On Motivation

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The Daily Writer by Fred White

What drives us writers to devote countless hours, arduous more than easy-going, to fashioning stories and essays and poems? Some of the motives for doing so are noble: Rebecca West said she wrote books in order to find out about things. In other words, regardless of how much you knew about your subject beforehand, writing a book about it will soon make you realize how relatively little you actually knew. Other motives include wanting to heighten awareness about the dangers of falling victim to one’s compulsions, such gambling or drinking excessively or losing one’s temper too easily.

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On the other hand, one needn’t be Sigmund Freud to realize that motives for writing may also be ignoble. Maybe you’ve been treated unjustly just one time too many and see writing as a way of meting out revenge. Maybe you hate your day job and long to write books that will make you financially self-sufficient, free to travel the world, sleep until noon. Does it really matter what motives us, so long as we get the writing done? Maybe not, but it can be useful to think about the energies (demons?) that make us do what we do; facing them might even help us overcome psychological obstacles.

Gaining insight into what motivates you to become successful may help you better understand how to strengthen or adapt those motives. Do you write in order to show how helping others will likelier lead to greater happiness than exploiting others? If so, then you may suddenly realize that you must learn more about the lives of missionaries, homeless-shelter volunteers and the like and compare them to the loan sharks and embezzlers.

Begin a journal entry with the words: “The REAL reason I want to be a writer is as follows” Try to give specific reasons (e.g., “I want to create a witty, shrewd, tough-yet-sensitive series of private detective novels like Robert Parker’s Spenser series”) and try to be as honest with yourself as you can.