For years I’ve struggled with finding the self-discipline to actually sit down and get myself to write. Even writing for just 20 minutes felt forced. I faced so much resistance and in turn, found every excuse in the book to procrastinate. I resorted to checking email, looking up my stats from last month’s blog post, dabbling in social media, the list goes on. I started blogging infrequently in 2017 when I set a goal to run 10 kilometres every day for 30 days. In addition to the daily mileage, I set two additional goals for myself: (1) write a blog post about my experience on each day’s run and (2) craft a social media post—with the hopes that I’d improve my writing and my fitness simultaneously.
I think the first blog I ever wrote was in 2015—it was about running and it was awful. Like, I’m talking ‘struggling to meet my word count,’ high school level essay bad. However, for some reason, I always felt a strange pull to writing. Even though I’m a digital marketer and business owner, I feel drawn to the craft—perhaps because I love reading so much or maybe because my love language is words of affirmation. Whatever it is, I love the idea of writing. When it came to the execution, however, let’s just say the reality is a bit different than what I had in mind. My past relationship with writing was a confusing and dysfunctional one. I loved the finished product so much, but the actual act of writing—getting myself to sit down and do the work—was so damn hard. Why was it so hard? Can you have permanent writer’s block?
This internal battle has gone on for years, since 2017. However, it was only in early February of this year that I’ve been able to consistently show up and write every day for months (including weekends). Since then, I’ve published several articles, social media posts, and wrote a 70,000-page manuscript draft. In March, I took a course by one of my favorite bloggers, Steve Palvina, on creativity called Amplify. It was in this course where I first was introduced to what Steve calls “the frame game”—testing out different forms of framing to find sustainable motivation in our creative endeavors. This idea of framing is a powerful one that I didn’t just find useful in my creativity, but also in my fitness, reading, and other skills I wanted to develop further. When I did a self-diagnosis, I came to the realization that my previous framing of “why I write” was more ego-centric—to make money, seem like a pseudo-writer, achieve recognition, and to improve my stats. These frames unfortunately weren’t serving me at all and causing me to only focus on the result, not the actual enjoyment of the act itself. It was a weak, sporadic and inconsistent form of motivation. Early in the course, Steve encouraged us to be receptive to testing out different frames, bringing creativity to our approach. So with that being said, here are some frames that I’ve discovered have finally provided me with consistent motivation to endure, to actually get myself to sit down and do the work, and most importantly, to enjoy my writing.
My Creative Frames
One frame that has always taken a backseat in my creative work (but should be more prominent) is helping others. Sharing my experience, failures, and challenges I’ve faced with others has been the most powerful frame for me. Being able to share my work with a community of like-minded people is a privilege, one I would never take for granted. With all my articles and social media posts, I’m hoping my experience can land with even just one person—that’s it. One person. If I can provide any type of reassurance or support to one person with an issue they are facing in their life, then my labour is well worth the effort.
So even if I’m exploring an esoteric topic or doing heavy research into a discipline that has little mass appeal, if I receive a DM in my IG or a topic suggestion through email, I’ll usually end up circling back and writing about it in either a social media post or a long-form blog entry.
In addition to helping others and creating work bigger than myself, I’ve been able to uncover consistent energy to show up and write every day. Although I’m not raking in the big money through my writing, aka not able to make it my full-time gig, I’m hoping one day this passion can turn into a career. But I’ve never been in it for the money and as aforementioned, this has been a weak frame for me.
Although I do make some income from writing at times, it’s super precarious. Most of that income comes from my P4P (pay-per-performance) articles that I re-purpose from my blog and post on Medium. For the small amount I do make on my blog or through Medium’s Partner Program, I find that generating income in that capacity is so much more rewarding than other means of income generation.
As a human being, I have an internal drive to contribute to the world. I don’t want to add to the noise of the internet and write short form, syndicated content. My style is to provide unique insights from what I’ve learned, passing down a sliver of my experience in hopes that it resonates with someone else. A lofty goal indeed, but when I write a deep-dive, I want it to be the best article on the subject. Otherwise, what’s the point? Someone can just read trite advice in the millions of other places on the internet.
I appreciate depth and detail when I read the few blogs I do follow, so I want to provide the same value to my readers. I don’t enjoy fluff and surface level conversation. You won’t see a blog post dedicated to five tips to be more productive or answer these five questions and figure out what type of pasta you are (no offence, Buzzfeed). I like to consider myself a deep person and draw the most value from depth; that’s why I only revert back to a handful of blogs on the regular and have fewer friends with deeper connections. I’m getting a bit tangential here, but the point I’m trying to make is that when I write, I try to contribute something unique to the conversation, not just echoing or rephrasing learnings from elsewhere on the internet. I try to draw from personal insights and experience to create content that’s completely unique to me.
As human beings, we are innately curious. This has been a driver for so many of history’s prolific greats in their chosen field. Curiosity has provided these polymaths with the motivation and drive to go deep into their disciplines over the span of a lifetime, such as Einstein, Da Vinvi, Marie Curie, and Edison just to name a few.
