Motivating Through the Slumps

Sometimes it seems like all the creative roadblocks are stacked in your way, preventing your access so all you can do is sit there and stew and think EVERYTHING SUCKS. Bad reviews, nasty comments, struggling with a plot bit of a new story, etc etc. It’s tough - you put stuff out there for consumption, and it will be consumed - often in ways you don’t intend or disagree with.

The last few weeks I've felt especially tempted to sink down into some self-whining. One of the reasons is because I'm currently working on story pitches, which can be a bit taxing:

  1. Come up with a super idea!
  2. Explain it perfectly in ways that make everyone excited!
  3. Now throw it into a void and maybe hear nothing about it ever again.
  4. (. . . or only hear about it when it's soundly rejected by multiple people.)

It's hard to write these half-stories, these inklings of fun ideas because (if you're like me) a LOT of your ideas form WHILE you're writing the story, not before. I plan as much as I can stand ahead of time, but it's not until wading through the story with my characters that some things start to make sense. It feels weird to predict what they'll do or where they'll go without going through it with them. That's like cheating!

It's also easy to feel like - why am I wasting my time working on stuff I can't show to anyone (possibly ever) and no one might ever like? That's a larger issue of putting stuff out there to begin with - why bother?

The thing that helps me when I go through these slumpy-slumps is to remember that slumps end. They can be miserable, but also kind of fun in a wallowing way. Enjoy feeling put upon for a tiny bit of time ... and then get over it. Get back to doing what you love to do - CREATE! YOU know why you're bothering, so what if other people don't get it yet. You know there are stories you want to tell, things you want to figure out, things you want to show. Turn off the social streams that make you feel like you're not accomplishing anything. Turn off that voice that keeps telling you you're behind your peers. Remember that when you're in this biz -- or really any creative endeavor -- rejection is part of it. And so is work for work's sake - none of it is wasted. Even the tiny little pitches you keep murdering and burying, stacking one one top of another. Somehow, some day they will all feed into your future work and they will all be valuable.

Slump slump slump .... time's up. Get back to it!

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That's right, I almost forgot! A year ago I made it into the league and officially became fresh meat. For a while, that was ALL that I wanted. I was all, "Hey, I never have to be better than this, I don't have to improve at any given rate because I'm IN!!"

Yeah, right - that spirit didn't last. It took my first assessment to bring out my competitve rage -- WHY DOES EVERYONE ELSE RULE AT THIS AND I DON'T?? After that, it was all over. I just had to get better, I had to be on even footing with the others I'd tried out with, I had to get on a team! ... 5 months later, after failing every assessment the first time but passing the second, I was drafted one week after my final assessment. Woo hoo!

So what have I learned over the past year? I started out in derby with a fierce desire to get in, get better, get crackin'. That was all I wanted, and I was convince my heart and my life had plenty of room for derby. I wanted all of its goodness, just for me. I approached each practice like my skills and potential were "on hold" so I wouldn't get too discouraged. "So what if I suck at all of these drills?" I'd tell myself. I'd get better, so there was no use worrying about it in the meantime. SURVIVAL, that's all I wanted. Survival, and not to look like a complete ass. As long as I'm not the worst, and I don't let myself get too frustrated, I'm fine.

That motivation worked for a little while, then came scrimmage time. Until I was eligible to scrimmage, my freshie group and I spent scrimmage nights working on basics in a corner of the rink while the big girls got to duke it out in the main space. For 5 consecutive weeks, someone got seriously injured at each and every one of those scrimmage practices that we witnessed. Each injury guaranteed that that particular skater would be off the league and in recovery for a WHILE. So my fellow freshies and I watched, terrified, dreading the time our chance to scrimmage came about. When it finally did, it was a clusterfuck. Limbs flying everywhere. But I was shocked to discover that I lived, and didn't break anything, and actually got back up after being knocked down. Crazy!

Bouting came next, and that's where the real nerves set in. There was just something about ALL of those people watching, friends and family seeing,  ... the public viewing of my skills that instantly turned my legs to jelly and my nerves to mush. I just let myself get beat on over and over, hoping that I'd at least walk away from the bout. It was always fun seeing the look of horror on my parents' faces as I was knocked for a loop right in front of their seats.

After I had a couple bouts under my belt, my work situation changed and long hours were required. I was able to attend practice less and less. Friends of mine in the league stopped going or quit altogether. I had one more bout and then my season was over - I still had to attend practice and keep my skills up, but it was hard to get motivated. A new crop of fresh meat came in, all eager and shiny and new, and I faded into the background. Not an experienced vet, not a shiny new meatie. More commitments and work piled up, I found practices inconvenient and scrimmages discouraging, and I seriously wondered how long I should play at this derby thing when I could risk breaking my wrist (aka my livelihood) every time I got out on the track. I wasn't that fast, I wasn't that agile, I can't block for shit, and the most I've ever been able to do is get in someone else's way. My team barely sees each other, more people I love are leaving, should I keep doing this?

I didn't have to mull it over for too long before I decided - yes. Of course, I should keep doing this. As terrifying and discouraging and frustrating and inconvenient and demanding as derby is, it's worth it. You won't know if you truly love something unless you put that much work into it. It's never going to be easy, but it is going to be fun and challenging and the feeling you get when you realize you've gotten a little bit better is oh-so-encouraging. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing I really need to manage is my attitude - this is fun. I LOVE this. I love the people and the rules and the community and everything involved. All the negativity I see is only coming from myself.

So yeah - droning on here, but after a year I think I'm allowed to look back and analyze stuff. Yay derby. Our relationship is in its sophomore year. :)