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Do what you love, what you must, what you decide

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by skip.knox, Sep 6, 2018.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    The matter of motivation comes up all the time with artists. I've been thinking about it a fair amount lately. Here's my contribution, which doesn't actually contribute much but which may help frame the question.

    A preface (but not a prologue! <g>): I'm not talking about publishing, marketing, editing, or even planning. I'm talking about the core activity of actually writing and rewriting, and pretty much talking about novels. So.

    Some write because they love it. If you aren't loving it, if it isn't fun, they say, then maybe do something else. These folks often talk about the joy they derive from writing.

    Some write because they need to write. They've tried not writing and, however painful and frustrating writing is, the alternative is worse. Maybe they write as therapy, maybe as compulsion, perhaps even as habit. The key here is that the emotional reward of writing is somewhere between negative to neutral to occasionally rewarding. The rewards and pains of writing are a kind of corollary or side-effect.

    Finally there are those who write because they decide to do so. They're going to go for the best seller. Or, on a smaller scale, they've decided hey I'll try my hand at a mystery. Writing is closer to a career. This sort could also decide not to write and go do something else.

    It strikes me that with each type--writing as joy, as compulsion, as career--the parameters and aims of publishing, marketing, even editing, change. The advice one should listen to changes. The goals one sets change. Writing is not all one thing, and this may lie at the root of a good many disagreements I see spawn in forums, here and elsewhere. We're not all after the same thing, so the paths we take to get there will not be the same.

    I know where I stand. I'm in the compulsion camp. I'm writing because I realized one day--fairly late, when I was in my 50s--that I'd been writing all my life. Huh, I said, being clever that way, it appears I'm a writer. I should get serious about that. I don't get great joy from writing (else, I surely would have noticed somewhere before age 56), and I'm not at all interested in a career in writing. And I absolutely don't know how to stop; the very notion frightens me like the specter of Death.
  2. I write because I love it, because I need to, and because I chose, perhaps subconsciously, that writing would be one of the things I do best. So where does that put me?
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  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    IMO, the love part wins. That is, a person might need to write and yet not love it (see Dorothy Parker's famous quote). The choosing I had in mind is more along the lines of specific works rather than choosing a writing life. It's the people for whom writing is largely a pragmatic choice and if the returns aren't there, they would walk away.

    The person who writes because they love it--this is entirely my own characterization--will fall into despair when they lose the joy. They will often stop writing entirely, for they've been deserted by their Muse. For them, writing is a deeply emotional act. You know the articles that strike this tone--writing must be a kind of spiritual paroxysm, or at least a great deal of fun, or else there's no point in writing at all.

    By their fruits ye shall know them. For the joyful writer, publication and marketing are very much an afterthought, or they may even write and never publish. It doesn't matter because they've already reaped their harvest. This is reversed for the career writer: writing without publishing is utterly pointless, and the publishing had bloody well pay the rent if not bring fame and fortune. The compelled writer will keep writing and even keep publishing even in the face of miniscule sales. In the old days this sort would have kept writing sending stories to agents for decades; they might have succumbed to the suasion of the vanity press. Or, as in my case, have simply kept writing uncompleted stories, scarcely aware of what they were doing or why or how to change it (or believing they weren't good enough and so never bothered to become more disciplined).

    I'm not trying to pigeonhole anyone. Maybe dovecote them. <g>
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  4. As much as I love to write, and as much as I have made it a conscious and deliberate goal of my life to write, I think I am in essence in the compulsion category.

    Because I don't have a choice. I couldn't decide to quit. My self as a writer is the most essential, raw fiber of my being. There is no "me" outside of the one that processes every experience and encounter in her life as preparation for a book. I can't remember what I was before I started telling stories because I have no memory of not doing it. I came out of the womb this way. Maybe gifted. Maybe cursed. Aching, desperate pen in hand.

    Writing is a joyful act but it also brings despair and everything in between...amusement, boredom, fatigue. Because it's everything. It's a life entire of itself and like life it both has joy and pain in it. I love it yet even when i don't I still do it because what am I without it? My dreams form themselves into stories with plots and characters and in my dreams i'm chasing my fantastical visions with a pen and paper trying to get them written down before I wake up. I read like a writer. I cut myself in the shower while shaving and I can only have the phrase "ribbons of blood braiding down" ringing in my head. Not a band aid, just a primal need to get to a notebook before the inspiration vanishes. (That cut formed a scar on my ankle after it healed.) I process the world as a writer.

