Inspiration vs. Motivation

NOTE: This piece originally published on Medium.

On the surface, inspiration and motivation might seem similar.

While they share some qualities, the two words are actually completely separate things, particularly when it comes to creativity. Inspiration is more big-picture…macro, if you will. Which makes motivation more laser-focused, micro in nature. This also means having one doesn’t necessarily mean you have the other.

Inspiration is the driving force that leads you to creating in the first place. A book you fell in love with, a movie that triggered something within you. Whatever unseen force sparked your creative fire and led you to a life of making things up — regardless of your medium of choice — is your inspiration.

Comic books are my inspiration; discovering superhero comics in middle school was the inciting incident that led to me becoming a writer. There have been other sources of inspiration over the years, but the first, everlasting stroke of inspiration came at the hands of Jim Lee and Chris Claremont.

Inspiration is lifelong and nebulous, and it can mean different things to you at different times. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton inspired me, but not in the I-want-to-write-a-musical or I-want-to-write-about-a-Founding-Father way. Instead, Hamilton inspired me to renew my creative efforts as a whole. Not just because Miranda himself is a prolific creator who almost always seems to have at least one iron in the proverbial fire, but also because the musical itself tackles the issue of productivity.

After all, Alexander Hamilton was, among other things, a writer.

The line “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” was key here — because frankly, I haven’t been writing like I’m running out of time, and it felt like Miranda was calling me out for it.

Let this be an example of inspiration hitting any time, from any source — even a piece of art from a genre or medium you’re not necessarily familiar with or a fan of. Plays aren’t my thing, and I don’t have a musical bone in my body, but every time I watch Hamilton or listen to Miranda speak, I’m inspired to grab my laptop and type away.

Which leads us to that pesky thing called motivation. If inspiration is the impetus for the overall desire to create, motivation is the day-to-day manifestation of that. It’s possible to be inspired, but not motivated — just as it’s possible to be motivated, but not inspired (i.e., “I want to write today, but what?”).

Think of it like this: if you wake up and decide you don’t want to do anything— like, say, go to work — you’re lacking motivation that day. Some days, I’m motivated to write. Others, I’m not. I’m still inspired, but for whatever reason, that particular day, I can’t be arsed to sit in front of the keyboard and peck away.

Some days, I wake up motivated to write. But real life gets in the way, and by the time I’ve taken care of my responsibilities, that motivation is gone. Replaced by exhaustion or frustration (or an ever-so-annoying combination of the two). I’m still inspired; I still want to create. It’s just not happening that day.

In my experience, inspiration is easier to come by than motivation. Maybe it’s simply a lack of discipline on my part, but I find I can’t simply conjure motivation out of thin air. If I’m not motivated that day, I’m not motivated, and trying to change that fact just makes things worse.

Inspiration, on the other hand, is everywhere. I’m inspired whenever I read a really good book (or sometimes, a really bad one). I’m inspired whenever one of my author friends completes a project or has a new release (I think E.A. Copen wrote and released a new book in the time it took me to write this blog post). I’m inspired whenever someone questions my creative bonafides.

I was even inspired when I was browsing the shelves at Barnes & Noble several years ago and saw a copy of Richard Castle’s Heat Wave sitting there. Because if a guy who doesn’t even exist can write and publish books in our world, then why can’t I?

(Never underestimate the inspirational and motivational power of incredulity and spite.)

When it comes to motivation, my only advice is two-fold:

  1. It’s okay to take days off if you’re not feeling it. Forcing it can make things worse, and there’s no hard and fast rule saying you have to write every single day.
  2. Think about what inspires you. Ask yourself why that inspiration still resonates, or if it doesn’t, examine why. Think about what else inspires you. Sometimes, taking a step back and questioning yourself will tell you all you need to know.

Creativity is a beautiful thing, but it’s not always easy. Understanding what inspiration and motivation are, how they relate to each other, and the role they both play in your creative life can make things so much easier for you.

Just remember to go easy on yourself if things aren’t flowing like they normally are; it doesn’t make you a failure and you’re not the only one struggling with it.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

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Bounty and Comic Books: An Origin Story

Before we get started, look at this awesomeness.

I commissBounty-Smallioned comic book artist Kendall Goode (@kendallgoode on Twitter) to draw a piece depicting Bounty, the hero of my Jill Andersen series of novels, and as soon as I saw the finished product in my inbox… well, I’m not sure there are words for the sound I made. But suffice it to say, I love the piece, and it perfectly exemplifies what I think of when I write this character.

I’ve made no secret of the influence comic books have had on my work. Nor have I hid the fact that Bounty, when I first created her back in 1997, was a comic book character. She was supposed to be on your local comic book shop every month, not available on Amazon.

But life is funny sometimes.

These days, I’m a novelist. Not because I’ve outgrown comic books — I still collect them, after all — but because I’ve become a much better writer than artist. It’s an evolution borne out of necessity (as most evolution is), but even as I have morphed Jill and her world into prose, the panels and word balloons are never far from my mind.

As I type this, I’m toying with the plot for a potential Bounty graphic novel. I have no timetable for this project, but I do want to see it through — and the above image is all the motivation and inspiration I need. I love the Jill Andersen books; I love that I’ve matured enough, as a writer and as a person, that I can write these stories. I love that readers love Jill as much as I do.

But I want to bring Jill home. She deserves to be immortalized in a graphic novel. That was where she started. Hell, that’s where I started. Without discovering and getting hooked on comic books when I was in middle school, I doubt I’m a storyteller right now. I don’t know what I’d be, but I don’t think I’d have “published author” among the things about which I can brag.

Who would draw a Bounty graphic novel? Well, that’s one of the hang-ups.

It sure as hell won’t be me (see above). Right now, Goode is my choice… but then there’s the issue of payment. I would never ask an artist to work with me without proper compensation — to say nothing of how much money we’d agree to split on any potential sales. In a perfect world, a comic publisher would pick up my script and all of that would take care of itself. But a Plan B would be nice.

So for that reason alone, the Bounty graphic novel might be way down the road. But it is something I want to do, it is something I’m writing. But for the time being, Jill will have to stick to prose, with only glimpses like the above image keeping the dream of her going back to her roots to spur me onward.

Some readers have compared Jill to Daredevil — a comparison I find flattering after having watched at least some of the latter’s Netflix series. One reader said Jill was like a cross between Lara Croft and Deadpool, and my fans are well aware of all the Batman references I throw into these books. Jill is a comic book character in a novel world — and as great as superhero novels are (there really should be more of them), just once I’d love to sell someone a Bounty comic or graphic novel.

One day, that will happen. One day…