What To Do When Feeling Lost, Stuck, or Lacking Motivation

Stricken With Self-Doubt by Just.Luc

Stricken With Self-Doubt by Just.Luc

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  – Sylvia Plath

Of course, as discussed before, there are several other enemies including a lack of motivation. In my experience, a lack of motivation often stems from one or more of the following things: doubt, fear, an inability to focus and/or to concentrate due to anxiety or feeling overwhelmed from too many responsibilities/distraction, or lost interest.

I’ve written some about fear and anxiety and about self-doubt. A lack of interest seems to explain itself – find the thing that interests you, about which you are truly passionate. Being overwhelmed often requires us to break our tasks into smaller steps and to set intentions for each of our essential responsibilities and then remind ourselves of those intentions.


One thing that helps me with all these challenges appears below (hint, it has to do with other people).

There are times in most people’s lives when they feel doubt – about a relationship, a sport, a college (major, class, career direction), a job, some other pursuit. Anything that requires a choice brings with it the potential for doubt. And we can doubt just about anything related to those decisions we make . . . or have to make . . . or want to make (before, during, and after we make the decision).

That doesn’t even take into account the doubt some people have about themselves.

At various points in our lives, questions arise. Do they really like me for who I am? Who the heck am I? Am I fooling myself? Do I have the ability needed? Is it done? How do I know?

Writers, artists, and other people chasing their creative dreams occasionally encounter various forms of doubt, fear, lack of motivation, and other obstacles. As a matter of fact, among many creatives I know, self-doubt is one of the biggest obstacles they have to overcome.

I’m not going to pretend one thing works for all forms of doubt. But I will say this, one thing I’ve learned that helps me regardless of the reason behind the doubt is the knowledge that each step taken gets me closer to my goals.

Another thing, that helps me even more than that, is reminding myself what my intention is for chasing those goals in the first place.

What Am I Writing For?

Answering that question (and reminding myself of the answer whenever I feel stuck, unsure) has helped me more than anything.

A third thing that helps me stay inspired . . . that reminds me that those obstacles can be overcome . . . is the accomplishments of my friends and colleagues.

Take Kelly Creagh for example.


While a student in the MFA program at Spalding, I had the good fortune of being in a few workshops with this brilliant young writer named Kelly Creagh. She was a bit shy . . . for a belly dancer. In addition to being able to move her hips, she was even better at using words to move the minds and feelings of others.

The girl can write. She can sketch pretty well too.

I, of course, take full credit for discovering her. Yes, even over the writing program that accepted her in the first place so I could, you know, meet her. Yes, even over the great workshop leaders and the dozen other writers in the workshops.

Oblivion by Kelly Creagh

Oblivion by Kelly Creagh (novel #3 – coming soon)

Okay, well, maybe they should get some credit. You know who deserves the most credit? Kelly.

I can say with 100% certainty, she has a remarkable mind (it’s not linear, or stream-of-consciousness . . . not sure you can label it at all except to say it’s just awesome).

Yep. Love the way she thinks!

“Damn her,” I say some days when I’m writing away. “Damn that Kelly. She’s so good” at blending history (aka Edgar Alan Poe) and the supernatural and mystery and romance and . . . damn her.

Despite her prodigious talents, even Kelly has had a few moments when she’s wondered if she made the right decision about certain things . . . if she could meet deadlines and rework certain sections of her stories.

Guess what. She keeps writing and keeps producing great books.

But even more than that, she keeps doing the thing she loves. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what writing is for her. It’s part of who she is. And that fascinating mind of hers, the way it works so differently from mine, was made for that very thing.

So, while I might damn her in jest out of envy, I admire her wholeheartedly. The girl can write. Mark my words. Ten years from now, you can look back and read this and say, damn that Lafayette. He was so right.


A mother, a poet, a visual artist, a triathlete, and soon-to-be “Ironman” competitor, Sandy Coomer is a special inspiration. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, Microbiologist. Yeah, that’s right. She’s smart and sweet and talented.

Sandy Coomer Poet-Warrior

Sandy Coomer Poet-Warrior

She’s a poet-warrior. I use that last term with much respect.

Sandy puts herself out there physically, mentally, and emotionally. She experiences exhaustion beyond that which most of us know. She deals with injuries and setbacks, swimming in open water with a gazillion other athletes all jacked up on adrenaline, turning the swim event at times into a full-contact watersport.

She’s always pushing, going further and faster.

You know what else she does? She keeps on going.

Now, one thing we can learn from her Ironman training is that sometimes it’s important to work on non-race things like nutrition (not just pre-race nutrition, but in-race nutrition). So ask yourself, what things nourish you as a creative and as a person?

Are you giving yourself enough of these?

Sandy recently had to focus on running slower (which might seem contrary to what you’d expect, only she did it) . . . so she’d have more energy left at the end.

Sometimes we need to pull back. Sometimes we need to change our routines as we go.

Not every race or creative project is the same. Sometimes the swim might be the hardest part. Sometimes the run has killer hills. Sandy has been training all year for Ironman Chattanooga. Her training includes thousands of miles running and riding and swimming, but it also includes triathlons and half-marathons and other races which require their own special preparation. And each one serves a purpose.