    It's frustrating, this writing business, most of the time. I haven't been able to stop even though it's frustrating, because the manic, obsessive chemical fire of my brain is consumed with need to have a project. It's so bad that my current WIP was dreamed up the day after i quit my other, a hasty mess of ideas, not ready to be written but compelling me to write them anyway, because i simply can't bear not having something for my mind to work on during its downtime. Not having a story cooking in my brain case. At least the thought is unbearable...I've never been even *able* to quit writing.

    I've wanted to, sure.
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  5. I mean i definitely do love writing, but it's such an intense compulsion that I can't walk away even when I don't. And I definitely begun writing more out of instinct than enjoyment.
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  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I'm withyou, DotA. I very much liked your statement that writing entails the full range of emotions, including the ones that are sort of neutral.
  7. Some days it really is just work. Not unlike weeding the garden or sweeping the floors of scrubbing the mirrors. One word at a time.
  8. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Maester

    I write, possibly out of love of it. Even though I know my writing skills fall into lackluster. And maybe a bit of compulsion. I have a bunch of ideas in my head and I need a way to wring them out and writing them out seems easiest. I can draw, certainly, but it never tells the whole story in one picture (also, not that great at drawing either), so I go with writing. There's world's and characters up there that need out and it's how I can put them out.

    Ever since I was little I'd have a story for every picture I drew. Some of them I can still hazily recall if I see the picture again. Part of the reason I keep my old writings and drawings. I may be able to get something entirely new out of them. I think another part of it is that I just love stories and their tropes and cliches, even if some make me groan. It fascinates me. So, I guess I'm taking two out of the three. Cause, I got a job and a career that get's me by and has it's own stories and wtferies to go with it (Parks & Rec is where it's at) and my writing skills aren't great. I'll keep on writing as long as I'm inspired and can ramble.
  9. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Sage

    I've always written stories, since I could hold my precious pencils and crayons -and ask adults to write the captions I couldn't yet master myself for my pictures. In early childhood, before kindergarten, I did it for the sheer joy of it. When I could draw pictures AND write what I wanted to say for myself, the World shifted. If you count those happy if not bizarre scribbles as short stories, I have produced hundreds of 'books'. My parents had to find a stapler I could use safely all by myself, because of the sheer volume of little books I was crafting. Before long, I was a clandestine office supply raider. 'Good Paper' was rationed, stored far out of my reach. Though, I figured out how to pinch pages from ye olde school dot-matrix printer and the fax machine. Those silly perforated margins were the bain of my existence. The little punched dot strips always managed to expose my secret theivery, no matter how careful I was trying to dispose of the evidence. Looking back, flushing them down the toilet was a doomed idea from the start, as I couldn't hide an overflowed toilet-- nor rationally explain to my parents-- Why the potty was clogged up with those stupid paper strips.

    I would stay up past my bed time to draw and make my little books, anxiously waiting to staple them in the morning. I learned that the operation of a stapler woke sleeping people, so I had to strategize my secret book creation in the late night hours and use daytime binding hours.

    Perhaps then, it could be described as compulsive.
    Maybe even intervention-worthy compulsive.

    Writing was a way, at first, to explain my drawings and the narrative I was trying to tell. When I realized as I grew older that words alone could conjur any idea I wanted to express and the mental imagery I want to share, the Universe revealed itself before me .

    By the end of grade school, I wrote most of my homework assignments to use the vocabulary requirements, but each assignment was a short story. I loved reading at a very early age, but oh how I hated book reports. I'd rather be writing my own stories, not generating reports. If you wanted to know the book, read it. I thought the teacher was too lazy to read the book for themselves at first. By middle school, every vocabulary assignment was a few pages, or a chapter, to a short story. When my Literature teachers understood that I was essentially writing a novella, they encouraged me to write. A lot. So I did.

    They must have phoned ahead to my High School teachers, because they expected me (and only me) to keep crafting stories. If I had writer's block that night, and didn't continue the narrative, I'd get a good grade but also scribbles of discontent that the teacher wanted to know 'what happens next'. I never named these bodies of work formally, and sometimes I would work on more than one narrative at a time. At the end of the school year, my teacher, who kept all of my homework xeroxed, would hand me back my vocabulary 'novels' bound like a manuscript and say, "Now give it a name, and keep writing. Just keep writing". I could never really pick a name, but I did keep writing.

