Feeling stuck? Define your values.

Recently, I was speaking with a writer who described feeling stuck. They were in a rut, believing in the work they do, but just demotivated on a day-to-day basis. This conversation resonated with me for many reasons. If you are a writer or creator who sometimes wonders:

  1. Am I in burnout?
  2. It feels like I’m in a rut. Why?!?!
  3. Maybe I need to stop everything, what I’ve been working on just doesn’t feel right anymore.
  4. Maybe I’m simply a failure.
  5. Do I need to do a radical pivot to something new?

… then I want to share a simple but deep exercise for how I have tried to navigate these questions myself, and with many writers I’ve worked with over the years. It’s this: define your values.

Why? Because I want you to feel good about creating, and good about sharing. The work I do is all about helping writers share their work so that it truly connects with readers. When you have clarity in your values, that helps you get unstuck and to fully embrace what it means to create and share.

Defining your values can help you decide big decisions, but also the nuances of what it means to share what you create: what channel you should share on, how to feel a sense of true purpose and motivation in engaging with your audience, or the best way to launch your book.

Okay, let’s dig into the process step-by-step.

What Are “Values” If You Are a Writer?

In short, your values are why you do what you do. They are the underlying driving force that helps unpack:

  1. Why you create
  2. What you create
  3. The impact you hope is has on your life or in the lives of others.

If you have followed my work for a while, you may remember that I have a process called Clarity Cards, which helps define priorities in your daily life. You can download the entire system here.

Values may be a more foundational level before that. When I’m working with a writer, helping them share their work with readers, the most precious resource is that writer’s motivation. For them to feel that this work resonates with them, will lead to important goals/outcomes, and will create something good in the world. That motivation is a direct tie-in to their values.

So what do these values look like? Are they just simple motivational sentences such as:

  • “Books are good”
  • “Be nice to people”
  • “Puppies are cute”

I think the values I’m focused on tend to go deeper. A question that has always resonated with me is this: What hill will you die on? I’ve used this question many times over the years to define where I want to put my time and energy. Because doing so puts other things at risk.

For instance, a few years back a movie theater that had existed in our town for decades was threatened with being torn down. I got very involved in the research phase of understanding what was happening. Then I paused, and asked, “Do I want to get active in fighting this? Is this a hill I will die on?”

That had me ask difficult questions of myself, like: why hadn’t I done anything to preserve the theater when it had a big “for sale” sign on it for a year and a half prior? I had to confront the nuances of the issue beyond “old things should be saved,” such as questions around private ownership of property, and the difficult financial realities of the viability of the movie theater business.

In the end, I decided, “saving this movie theater isn’t a hill I want to die on.” I didn’t want to spend years fighting with neighbors and being away from my family while I attended meetings. Instead, I documented the demise of the theater, and let it be. You can read about this in two posts I wrote: one which shares the theater before destruction, and the other while being destroyed.

What did letting the movie theater go allow for me? To show up more fully with my family. To show up more fully with the writers I work with. To show up more fully for my mental and physical health. To show up more fully for my creative work.

For what you create and share, your values should not only feel authentic to why you create, but help give you direction for where to put your time and energy.

Recently I have been brainstorming new resources that I can provide to writers and creators to help them share their work more effectively. The list was a bit overwhelming, and had me falling down lots of different rabbit holes that looked good on paper, but sometimes left me with a sense of unease. For months, I explored new ideas, and discussed them with Jennie Nash, who I chat with every week. She challenged me to dig deeper and look at my values before I moved ahead with any specific idea. That process really opened things up.

Your Values Should Feel Refreshing (and a Little Scary)

Revisiting my values walked a fascinating line between refreshing and scary. On the one hand, everything I wrote felt totally refreshing to see on paper. On the other hand, it felt scary to write with total transparency. They center on how I spend my days, helping writers share their work. In many ways, this still feels like a draft, a work in progress, but here are the values I wrote down:

  1. Everyone can create.
  2. Sharing what you create changes your life, and the lives of others, for the better.
  3. We share not just for surface-level goals (sales, reviews, awards, followers), but for deeper purposes.
  4. Creative work is complete when it is shared.
  5. Sharing develops a body of work over time, and that helps you forge an identity outside of other roles that define you in life (at home and professionally).
  6. Fulfillment as a writer is often about the experience of feeling like a writer.
  7. Sharing creative work connects people in powerful ways.
  8. I believe in doubling-down on your creative intention.
  9. Distractions that involve research (which oftentimes feels logical and smart) can sometimes get in the way of progress.
  10. Information alone may not always move people forward. Sometimes they need collaboration, hands-on help, or other social dynamics to help them take action.
  11. Sharing is a craft. One you can get better at in nuanced ways over time.
  12. Sharing is work.

I’m not going to lie, as I write this essay and see these written down, I feel that duality between: “It’s so refreshing to see this written out and share it!” along with “It feels scary to share this. Maybe it’s too much, too transparent, or will be misunderstood.”

Which I think is how you know your values matter to you. They should feel refreshing and scary.

How to Define Your Values

Of course, this process can start with an open-ended brainstorm, where you write down why you create, what you create, and the impact you hope is has in your life or in the lives of others.

That list may be very long. I tend to find a shorter list of 5 to 15 values can be the most useful. Why? Ideally, your values should be directional. They should lead you in some manner. They should help you make decisions, or give you clarity when determining directions you want to go in, or the style in which to do so.

Of course, your values should explain what you are deeply for, or deeply against. You should read them and just feel that they resonate deep inside of you. And as I mentioned before, if they scare you a little bit, that is a good thing.

Your values should be a list of statements that are concise enough that you don’t trip over them, but clear enough that they feel specific and honest. You never have to share this list with anyone. I will admit, it felt scary to share my list above.

How to Use Your Values to Find Direction/Motivation

For me, my values don’t just live in some random document as an inspirational reminder. I want to put them to work to help me make clear decisions that resonate about what I create and how I can share that most effectively. So I added them to… (please don’t hate me for using this word…) a spreadsheet. Yep. It’s the same spreadsheet where I plan out what big projects I’m developing, as well as what I share on a day-to-day basis on social media.

Do you need to use a spreadsheet? Nope. You can express your values however you see fit. Maybe you want to paint them on your wall with bold colors. Or hang them on the wall next to your computer. Whatever you choose, the final form of your values should be used as a tool to help you make decisions and feel that you are creating and sharing with authenticity. They should help motivate you, leading you towards experiences you want, and away from experiences you don’t want.

Values give you PERMISSION to create and share with enthusiasm. To dive deep. To do what speaks to your heart and what may matter deeply to others.

I’ve written about values before in these posts, among others:

If you ever want to learn more about my process of how to share your work, check out my Creative Success Pyramid, and how I work with writers.