Similarly, working on other forms of writing can be useful. Novelists might find focusing on one specific scene, or on dialogue or characterization, even work on poetry some days or short stories or essays, can be beneficial when it comes to producing a novel.

Training needs to be challenging and diverse in order to keep you improving, getting better.

Artists sometimes forget that. Even those days when we don’t have time for a full two hour writing session, change up your routine. Remember that focusing on one scene, working on a small section of the larger piece, still has its place in your training.

Remembering that motivates me.

But, let’s face it, just finding out what Sandy did next – whether it’s the miles she’s put in or a race she’s finished or a new poem she’s written or a new piece of art she’s created – there’s plenty about her to find inspiring.


"Red Lilies" by Jan Kather at Blink Gallery

“Red Lilies” by Jan Kather

I first knew her simply as Jan Kather, the college Photography Instructor. Then I got to know her as Jan the photographer and visual artist and poet and remarkable woman.

Although she works in various media, I’m still drawn to her photography which I find to be absolutely breathtaking (don’t take my word for it, check it out here and here).

Her drawings and multi-media work are thought-provoking.

She’s an adventurer, a risk taker, an experimenter, a collaborator. Not only does she always have a new project in the works, it’s often in an entirely new medium. She makes fascinating videos, often bringing together elements of nature and art, there’s often movement of some sort in her work, sounds, visual imagery . . . she’s a true multi-sensory artist.

Jan, though, is more than an artist and a teacher, she’s also an advocate for other creatives – myself included (she’s brought me in to speak with her students, to read) – and she’s always promoting art events and other artists, and only occasionally her own work.


Terry Price is one of my dearest friends. He’s the guy they were talking about when they came up with the phrase, a gentleman and a scholar.

He’s a lawyer. His mind is sharp, his heart is kind.

Terry’s a very talented writer who inspires others and coaches them and mentors them. As a result, his own writing sometimes takes a backseat, but he’s still taking those steps.

He’s still shuffling forward.

Venice by Terry Price

Venice by Terry Price

He and I have thrown the gauntlet down when it comes to our own writing. Over the next few months we’ll be holding each other accountable.

Did I mention, Terry and I also facilitate the West of the Moon Writer’s Retreat in Historic New Harmony?

Or that he’s the former Director of The Writer’s Loft (MTSU’s Writing Program), he’s still a sometimes mentor in the MTSU program, and he’s also the top-dog in the Spalding MFA Alumni Association (the boy is busy). Oh yeah, and he’s a world traveler, quite skilled with a camera.

His writing is smooth like jazz, full of meaning and depth and rhythm like the blues, all musical and mellifluous.

Terry is the quintessential put-other-people-first guy. His nickname is Sunshine, if that tells you anything. As a matter of fact, I think he should just change his legal name to Sunshine or, in honor of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, as some sort of radiant, warm, sunny symbol.

Every time Terry works with a client, promotes the work of myriad creative on Facebook, creates a workshop for our retreat . . . I do a small silent bow to the south (he lives in Nashville after all). I smile and nod and know in my heart that things are as they should be.

Every time he writes, I feel that way even more.

Gerald Stulc Playing Classical Guitar

Gerald Stulc Playing Classical Guitar

A few other people who inspire me regularly include Julie Stewart (talented short story writer and mixed media artist) who offers creative programs for people in her community and who is involved in a number of wonderful projects; Julie Coyle (talented writer and illustrator) who was accepted into the very respected program at Hollins University; Aimee Zaring (talented fiction writer) whose first book, which blends refugee cultures with cuisine, comes out Spring 2015; Mary Knight (talented novelist) who landed a prime-time agent and whose novel, THE UNABRIDGED DICTIONARY OF CURLEY HINES, was just (as in three days ago) picked up by Scholastic (WooHoo!!!) though the title was changed to Saving Wonder and it is pure delight; and Gerald Stulc (talented writer, artist, classical guitarist) who received an art grant that allowed him to travel to and spend a month in Thailand doing research for one of his books. Caroline Conkin (talented writer and painter) who took a chance with her painting and whose visual art sales have taken off. Karen Mann (wonderful novelist and person) who is not only one of the pillars (literally and metaphorically) of Spalding University’s MFA program, she’s also the author of two new books. Jerry Mirskin (talented poet) who has done a couple readings with me over the past few months – it’s always refreshing to hear him read his work, including selections from his latest book of poems.

That doesn’t even include the remarkable writers and artists I admire who have been practicing their art and chasing their dreams since long before I encountered them or their work (like Marc Rubin and Gary Myers and KL Cook and Kelly Going and . . .).

I’m blessed to have so many creatives as friends and collaborators, as participants in some of my other endeavors. And so many people each do who are not doing writerly or art-related things, yet who are making time for their dreams. There’s really so many people we can look to for inspiration – not necessarily to be like them, but as a reminder that it can be done. It just requires a step, followed by another step.

Sometimes when I’m feeling a little alone or lost or unsure of my choices or my direction or my ability, I think of these people and the things they do each day in spite of the obstacles they might face.

They inspire me to keep after the thing I love. To keep taking steps. And I do. I keep moving forward. I keep writing!

Keep after it, y’all.

“Stricken With Self-Doubt” photo by Just.Luc is used as per Creative Commons License on Flickr.