    Now that those days are 'ancient' history I find myself in a weird place in my life where, lacking a full workshop and art production studio, I find myself writing again. It's not compulsive, mind you. It has all the trials and tribulations- and even joy- that other creative endeavors give. I'm not too self-critical nor under-motivated. I don't get depressed or admonish myself for *not* physically writing. I'm thinking about my story day to day most days...though it might be days or weeks before I have time to jot pen to paper. I even have more than one story going at a time. Old habits die hard I guess. Dot-matrix printing is dead, and I can use all the "good paper" I want. Little me would be very pleased by this unexpected turn of events.

    It just seems like my creative energies have shifted back to storytelling. Maybe, it never left me. Earlier in my life I had so much external encouragement and enthusiasm, and even powerful constructive criticism from my teachers. Do I have an audience now? Nope. It certainly isn't a requirement for a grade, yet I still find myself carrying notebooks and digital voice recorders to keep writing- Keep thinking about my story. Perhaps that is contentment. I will say that my illustrations/art are seperate from my writing these days. Then, there is the overwhelming temptation of producing graphic novels...

    Do I think about publishing? Yes. But, it is still a light at the end of another tunnel far from the one I am currently in. There's still too much wandering to do before I pick that path. Could I make a career of it? Possibly. The odds are already stacked against your success in spite of any undertaking at hand. Most of the time, commercial success is luck. And the word 'career' is mostly meaningless to me. It's difficult to make a living doing "any one thing" these days, ( at least in the U.S. ) so I fail to see this serious hobby as a waste of time. Would I love and appreciate commercial success? In a heartbeat. But, my life and ego will not be destroyed should I "fail". That comes from the visual artist side of me. Seven years of critical peer review and brutal formal critiques makes you grow, and let some of the really unhelpful negatives... truly slide.

    I have gone years without writing. But, the 'thinking' part never really stops. Perhaps all that thinking led to something I actually want to write about now? I think in my lifetime, I've experienced the highest highs and some really low points, and writing has stuck with me.
  10. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    For me it began as an extension of myself as a designer. I began with maps, then my imagination got carried away and I flushed out those maps and ended up with worlds on my hands. I joined MS at that point, wanting to improve myself and having always been a forumgoer as a kid. Before long I realised, like you Skip, that I’d always enjoyed reading and writing, I’d just never given them much time since junior school. In the short time I’ve really been knuckling down with my WIP I’ve only had good times with it bar not having the time.

    I’m already itching to finish and flesh out more ideas which I’m being careful to ignore as I’ve had that fickle nature with many a hobby. The issue I have with most things is a part of me does want to know it’s going somewhere. Same with relationships, design, gaming etc. With writing, having listened to thousands of podcasts by professional writers, I very much like where it could go, so I really want to stick at this.

    So I guess it’s a blend of my natural design passion, knowledge that I can do it and will to succeed that pushes me on.
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  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    If writing in its most general sense were the topic, I'd say I have a compulsion. Been doing it since very young. I remember in fourth grade, aged around 10, I wrote an essay on all the various emotions and feelings a person has, what they really signify, and my teacher was blown away by it. That's how I remember it, anyway.

    The sort of essay type of writing is something I've done during long periods of my life. At some point, poetry joined that mix. Occasionally, although rarely, fiction joined the mixed. A short story or two, as a class assignment.

    In junior high school and early high school, I tried my hand at creating fictional maps and building fantasy worlds and could lose myself in doing that for months. This was an offshoot of my interest in reading fantasy, playing D&D and various other RPG types of games, etc. I even began a novel and managed one very long chapter.

    Eventually, however, mostly I was writing poetry and, later, a swarm of blog posts. The blog posts were basically a journal-type of essay; the blogs weren't the sort of slick, professional, very conscientious sort we see mostly nowadays, although sometimes an entry would receive that kind of special attention.

    So, writing in general has always been a compulsion. I do wonder about the split between compulsion and love in this discussion, however, since satisfying a compulsion can be very enjoyable.

    If we are talking fiction and novels, I'd say I'm currently at "choice." It's simply not the sort of writing that I find simplest and most enjoyable—yet. I have hope, but I'm waiting to see whether my hope is misplaced. The choice is for two basic reasons.

    First, speaking of love again, I've come to realize after 40+ years that I simply don't love anything else, i.e. any other sort of career. Sure, I can enjoy doing other things, but not for extended periods of months and years, trapped in a cycle of need (bills) and responsibility. So this is a negative case of the "love" motive. When everything else becomes tedious, definitely not loved, writing fiction doesn't seem so arduous in comparison, heh.

