Initial spark

Clarity after a long break, Part II: Preserving the initial spark of motivation

In my last post, I talked about the value of harnessing the innocent, flexible type of creativity that arises when doing something for the first time. In my opinion, it’s the afterglow of this initial fiery excitement—the condensed energy before the big bang of creating something—that gets us through a long project. Just like the universe cools as it spreads out thinner and thinner, the heat of this initial creative spark too might dissipate with time if one is not careful. So being able to come back to the well of our starting motivation and joy is important for seeing to the end we set out to do.

But how do we preserve this initial energy? How do we shelter this precious spark from the winds of monotony, self-doubt, external demands on our time, etc.? A prerequisite is to start out with a project that we’re truly interested in. I believe that during the stage of building our intentions, our focus should mostly be directed inward. Marketing, sale’s trends, and peer research are import parts of the process, but not at the very beginning when we’re still figuring out what is exactly truly interesting to us. Looking into our hearts and figuring out what we really want to do rather than what we think we ought to do would save a lot of trouble later on.

When we tap into this place of inner truth and honesty, we tap into the source of the beginner’s mind. At this stage, it’s easy to lay down grand plans, wax poetic, and envision great things to come. But then one has to get into the grind of the execution stage. And though the first 15 000 words might flow to the page effortlessly, the more one delves into an idea, the harder it is to maintain the initial excitement.

I find it helpful not to plan too rigidly so that there is space for me to surprise myself during the execution stage. I’m a writer, so I’ll give an example from writing: when I’m composing a first draft, I like the experience to be akin to reading an unknown book. I allow the plot to twists in a way I did not envision or a character to do something unexpected. This might sound as if I have multiple personalities, but it’s a simple trick of not overthinking things too much.

Another way to keep your mind in the flow is to immerse yourself in things connected with your project that inspire you. Music, books, places, photographs—whatever it takes to keep you in the mood. Where did your initial idea come from? Go back to the source.

A third way to bring back the buzz is to take a short break from the marathon of the project and work on something else for a while. Or, if the well has really dried up, to take a break from the type of work entirely. I often find that for the projects I’m truly passionate about, the wish to continue will always come back. For me, it takes about two to three days for this to happen. The crux of the matter here is not to be afraid to step away. Two months of a break might be perhaps too much in this case, but a few days, a week? Be brave and invest in your creative spark.

A piece of advice I read numerous times and that I found very helpful during the entire duration of writing the Illumination trilogy is to just sit down and do the work. This sounds completely uninspiring, but I know for a fact that doing the actual work brings both clarity and inspiration with it. It’s a self-perpetuating process, a creativity dynamo. Just decide to work for 10 min. That’s it. That’s the only obligation. If ten minutes later you’re lost in your project, good for you. If this technique doesn’t help for several days, it’s really time for a break.

If the break goes on and on, and no spark comes back, then a good idea is to reevaluate the project. Was there authenticity and true enthusiasm at the beginning of it? Sometimes, one takes a wrong turn along the way and is now fighting against the current rather than flowing with it. Backtracking (as wasteful as it might seem) to that wrong turn and starting from there might help.

I found that with each new writing project, I gain more and more insight into what truly interests me and how my creativity flows. I must also admit that before I started to regularly complete writing projects, I had accumulated piles of abandoned ones. This too is part of the process. Getting to know oneself is not easy and requires a number of educational failures. It’s ok to give up on an undertaking. It’s not a weakness. It actually takes guts. There’s a difference between abandoning something because of new clarity gained while trying to complete it and abandoning something out of defeat.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the balance between preserving the energy of the untamed creative spark and the discipline needed to complete a project.

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