The blog posts where I provide the most detail are typically on subject matters I know very little about. Someone may email me with a question and I typically think, hmmm interesting idea…let me research it more, apply it to my training/life and get back to you with some results. From there, I immerse myself entirely in the discourse, follow the rabbit holes (links to other studies, experts, etc.), then share what I’ve learned with others. Curiosity is a strong driving force and a frame I revert back to often for all my long-form articles (+4000 words).
In my experience, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing yourself get better at something you’ve been working hard at developing. For me, that’s writing. I never had a precocious talent for the craft, but I always did well on my essays in English, History, and Philosophy throughout high school and in my University elective courses. Although I would say I had more of an aptitude in the arts (versus science and math), I didn’t take the initiative to really try and develop my writing until the last few years when I started my blog.
Quite simply, the ways I’ve been able to get better at writing are by reading diverse literature and genres, keeping my New Word Library in the Notes app of my phone (where I look up unfamiliar words I read or hear on the go) and actively try to apply them in my everyday vocabulary, and of course, by writing a lot (1.5 – 2 hours every day).
Not all my writing is public; I like to journal privately as well. Not in a “dear diary” kind of way, but just taking note of what’s happening around me each day. Just keeping up the practice consistently and seeing myself improve has been the most rewarding experience imaginable. There’s nothing as satisfying as a well-packaged narrative, crafted by yours truly. Writing is a skill that offers unending challenge and growth, which is perhaps why I’m so drawn to it. There’s never any stagnancy—there’s always something new to write about, undiscovered literature to read, and innovative ways of strengthening your writing.
The last frame that’s given me motivation in my creative work is humour. It’s definitely the weakest of the four, but by incorporating jokes, keeping my prose conversational and intertwining my personality, I’ve been able to enjoy my writing so much more. We all have a unique personality to bring to our craft which will make our work individualized to us—unless of course, we copy someone verbatim or plagiarize. My talented sister edits many of my blog posts and sometimes she’ll throw in a joke or reword one of my sentences to make it more humorous. In the early morning hours while incorporating her edits and finalizing the piece, I’ll often laugh out loud alone. Nothing hits home quite like a good Trump joke does. It makes the task more fun and light-hearted. Plus, people like humour—it takes a seemingly boring subject and injects some life and relatability into it.
The great part about frames is that there’s always more to test out. If you’re lacking consistent energy and motivation to approach your creative work, it’s probably not on you. “Blame the frame”, writes Steve Palvina. It’s not because you’re lazy and lack self-discipline. Rather, it’s likely due to a frame of mind that isn’t serving you. Try veering away from ego-centric frames—the motivation they provide is typically ephemeral. Try incorporating more intrinsic forms of framing to sustain your motivation. Fame, ego, money, and stats are all typically weaker frames. “The point of the work is the work. Fame interferes with that perception. Instead of writing being about writing, it becomes about being recognized,” writes Julie Cameron in The Artists Way.
My Writing Process
When it comes to my actual process, it’s a bit messy and all over the place. My process is malleable and changes often, depending on the type of content I’ve chosen to work on that particular day. Akin to framing, the process is highly individualized as well. There is no one process that all writers follow—I find my best writing sessions come first thing in the morning after I’ve primed my brain with a bit with meditation, coffee and reading. For others, it might come late at night when the world is still.
If I’m writing an article or a section within my book that requires heavier research, the night before I’ll pull up several articles on my browser, check to see if industry experts I follow have an article written on the topic, and I’ll find some PubMed articles (if the article I’m writing needs to be backed by science/studies).
My morning routine looks a little something like this: I wake-up typically between 5:30-6:00am, put on the coffee pot, and then sink into meditation for about 15 minutes. I grab my coffee and a protein bar, snuggle up on the couch or at my desk, and either sink my teeth into some blogs from my favourite bloggers/authors, pull out a novel or circle back to the surplus of articles I pulled up the night before. My writing sessions for each separate piece (in-depth article, my book, etc.) typically last an hour or so before I shift my focus to some lighter blog or social media content (for about 30 minutes to an hour). This varies every day, but I do work in time blocks. After the 1.5-2 hours of writing is done, I typically don’t return back to the same piece of writing that day. If I don’t finalize and publish it, I let it sit until tomorrow.
So, if I were to block time on an average day, this is what it would typically look like:
5:30 – 5:45 am: wake-up – make bed, put workout clothes on, wash face, brush teeth, put the coffee on
5:45 – 6:00 am: meditate – either with meditation music or guided (I like Tara Brach’s guided meditation podcast on spotify)
6:00 – 7:00 am: read -if I’m working on a subject I’m unfamiliar with, prioritize reading that first, if not, I’ll read new content from my favourite blogs, Medium articles, or a physical book.
