Spite can be a powerful motivator. I can think of a huge number of things I’ve done just to prove people wrong, and I can think of times spread across my entire life that it has motivated me to act when I otherwise might not have. It is growing less and less frequent, though, as time passes. Spite burns brightly, but it burns quickly as well. Spite can be used to alleviate exhaustion from burnout, but it generally leaves me feeling worse once I’ve burned through it. These days, I’m pretty much out of everything I used to burn as the fuel that drove my work. I get by on discipline and inertia, but nothing has really stepped up to take the place of the hope I once felt.
Most of the time, these days, I try to focus on my own enjoyment rather than something created as a response to the world around me. If I can tie the source of my drive to the things I want to accomplish, I don’t have to worry about burnout as much. The simple act of making something, of doing something, provides everything I need to push myself to do it. Unfortunately, that only works on stuff I actually want to do. I can write, create, run tabletop games, play games, and tell stories in their various forms without needing to worry about my energy levels, but I don’t enjoy cleaning my apartment or filing my taxes. I don’t enjoy most things, to be honest. I don’t hate them either, I just feel pretty neutral about them.
If I could burn exhaustion or the feeling I get when I see something that makes me think “I’m too tired for this,” then I wouldn’t need to worry. All I would need to do is browse the internet for five minutes and I’d find enough of that feeling to make me change my entire life. An hour and I’d be able to change the world. I would be unstoppable. Instead, the only benefit I get from those feelings is when I can find the patterns and use them to indicate that something in my life needs to change. I wrote a whole poem about this idea, but it’s something I think about constantly.
Most of the time, though, the things I create tend to take on a sense of what I used to make them. If I’m working on something out of spite, it often feels angry. If I’m working on something out of stubbornness, it often feels inflexible and recalcitrant. If I work on something because I’m tired and decide that there’s no saving today so I might as well just push through whatever I’m feeling in order to make something, it often feels disorganized and messy. I am not proud of everything I’ve made while joyful about doing the work (or while exercising discipline rather than fueling myself with an emotion), but I’m not ashamed or embarrassed by any of it. Which is more than I can say about the stuff I made while fueled by those other things.
I wish I could say that a balance of discipline and general enjoyment of the act of creation was enough to fuel my passion, but I think it’s more exact to say that it is enough to prevent my passion from burning entirely out. I’ve been feeling burned out for six or seven of the last eight and a half years. I haven’t had a chance to figure out how to undo this feeling in all that time, let alone actually work on undoing it. Every time I get close, something happens that knocks me back to zero. I don’t know if I just need a proper vacation or if I really need an escape from the constant stress of living on the lower end of an abusive capitalist system. Honestly, they’re both so tied together I don’t know if there’s a difference and I’m pretty unlikely to get either of them at this point.
I miss the days when I felt so impassioned by my work that I could stay up all night and spend eight to twelve hours a day writing. I like to think of how much I could accomplish if I could combine the passion of years past with the discipline and skill of today. It is not lost on me than I can now produce in less than an hour what it used to take multiple hours to produce. I can do a whole blog post in fifteen to thirty minutes and it used to take two hours of editing and thinking and working to get them done. Last NaNoWriMo, I could get an entire day’s allotment of words done in less than hour and my average for the entire month was about an hour a day, whereas years past would require a couple hours or more to write the same amount. I think that’s a fair trade, skill and precision for glorious passion, but I can’t help but wonder what I might be capable of if I was able to fully address my burnout.