When “Just Do It” Isn’t Enough: Overcoming Creative Impasses

I got a question today from a reader, and it’s one that I hear a lot, so I thought I’d answer it for everyone. Here’s the question:

How do I get in the groove? How do I get my ass off the couch and do shit so I can be successful?

I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the idea.

First of all, this is not a technical question, so if you have technical questions, you should read Joel Runyon’s excellent guide to starting a blog.

If you’re a blogger or a writer (or an anything, really), but you’re having trouble overcoming inertia and actually creating the stuff you need to create (whether that’s posts or chapters or paintings or spreadsheets), I’m talking to you in this post.

Over the years, I’ve grown to hate Nike for coining the phrase “Just Do It.” Yes, it sounds so simple, and you probably think you sound like a badass when you offer it as advice. But, actually, I think you sound sort of like a self-righteous prig. It’s not always that easy. There are lots of things that stop people from “just doing it,” and some of those things are totally legit.

So, instead of “Just Do It,” may I offer the following: Figure out why you’re not doing it, then fix it. The reason you’re not “doing it” might be as simple as pure laziness (I’ve totally been there), or as complicated as a bout with depression. “Just Do It,” might fit both situations, but you’re going to come at it from very different angles. So figure out what your shit is first.

When "Just Do It" isn't enough of an answer

I’ve been through lots of shit, so I’m going to offer you solutions or tricks or tips or whatever to try to get beyond it and start producing:

If you’re just being lazy, admitting it is the hardest part. And, here’s a thing: Being lazy sometimes is not that bad. Everyone needs a day once in a while where we do nothing but watch old episodes of Friends while marinating in our own B.O. But it shouldn’t be an every day thing. Give yourself permission to be lazy for a set amount of time, then get to work. Sometimes I tell myself I can be lazy when I’m done. That works too, because once I get into the groove, most of the time I don’t want to stop. The reward of being lazy when I’m done is just the amount of push I need to get going.

If you’re truly exhausted, something’s gotta give. Guys, it’s hard to work a full-time job and then come home and pursue your dream. Hell, it should totally be the other way around, but sometimes it can’t be. If you are really just too exhausted to do what you want to be doing, you’re going to have to give up something. I’m not saying it’ll be easy. For example, it might mean cutting back on your day job hours and not getting your overtime pay, or even cutting back to less than full-time and eating the difference in your salary. Not easy, but necessary if you’re really passionate about what you want to be doing.

Caveat: Lots of people will tell you to cut out your TV-watching time or whatever, and that’s fine if it works for you, but if you are actually so exhausted that you just can’t even function, cutting out TV only means you’re going to stare mindlessly at what you’re supposed to be doing instead of staring mindlessly at the TV. You can only output so much, and if you’re using it all before you start working on your passion, it’s going to be fruitless. Cut out something that’s using your brain power. Hint: TV’s probably not it.

If you can’t think of what to write (or paint or cook or whatever), you may have to re-evaluate your niche. When you’re a content creator and you can’t think of new content to create, there really isn’t a bigger problem for you to have. You’re going to have to think strategically about what it is that you really want to create and whether there’s enough energy behind that idea to sustain it for a while. If you’re writing a novel, maybe the conflict in the story isn’t big enough. If you’re writing a blog, maybe your topic is too narrow. More often than not, though, I see bloggers with a topic that’s too wide, and when you have everything to choose from, decision paralysis sets in and you choose nothing. This is one of those instances where “Just Do It” does not serve you well. You need to think carefully about what it is that you want to do, then do it.

If you’re disorganized, I’m not sure I’m going to be much help. And I’m not talking piles-of-junkmail-on-the-kitchen-table disorganized. I’m talking forgets-to-eat-and-perform-basic-hygiene disorganized. If you can’t manage to take care of yourself in other aspects of life, you’re probably not going to be able to push yourself to create things on a regular schedule. I’m not saying you’re not creative– I’m just saying it’s hard to be successful when you’re not dependable.

Now, if you’re actually not that disorganized and you just can’t seem to get your creative endeavors organized, it’s probably because you’re thinking of them separately from all the stuff in your life that you do organize, like your gym visits or your doctor appointments or your work deadlines or whatever. So, the solution then is to organize it. Make a schedule for how many times a week you will post a blog, and then block out time in your day to write the posts. Simple, but oh so helpful.

If you don’t like what you’re doing, stop. I am not being cheeky. Sometimes you get it in your head that you want to be a writer or a painter or a weight-lifter or whatever and then when you start doing it, you don’t actually like it that much, but you keep trying because it was your dream, dammit! Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s your dream and you can kill it if you want to. There is no shame in admitting that being a novelist just isn’t for you, honey. (There’s probably more shame in admitting you want to spend your entire day staring at a blinking cursor without any human contact, the only warm touch in your life coming from laptop burns on your thighs… I resemble that remark.)

Hope that helps some of you get off the couch and, you know, “Just Do It.” Leave me links to your passionate projects in the comments. I wanna see what you’re up to!