    Second, as I age and review the somewhat ad hoc approach to life I've followed for decades, I've come to realize that I don't have a solid retirement plan. With the growth of opportunity for self-publishing...well. Maybe this can be my retirement plan or at least part of it, a supplement. There were times when I was much younger when I imagined myself as an author, so — perhaps? Combined with the first reason, this approach doesn't seem too ridiculous to attempt.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2018
  12. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team


    For me, writing is like getting a root canal. It hurts and it is uncomfortable and there is not too much about it that is enjoyable...

    But the thing is, if I don't write, then the ideas just fester in my brain, like a rotten nerve. They get more and more sensitive, and painful, and irritating, and so I just HAVE to write them down. After I am done with the uncomfortable business of writing them down I find I have this rotten, black, broken tooth/idea in my palm, and some masochistic part of me likes to polish it up and make it shiny and put it on display.

    And I feel better. Until the next idea starts to fester....
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  13. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I find myself going in circles typing out a response to this question. I want to say that it's all three, or that it's my calling, or that I feel an obligation to do the most with what I think my abilities are. But none of that sits right when I start to type it out. It feels presumptuous and a little crazy, and also like I'm trying too hard to outsmart the question.

    I should probably cut that paragraph, but I'm going to keep it. I think I'll go with compulsion because there are too many times where I dwell on my stories when I should probably be focused on something else.
  14. Is "spite" a fourth option?

    Because I just read a book that was so damn bad...
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  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I'd put that in the choice column. I've heard a fair number of people say they were writing because they'd decided they could do better, or at least as well.

    I know you were kidding around. But your post makes me think of another good thread topic: why this stunk.

    Seriously, it would be a worthwhile exercise to take apart a book that was genuinely bad to identify what was done badly. Alas, I doubt we could do it without naming names, which wouldn't be appropriate.

    The ones I struggle with are the ones that weren't really bad, but were forgettable. I can see the author trying. I can see good passages or a clever idea, but the book overall just did not succeed. Certainly not in the the way any author would hope. What characterizes the "also ran" book? Damnifiknow.
  16. Only half kidding around.

    When I'm feeling low, thinking of all the garbage books I have read is the only thing that puts life in my limbs. I can't muster real joy, or passion, but just the bitter anger I feel at the inadequacy of the vast majority of published books gives me vigor. I'll do better, because I can and because I have to.

    I guess that sounds kind of depressing, but I follow a lot of series I hate too closely. Motivation. I want to spite them and that's what keeps me going when none of the other stuff does.
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  17. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    Oh, boy. How I love to write!

    Writing books for a living is all I've ever wanted to do since age 9. The very act of writing--weaving prose and story together--actually gives me a high. Don't get me wrong, some days it's really hard but for the most part I find great pleasure in writing. It's why I do it so much. I write first thing in the morning, in the afternoon, and sometimes late into the night. I have a detailed publishing schedule for the end of this year spanning well into 2019 (so help me God!). Writing stories is what I do best and the activity I connect with the most. I cannot imagine my life without it, ever. So long as there is breath in my body I'll continue doing it, creating characters and intricate stories and interesting worlds that explore thematic questions that linger in the depths of my soul. No one in my life understands why I do this. My family, with the exception of my husband, thinks it's just a waste of time. They are slowly changing their opinion now that I am making some money. I guess money is all that matters as proof that something is important but whatever.

    Am I compulsive? Nah. Do I need to? YES.
  18. ^Yay! It's nice to learn that someone else writes with the same passion. :D:D
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  19. Yora

    Yora Sage

    When I am looking at the vast space of fantasy and adventure stories and the countless aspects and elements that make it up, I feel like I have discovered an absolutely amazing blend that is just completely, pardon the pun, fantastic. And when I look around for books that combine these elements in just that way, I never can find any!
    So if I want it in my life, I have to be the creator. And when I make it, there's really no reason not to share it. Because I think it's the greatest thing ever and that lots of people should agree with me. The commercial never really touched on it in my mind. The important part is to share it and putting it online for free seems to be the simplest way. I never wanted to be a professional artist. Once your work provides your income, you have to keep creating whether you want to or not. If you get really rich and can retire on your savings it's a different story, but how many writers have that ever happen to them? No idea is ever that great that you can rely on becoming a huge hit.
  20. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    >The important part is to share it
    Same here, but the only way to get a significant number of people (say, in the several hundreds) to see it is to go the commercial route. When you say the free route, YoraYora, do you mean WattPad and its kin?

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