Monday, April 30, 2018

The "M" Word


So we’ve addresses the question about making time to write, and we’ve talked about mustering up the energy to write. We’ve also brought up how these are critical factors in developing “the process.” But now we’ve reached the important part – that big matzoh ball in front of us that can’t be avoided. No, the “M” word is not matzoh. It’s motivation.

As I discussed in the premier post in this blog, my initial motivation for writing was to make my stories heard. To insure they didn’t die with me. That’s an easy motivator – probably too easy to help anyone who is healthy. But that is also the problem. My health is fine now, yet I still write. My motivator has changed, and I am changing with it. What motivates us to write rarely stays the same. It will shift around over time, it will hide itself now and then, and sometimes it will present itself in the strangest shapes. And these are all good signs that we are growing as writers.

In the previous discussions about finding time and energy, the pivotal question was “How?” With motivation, the question is, “Why?” And this is the question we have to ask ourselves not just when we start writing, but as we develop our process, as we change projects, as we discover new parts of our writing voice. And sometimes, a part of our adventure is when we can’t quite answer the simple question of, “Why?”

By the time we are full-fledged, card-carrying, secret-handshake-knowing writers, whenever we wonder why we should write something, the answer will be as simple as, “Why not?” But until we reach those lofty heights, that question will be a tough one to face. And while it might not feel as satisfying, sometimes the best way to figure out why we are writing something is to say, “Let’s find out.”

I once had this image in my head that I wanted to write about. It was a teenager driving over 100 m.p.h. down a country road in the dead of night, flying through every intersection, blowing through every sign, then coming over a hill to see a cow loose from the barn standing in the middle of the road right in front of him. I wanted to write about it, but I didn’t know what the story was. Aside from that bare-bones idea, I had nothing to follow up. If there was an accident, who cared? Where’s the story? Is it a story? Is my subconscious just mad at cows? Who knew? All I knew is that this image was stuck in the chamber, and I had no idea what it was.

Since I didn’t know the motivation to write about it, the “why” was unanswered. So I said, “Let’s find out.”

As I typed up this non-story, I got a feel for who it was behind the wheel. The mere act of typing up the incident allowed other ideas to gravitate toward it, coming together like those last few Cheerios floating aimlessly in the milk. I started seeing the character’s motive. I sensed how this could become a story. And most importantly, I identified it with a friend of mine who did similarly crazy things back in his teen years. That person shall remain anonymous, but he is now an upstanding citizen and generous contributor to society. The fact that the first car he drove after getting his driver’s license was a stolen cop car is neither here nor there.

So what was my motivation? My only motivation was to find out why this thought was buzzing around my mind. That might not sound like much, but it got me to write a rough draft of a story that might go into a forthcoming novel (forthcoming = next 5-10 years). If you want, you can read the draft, tentatively called, “Lessons of Our Youth,” which is about someone who – and I cannot emphasize this enough – is not named Matt in real life.

Searching for motivation can be a difficult part of the process, but sometimes it is the least necessary. If you give yourself permission to write things that might not be your best work, then you take the pressure off and no longer require the perfect motivation to write whatever you feel. Your motivation can then be as simple as, “I want to see where this goes.” And as it takes you to wherever, hopefully you learn a little something about yourself along the way.

6 comments:

  1. I like your idea of beginning the writing process and let the why (and motivation) come on it's own. As a writer who believes that everything that I put on paper should be profound, concise, and interesting, my motivation is often squashed by need for perfectionism.

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    1. Save the perfection for the final draft. If the first draft doesn't work, you can save yourself a lot of time by shelving it

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  2. I'm all about little victories. I set a daily word count and shoot for finishing a scene. If I can achieve both or at least one of those things I've moved forward in the plot. I feel that having an ultimate word count goal is important too. I shoot for 60 grand but I write short books.

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    1. The step-by-step process makes it so much easier than just saying, "I will now write a book. Here we go..." Of course, even with the stepwise approach, I check in now and then and ask myself, "I have added words, but have I advanced the narrative or have I just killed space." If it's the latter, time to examine where I am going.

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