! In short: Don't plan too tight, let your projects breathe, leave room for a little bit of improvisation.

Ideas

You have this one incredible idea, but don't know how to continue from that point on (a storyline, for example). What I find helpful in such situations is to simply wait. Write the idea on a sheet of paper and focus your attention elsewhere. Usually, you'll get a different idea that suddenly combines with the old idea and you may finally continue. Also, if you know people with a similar mindset, you can tell them about your idea and brainstorm with them. The mere spoken explanation of the idea often helps!

The Mountain

In the past few years I've grown accustomed to using mountains as a metaphor for projects, especially in the beginning stages. You're standing in front of this massive rock, the giant heap of ideas, the months and years of work. It can be quite daunting and even lead to a massive mental block because of the amount of work it would require to reach the top. To overcome this hurdle, do not peek at the top, instead simply start climbing, focus on each simple step, one by one.

After the first few steps, you're hanging mid-air slightly above the ground and you start to doubt. Looking up, you still feel paralyzed. Is it worth the amount of work still required to succeed? Will people like it? The trick here is to just stick to it. Look down, see what you've already achieved so far, realize that quitting isn't an option anymore, then get back to work.

Quality Check Impersonation

Once in a while during the development of a project I sit back and imagine that I'm a stranger who doesn't have any hard feelings criticizing my work. Then I go through the project and be almost destructively honest with myself. I take a sheet of paper and write everything down that needs improvement. From then on, each day I would tell myself to handle one of the points on those lists and usually I would be motivated enough to fix a few additional things on the list. I'm more or less tricking my mind into thinking that I did more than what I had to do that day, and it feels satisfying - which in turn motivates even more!

Going The Wrong Way

A friend visits you, sees your half-finished project, more or less dissects every little detail and points out a dozen issues. Now you're devastated! First of all, remember that tastes are different. But go on and ask others what they think about it. If they throw a similar opinion in your face, go back to "Quality Check Impersonation" and put yourself to the test. If it turns out that there actually IS a section that just doesn't fit, step over your ego, trash the unfitting part, and either rebuild it or take it into a completely different direction. Even in destruction and rebuilding you will realize that there's a form of satisfaction to be found.

Abandoning Laziness

There's the peculiar phenomenon that the more free time is available, the less productive the time is spent. What I do when there's "too much time ahead of me" is, I trick my mind into thinking that I won't work, casually start up my program (Photoshop, or whatever my work requires) and simply continue! Once I start, I can't stop anymore anyway. Five hours later I go to bed with more time spent on my project, and a satisfied mind. Bonus points if you make a daily habit out of it!

However, naturally, you can't always work, and it's very important to take breaks. Not only for your health, but also to catch fresh ideas while watching movies, playing games, reading books or comics, or being amongst family and friends. Take a deep breath, a good night's sleep, then return to your project with accumulated strength.

The Little Tasks

Make a To-Do list of what your project needs using as few words as possible for each task. That way it doesn't look daunting, lowering the hurdle to continue working. When you wake up in the morning tell yourself to work on at least one task that day and you will see yourself working on maybe one or two more, because checking off those tasks is quite satisfying and addicting.

Catching Ideas

While you can more or less force (or trick!) yourself to work on the tasks on your To-Do lists, it is almost impossible to force your brain to come up with new ideas. If there's nothing to do for your project at the moment because you're missing one idea (as in a daily webcomic strip) and even brainstorming doesn't result in anything worthwhile, stop squeezing and suffocating your brain! Take a walk, watch a movie, play games, talk to people. The ideas will strike you again when you at least expect them.

Idols

There will always be others who are more successful than you are. Don't look up to them -- respect them and continue working on your projects. Remember that they also had to start at the bottom and hard work got them where they are now.

Bend Rules

Do not let genres or categories restrict your work. Do whatever feels right to you.

Naysayers

At some point there will be people who tell you that you won't succeed. Well, unless you're trying to reach the moon with your bicycle, you may very well ignore those comments, move on and prove them wrong!

Final Note

Usually when reading articles about motivation it sounds like a religion; the divine touch within yourself that awakes if you believe hard enough. Looking at it this way, it is a very spiritual undertaking, almost rendering it surreal in some aspect. But once you see somebody laugh, smile, cry or being in awe while experiencing something you have created - at that moment, it feels very real. And that alone should be motivation enough to move mountains.
Now that's a massive metaphor!

Metaphor Mayhem!

Links:
>Elizabeth Gilbert on Genius
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