7:00am – 8:00am: writing session #1 – either work on my book for an hour or on a blog post for www.emilyrudow.com and/or medium
8:00am – 9:00am: writing session #2 – work on content for social media (IG post copy), my Latest Run Newsletter or work on writing another blog post
Some people can’t switch writing tasks, but I get fatigued working on the same draft of something for longer than an hour. I find when I switch to something new, I get a fresh burst of energy which helps me endure for longer. Some people who are writing books only work on the book…nothing else. However, I like the feeling of publishing what I wrote shortly after finishing the draft—especially if the idea contains a lot of energy and I want to capitalize on that momentum. When I publish the same day that the idea originated on, I typically get at least a few people message me directly or comment on how much it’s helped them/ they needed to hear it at that exact time in their lives. It’s a very rewarding process to say the least.
I find that intermingling my shorter form social/blog content with the longer, more daunting task of writing a book gives me little dopamine rewards throughout the process. I’m also able to share bits and pieces of the book to see what resonates with different audiences. I then use that data to help me craft my book content and elaborate on topics people seem to be gravitating more towards. For example, my articles on nutrition and fasting have performed the best on my blog and Medium, so I made the section on Nutrition the largest in my book.
While this process works for me, it likely won’t work for you in the exact manner I’ve prescribed. The biggest take away I can offer for your writing or other creative work is this:
- Find a time of day where you’re most energized to do the task
- Test different frames to provide you with enduring, intrinsic motivation
- Discover your own writing routine or ritual through experimentation
My writing process is fragmented—I’ll be Googling terms I don’t know in one browser, sucked into a rabbit hole on a particular subject in another, or finding myself pulling up YouTube to watch what people eat in a day. Each piece I write for my blog is unique. I’m also changing my process all the time. I no longer stick to a rigid writing schedule between certain hours.
Many writers share the advice that you should never fully exhaust your tank each day. You should leave on a high note—where you want to keep writing, but make yourself stop regardless. That way, you have something to look forward to the next day. There’s a bunch of other tricks like leaving a sentence unfinished, but again, it really comes down to what works for you.
Replenishing the Well
Creativity can’t be forced and no, it’s not an assembly line. Yes, we need to keep showing up and doing the work to get better, but creativity ebbs and flows. We’ll find that we’ll have strong periods of output and lower periods of feeling stuck. Just like everything else in life. Julia Cameron in her book The Artists Way discusses the concept of “filling the well” or self-nourishing. She writes:
As artists, we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them – to restock the trout pond, so to speak.
Our creative tanks are indeed endless, but they need to be replenished on the regular. For me that means reading more, taking on a new self-experiment, challenge or experience, meeting up with friends or talking to other industry experts. We need to feed our minds with quality inputs in order to create quality outputs.
It’s also important to give ourselves space and time for ideas to arise. When we feed our minds with new information, taking the space and time to let the ideas float around and come to fruition is equally as important. After I finish my writing for the day, I immediately train—undertaking some resistance strength work and/or going for a run. This is where my ideas will start to take form. I’ll come up with new ideas to incorporate in my blog/social posts, craft full sentences in my mind, or land on an entirely new idea from scratch. I always have my phone with me and will stop to jot down my thoughts in my Notes app. This time that I take for myself to actively work through ideas is what I’ve coined as Productive Training, using our workouts to ‘do work’. I’m not talking about answering emails on a treadmill. I mean, working through ideas and coming up with solutions to challenges we’re facing with our work. This time of day is so important to my creative flow that I never compromise it for anything.
Being in nature, going for walks, the cliche shower thoughts, whatever that may be for you—find an outlet to give your mind some breathing room to tap into new forms of creative energy.
The last thing I want to mention before wrapping up this post is the repetition of a task. Every writer or creative professional gets up and does the same thing day in and day out. Sometimes it can be boring and repetitious. However, if you’re able to create a ritual for yourself—an environment and more spiritual relation to the seemingly mundane task—it can become more enjoyable and foster a zen-like state. Robert Greene, in the 50th Law writes:
You discover a calming effect in the repetitive element itself. In this way, boredom becomes your great ally. It helps you slow things down, develop patience and self-discipline. Through this process you will be able to withstand the inevitable empty moments of life and convert them into your own private pleasures.
Creativity is a gift that every single one of us human beings possess. We’re innately curious and designed to create works of art to share with others; to evoke emotions and change other’s lives for the better.
If we’re able to connect our goals to a higher meaning – to contribute as a human being, to help others, and to gather wisdom and grow—we’ll be able to generate more lasting motivation over the long haul. Rather than focus on fame, money, status, or gathering more meaningless possessions, we need to realize in Ryan Holiday’s words that, “Doing the work is enough.”
Just to mumble one last platitude: when it comes to process, one person’s task is indeed another’s treasure. There is no one, single process for all. We need to be open minded and agile enough to test different processes—toss the trash, keep what sticks. It’s a reiterative, ongoing work in progress.