Action Is More Powerful Than Motivation

Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan was coined in 1988 at an advertising agency meeting. The founder of Wieden+Kennedy agency credits the inspiration for the slogan to the last words of Gary Gilmore (an American criminal who gained international notoriety for demanding the execution of his death sentence for two murders he committed).

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I have been a writer for most of my life. I loved the books my parents read to me as a young child, and I decided that I would write my own. At the age of five, I wrote and self-published (long before CreateSpace) my first book. I bound it and created a cardboard cover for it. It was a story about Snoopy and Charlie Brown going to the zoo, and I still have it. (These days, my sons tell me, it would be considered Fan Fiction.) Throughout grade school I wrote poetry and more stories, including a series of books about a mouse with a pink hat and her friends. In sixth grade, with the help of my parents, I self-published a novella, and wrote more poetry, short stories, and another novella in high school. I wrote my first novel as my capstone project my senior year of college.

Then real life happened, my sons were born, and I didn’t write much while raising them primarily by myself. I got back to writing when, out of desperation for information about autism in the teen years, I began writing TeenAustim.com. And several years ago, I wrote and self-published Slip, for which both my sons provided inspiration. Since then, I have been working on Enough to Go Around, which is in the editing process and should be published early next year.

But Enough to Go Around has been in the editing process for well over a year. In fact, the first draft was written during NaNoWriMo in 2008 – six years ago! I could come up with plenty of reasons why it was on the back burner so long; you can read about some of them here.

I had always been motivated to write this story. When I was eleven years old, I interviewed my father’s parents, who emigrated from Czechoslovakia almost a hundred years ago. They told amazing stories, and I knew even then that someday I would write a book about them. In 2007 I took a trip with my father and sister to Slovakia to do research for the novel. So why, if I was so motivated, has it been sitting for so long?

About three weeks ago, I was home on a Saturday and actually found myself with a little free time. And, without any thought, without any argument that I should be doing something else, I just picked it up and started working on it. Several hours later, I was still working on it and didn’t want to stop. I just did it, and that motivated me to do more. I could have spent the day cleaning the house (God, it needed it), I could have spent the day out wine tasting or relaxing (God, I deserved it), but I just sat down and turned on the computer, not thinking about the other things I “should” be doing. I picked up the printed manuscript with all my notes on it, and just did it.

My point in this post is that, yes, you have to have motivation to want to do something. You want it, you can visualize it, you can feel it within your grasp. Motivation comes first, that’s an undeniable truth. But without action, whatever you are motivated to do will sit there on the back burner. It becomes a “when” thing – when I’m finished with this work project I’ll do it, when the house is clean, when the holidays are over with, when my office is organized, when the kids are out of school, when I get back into a routine and can schedule it. There will always be a when. But taking action puts the whens on the back burner. And then we can do that thing we were always motivated to do but somehow didn’t.

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It makes perfect sense that an athletic shoe company would adopt “Just Do It” as their slogan. Not “Just Be Motivated.” Not “Just Try to Fit It In.” They chose something that is more powerful than motivation – they chose action. Works for me.

7 thoughts on “Action Is More Powerful Than Motivation

  1. I’m so glad, in a selfish sort of way, that you chose to post today and on such a subject. I am now definitely going to submit an entry into a literary contest. It’s due by tomorrow at midnight, so I’m just under the line. Thank you, dear Tanya. I’m just going to do it.

  2. And just by writing this post you are motivating others to ‘just do it’ …. ‘it’ being whatever project it is that they have sitting on the back burner. I’ve been given this some thought recently. Recovering from a back injury for the past 3 months has certainly given me the time to get back to some (sedantary!) projects I wanted to do.
    I love that you’ve been writing from such a young age and I am fascinated about the motivation and back story for your new novella. I really look forward to you getting it published :-) xx

  3. As a student and lover of history, I always appreciate finding out facts that I was previously unaware of. (Gary Gilmore, yikes!) As a writer, I am also prone to finding myself in situations where real life gets in the way of the desire to write and subsequently seems to tamper that desire. The solution IS action. Thanks for spelling that out!

  4. Great post! I heard Anne Lamott speak recently. She said, “I don’t believe writers have to wait to be motivated, before they can write. I’m motivated by bills!”

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