How to Overcome Creative Inertia

Do, or do not. There is no try.

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

“I’m reluctant to start writing due to fear of failure. Fear of being bad. It also feels a tiny bit pointless.”

I recently reconnected with an old friend who explained her desire to do creative work. When I asked what was preventing her from starting, she shared her fears as well as a feeling of futility. “I mean I’d love to write books,” she said, “But in all reality, what are the chances of me doing that?”

I replied the chances were 100% – if she started.

The more we corresponded, the more we realized her conception of what it means to be a writer was linked to popular and commercial success. She couldn’t think of herself as “the real deal” unless someone cut her a paycheck for her work. Admittedly, the odds of this happening aren’t great, so why put in the time? It would be a bad investment.

In one sense, she’s right. If we evaluate creative success by commercial success, then statistically speaking, the battle’s not worth fighting.

But I’d argue the metric is wrong.

To realize our creative potential, we need to reframe our thinking. We can’t control how other people respond to our work. All we can control is our work.

Writer E.B. White at work.

Writer E.B. White at work.

So, what happens when we conceive of being a writer, being a filmmaker, being a creative professional as a commitment to a work ethic?

You’re a writer if you write. You’re a filmmaker if you make films. To be a creative professional is to practice your craft, day in and day out, producing from a place of internal motivation.

We get better at what we spend time doing, and sometimes – when the stars of talent and opportunity align – recognition and material reward follow. They are the byproduct of being a creative professional, not the definition of it.

If we accept this paradigm, a scary thing happens: our philosophical reservations fall away. We’re free to get started. Generally, this is when we find reasons not to: “I’m too busy” – “I just don’t have the time right now” – “I need to prioritize other things.”

Certainly life moves in seasons, but personally, I’ve found that setting aside just two hours each day keeps my creative projects progressing. Carve out the time when and wherever you can! Before breakfast, during lunch, after the family goes to sleep – Stephen King wrote in a laundry room before dinner! “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work,” E.B. White warns, “will die without putting a word on paper.”

If you want to be a writer – if you want to be a filmmaker – then be one. In the immortal words of Yoda: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Not convinced? Perhaps run a little experiment: work on a project for a set amount of time every day for a week. Quantifiable progress isn’t the goal; building the habit is. I suspect you’ll discover that your life will go on, adapting around those sacred pockets of creative time.

Let us know how it goes in the comments below!

 Michael Koehler, with


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