Motivation is a magical force with wonderful properties of stress relief: allow me to elaborate in this very long metaphor.
You are swimming in the ocean and you realize that the current has swept you quite a ways down the coast line. You are tired and need to get back to shore, so you can walk back to your party on the sand to reach the fruity beverages and refreshing [insert your favorite sandwich here]. You think longingly of those delicacies. Your belly is rumbling. Your limbs were numbed long ago from the cold salt water and you feel heavy, buoyancy degrading by the moment. The waves fling you around and spill water up your nose and down your throat. The salt is burning your eyes, and whatever you can see around those tiny grains of torture is blurred by the harsh glare of the sun on the water. You’re tired and the distance grows longer and longer and longer as the burden of your body grows heavier…
You start swimming horizontal to the beach to counter the rip current while trying not to surrender to fear and useless flailing. You know you’re making progress, but it’s hard to gauge, and you can still feel the current wrapped around your body, swinging you further out to sea.
The moment you break free and feel sand under your toes is a hallelujah moment. The panic breaks and you throw your feet against the ocean floor with vigor, scrabbling for purchase and straining your muscles out of the undertow with brute force. Finally, the waves are only whispers of foam around your ankles, you’re puffing for air, and your limbs are now numb, shaking, frigid to the touch, yet acid-burning-in-the-muscle lumps attached to your equally strained and heaving abdomen.
But you’ve done it. You are free to clamber along the sand hills to your cheerfully colored beach towel and the sacred cooler of foodstuffs while you congratulate yourself on not dying, although living and even breathing is more painful than usual.
Reset. Imagine the same situation. You realize you need to come to shore and that it will be a battle to get there. You turn to face the open ocean and take heart by the giant wave growing taller before you. If you position yourself correctly, you can ride the wave to shore, negating the effort of fighting against a rip current.
The wave picks you up in its salty embrace–you ride the crest, feeling the mighty force like a gentle whale that deposits you back into waist deep water, where you can easily plant your feet and make for the shore. The wild relief that replaces the moment of dread is so powerful that you are overcome by elation. The sandwich is delicious. You have the energy to chew with enthusiasm. Everything is beautiful and fun and you congratulate yourself on your maneuvering.
Writing can sometimes feel like the first scenario. You claw for every word and your progress is sucked away into darkness and cold and empty looking word documents. You know if you’re patient and methodical, you can bear through the rough patch, but it can be a miserable process that leaves you winded and battered.
Motivation is that sudden gift of a wave that carries you to shore like a little Moses baby into a life of Egyptian ease. It’s the sensation of inspiration, determination, and energy all aligning at the same time to produce this amazing cocktail of productivity. It’s the dizzying finale when you look at your page count and realize you’ve whipped out whole scenes or sections of a project. Your progress imbues your blood with sparkling bubbles of energy and glee.
You need to be prepared to seize this glorious moment as you must be prepared to ride the wave, but it’s all about setting yourself up in the right position. The rest takes care of itself.
I recently had an encounter with both experiences and it occurred to me what a blessing motivation is to writers. Last week, I struggled to complete the weekly writing for my reproductive biology freelance highlights. My will was a useless scrap of seaweed flung against a rocky shore, soggy and cooking against the unforgiving fire of UVA-B rays. It took me five hours to muscle up the grit, write about 350 words, and edit the draft. This was an unbearable expanse of time and after I finished, I wanted to crawl into a dark place and growl at anyone who asked me for anything like some crazy Gollum-creature.
This week, I settled into the same task with the same level of foreboding. I flipped through the pages of the selected article, my eyes already glazing. And then I realized something: a spring of energy was welling up inside me and my perspective was rotating into the perfect angle, and by golly, I could read this article and write this highlight, and it would be no problem. I looked at the clock–luck was with me, as I didn’t have any other pressing tasks. 45 minutes later, the job was done. What a relief to be able to power through! What a delicious sandwich! oh, that intoxicating wave of accomplishment that combines the best circumstances with the best you have to offer!
Notice though that the two scenarios have similar endings. You still make it to the beach, with no permanent damage or benefits either way. The writing still makes its way onto the page. Both will happen if you continue swimming or writing long enough.
Steely resolve and patience enable writers to weather difficult times of drought, when resources have dried up and toxic hallucinations are taking over our reality. On the other hand, innovation, creativity, and invigorating joy prepare writers to make the best of the inspired moments. We need both to carve our work from our minds and hearts, to refine the stories we have on our lips and offer them to others with gracious hands. It is a journey of the self and of creation, where the ups and downs inflame the story with life.
Knowing these truths, I accept the difficult moments where writing is so hard I want to bash my head against a wall. I wholeheartedly embrace the moments of joy though–they lift me up to see the wonder of it all.
P.S. Thank you for indulging me in this tale. Partially I thought it was a good comparison, but I also wanted to picture the beach because I wasn’t able to go this summer and that makes me kind of sad. So, this is me, vicariously enjoying a beach vacation through my memories.