Motivation: what makes writing fun and writers proud of themselves

Let’s talk about rejection and motivation and why we’re doing this writing gig. What motivates us?

And what maybe should be motivating us instead?

pablo (4).png

Because I’ve been writing a while now. Writing and querying and hoping. And getting a whole heap of (encouraging) rejections.

But… nonetheless… they’re still rejections.

I signed up to NaNoWriMo again this year. NaNoWriMo rocks. But – I’ll just come out and say it – my NaNoWriMo 2018 sucked. Badly. It sucked even before I got knocked down by the flu and had to completely stop to recover.

So… why did writing – one of my favourite things – suddenly suck?

Real talk here, people… it sucked because I was forcing the story

Whoever says that writing isn’t fun and you’ve got to push through the hard bits is talking a language I don’t understand. Kudos to them, but I’ve had an epiphany about how I write. And it ain’t about dragging a story out kicking and screaming, while simultaneously bashing my head against the keyboard.

Why was I doing it?

I was forcing the story because I felt I needed a fresh MS to show publishers I was serious about writing

But, hang on… didn’t I start writing because I loved it? Because there were stories in my head that just wouldn’t rest until I’d got them on paper? Because of the joy I felt when I made those characters and their worlds real?

When did the need to be published come into things?

Forcing a story wasn’t fun. And the story I was forcing was never going to impress a publisher because it lacked the vibrancy, cohesiveness and joy of something I write when I’m inspired.

What was I thinking?

I felt I needed to show publishers I was serious because I felt I had to be published to validate my writing

Pardon? Excuse me?

Wasn’t I the one who said I could be spending my time cross-stitching (hey, and often do!) so why not spend it writing because I enjoy it? And if it happens to earn me money as well, whoo hoo? Wasn’t that me?

What happened to Past Me?

Past Me got sucked into the evil trap of needing extrinsic motivation

When I figured this out, I was shocked. It came to me while writing a monologue of why I didn’t want to write anymore. For which I wrote far more words with more power and resonance than the total dung-bowl I’d been trying to vomit up the day before.

I don’t do extrinsic motivation. It’s not my thing.

How had it creepily taken me over?

pablo (3).pngSo, wait up a bit… what is extrinsic motivation?

Yep, I hear you.

Extrinsic motivation is where you’re doing something in the hope that something or someone outside of yourself will reward you for it. And, as a teacher, I can tell you extrinsic motivation is the weakest and most dangerous of the motivations. Because it’s outside of your control.

On the other side of the motivation spectrum is the cute and fluffy intrinsic motivation – where you’re doing something for its own reward.

So, how are they different?

Let’s try some examples:

If you’re at school and your teacher isn’t offering a chocolate/sticker/pencil for the best workers…

  • Extrinsic motivation says give ’em hell. There’s no way you’re working for nothing here.
  • Intrinsic motivation says you’re working to learn and you want to be proud of who you see in the mirror.

If you work your butt off and still fail your exam…

  • Extrinsic motivation tells you you stink.
  • Intrinsic motivation is so proud of you for the effort you put in and points out how you understand the concepts so much better now, and you give yourself a high-five and hold your head up high.

If you’re looking to buy a jacket/watch/house/car, anything really…

  • Extrinsic motivation is totally telling you to get the biggest, most modern and most expensive one out there so your friends will see it and think you’re fabulous and rich. When in actual fact you’re in debt up to your eyelashes. But no one needs to find that out.
  • Intrinsic motivation, however, tells you to just get what you need, get out of debt quickly and who gives a flying fart what others think because you’ll know the truth and your opinion is the one that really matters to you.

Get the difference?

So… if you write a story and you love it and it makes you deliriously happy, but no one wants to publish it…

  • Extrinsic motivation tells you you’re a useless writer and all your writer friends must be laughing at you and your book is dog turd. It tells you to get back on your computer – and write something decent this time buddy – because the situation is desperate. You HAVE TO be validated.
  • Whereas sweet, loving intrinsic motivation says the writing was a reward in itself. If it makes you happy, and you’ve got it to the point you can’t see anything you need to change, then that is what counts. You did your best. Be proud.

But what if your story is published?

Oh, and now this is the scary bit I recently realised. Once you reach the goal of getting published (hey – whoo hoo!), suddenly the goalposts can shift and you end up worried about selling enough copies, or getting high up on some list, or receiving an award.

Because if that happens, you’ll know your book was good…

News flash! Your book is awesome!! And you’re awesome, because you wrote it! Why do we put so many stresses on ourselves?

Whippee to me! I’m back in the intrinsic zone!

Oh, the relief. I’ve no idea how I slipped into that dark and murky land of desperately thinking I needed to be published. But I’m out of it now.

I’m reading heaps of cool books and not feeling guilty for not writing.

The stories are still popping into my head, but I’m not trying to force them out before they’ve matured. They’ll come when they’re ready. And then I’ll write them down and buzz around on a literary high for months.

One day, someone might even publish them. But I’ve remembered that that’s not why I write them.

I write because I love to write. And that’s what matters.


What about you? What motivates you to write?

Have you ever had a head-clanging writing epiphany like me?

4 thoughts on “Motivation: what makes writing fun and writers proud of themselves

  1. There’s an old saying in running. Run until you get tired, then walk until you get bored.

    I respect waiting for thoughts to crystallize into words. I am waiting for several chapters of thoughts to do just that. But a deadline throws a spanner into the works. Somehow, someway, we must push on to productivity, even with motivation lacking.

    Articles or books for others must be finished on a schedule not usually set by us. Write. Write regardless, even if it is a small amount each day. Failing that, take time off for reading and research you’ll need for your writing. Some days, without planning on it, a large amount of writing will get done. But whatever the mood, get on with it. Keep running.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Giving up on writing… – N.L.King, Author

  3. Pingback: Five lessons I’ve learnt on the path to my debut: ‘The Lost Stone of SkyCity’ | hm waugh – author

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