Guest Blogger: Amy Atwell

amyatwellGoals, Motivation and the Conflicted Writer

Thanks to the ladies here at Magical Musings for inviting me to share my thoughts on the writing life. I have to admit to being a little intimidated by the many great musings that have been previously posted. At the same time, I’m encouraged by the support and sharing of ideas that happens here.

I first met Edie and Michelle through my Writing GIAM group. Back in 2004, I had a goal of completing a manuscript for the Golden Heart entry deadline, and I asked other RWA PROs to join me on a special Goal-in-a-Month writing loop. A dozen or so people joined, and the idea worked so well for us that we decided to keep the loop going. By last year, I started a second GIAM loop (GIAMx2). Between these two loops and a goals loop I run for my online RWA chapter, over 100 writers are involved with GIAM.

So, it’ll be no surprise if I want to talk about writing goals. But I also want to muse about what motivates us as writers. Each of us must have something strong and deep within our core that allows us to confront and overcome the many obstacles we face when writing. It centers us, and while we may stray from our writing for a time, it always brings us back.

I embarked on a quest of self-discovery to learn what was at the heart of my desire to write and some of my recent conflicts with accomplishing that writing. Ironically, I used many of the same techniques I use for developing characters. Now, I’m sure many of you have agonized over developing strong Goals, Motivation and Conflict for your latest characters. But how many of you have done the same for your Writer-Self?

Thought so.

You better pull out a piece of paper. Maybe a notepad. And a pen, or a pencil if you prefer to erase instead of scribbling out. There aren’t any wrong answers, but your Writer-Self is bound to tell you a lot of what you think you want to hear before you finally extract the pearl of truth from it. Ready?

Question 1: What is your Writer-Self’s GOAL? This is the big picture, that long-term goal you’ve been striving to reach. Maybe it’s to complete your first manuscript. Maybe it’s to get your manuscript published. Maybe it’s to see your name on the bestseller list. My Writer-Self said, “I want to be published by a mainstream print publisher in romantic or women’s fiction and have my book(s) available for purchase in bookstores and have the recognition due to a known and respected author.” Actually, my Writer-Self (W-S) blathered a lot more, but I edited for brevity here. Note there are still two “ands” linking three elements of the GOAL. That’s all right–try to get your W-S to tell you everything it wants.

Question 2: When you achieve that GOAL, will your W-S be satisfied? This is important, because in most aspects of our lives, once we achieve a goal, we feel a sense of success that brings us happiness and fulfillment. I’ve come to realize that even well-established authors may experience a butterfly kiss of success, but long-lasting happiness and fulfillment eludes them as they press on toward the next deadline.

When asked Question #2, my W-S answered, “I don’t know.”

Me, eyebrows raised: “You’re having me do all this writing when you don’t know if achieving publication will bring me happiness and fulfillment?”

W-S: “Why should you have to be published to be happy and fulfilled?”

Me: (silence) Frankly, I was dumbstruck by this notion.

But the more I thought about it, the more I recognized my W-S as very Wise and Sane. So many writers agonize over published vs unpublished that it eats away any joy they derive from the writing itself. Somewhere along the line, I’d let the goal of achieving publication (and all those other “ands”) become more important than the writing itself. All the writing, the contest entries, the judging, the queries, the submissions—I celebrated fleeting success as I felt these were all steps toward my goal, but none of it made me satisfied.

Which led me to Question #3.

Question 3: What MOTIVATES you to pursue this GOAL? In my case, I was curious why my W-S would undertake this odyssey of attempting publication with all its trappings when there’s no guarantee of success?

To find my answer, I moved backwards. I believe a person’s motivations are often driven by their core values. So I looked within and asked what things made me happy, gave me a sense of completion. Some immediate ideas were:

    Being needed
    Being a valued member of the community
    Creative freedom
    Autonomy
    A sense of control
    Problem-Solving

I immediately perceived how my writing could feed each of these motivations. Developing a story is filled with problem-solving issues. Writing is something I do for me, so it gives me freedom, autonomy and yet I have complete control over the manuscript. (Except when some hero or heroine derails all my plans, but that’s another blog.) And for me, the community is always an important element to my stories, so I found it interesting to realize it was one of my primary motivations. I’m not that involved in my local community.

But I have built a strong network with other talented writers who make me feel valued within the writing community. Sometimes, they even need me. Go back to my original goal—within my writing community I feel I’ve achieved a certain level of recognition and respect.

So, if writing fed these motivations and made me happy, why had I started to drag my heels? Why had it become such a chore to show up at the keyboard?

Question #4: Do any of your MOTIVATIONS CONFLICT with any elements of your GOAL?

Remember my W-S’s original goal statement? “I want to be published by a mainstream print publisher in romantic or women’s fiction and have my book(s) available for purchase in bookstores and have the recognition due to a known and respected author.”

Funny, the first two parts of that goal aren’t really in my control. And the publishing community can be a pretty scary neighborhood filled with rejections that can quickly trample one’s hopes. And now that I have personal friends who are breaking into print publishing, I’m getting an inside look at how an author must navigate those turbulent rivers of creative freedom (and final publication), autonomy (and final publication) and control (and final publication).

And there it was—the answer to why I was so conflicted about writing lately. Somewhere along the line, I’d lost sight of writing the story I wanted to write and focused only on publication. After all, I’d written three manuscripts—surely one of them was ready to be published. (Maybe, maybe not.) But the more I prioritized publication, the further I strayed from my motivations and the less fulfilled I felt about my writing overall.

Bottom line: I feel the exercise helped me, and I encourage other writers to try it. Cast yourself as the heroine of your own life story. You have this dream, this goal, but peel back some layers and look for what motivates you. If you’re a conflicted writer (like me), this may help pinpoint some of those mental blocks.

As for me, I intend to continue pursuing publication. But I’ll also do some writing just for me and spend more time in my online writing community. The pursuit of happiness shouldn’t be a distant goal, but a part of daily life.

Amy Atwell
www.amyatwell.com

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19 Responses to Guest Blogger: Amy Atwell

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    Amy, you are so right that although publication is my goal, I’m getting fulfillment out of being a member of the writing community. Several writing communites. A big part of it is that these are creative people who think the way I do. They talk about things that interest me. They get me, and I get them. Until I read your post, I hadn’t realized how much this means to me.

    I knew your blog would be awesome, and I was right. 🙂

  2. Liz L. says:

    Welcome back to the land of living, Amy. Great blog.

    I so want to see my name in print, more for validation as an author than for my own personal satisfaction. As it gets closer for me, I’ve been giving some thought to what it will mean.

    I retired from a very active career before I seriously committed to writing. Do I really want the time commitment of deadlines, marketing, etc when I sell? (Notice the when, not the if!!)

    After reading your thought-provoking blog and being truthful with the questions, the answer is a resounding yes. I want it all. I want to write until they put me six feet under. With or without the “so-called” validation that I equate with a publishing contract.

    Like you, I am on many writing loops and have made some awesome friends who “get” it. Without the cameraderie, this would be a lonely ride.

    Thanks for all you do.

  3. Michelle says:

    Amy, you can hold your head up proudly along with all the other fabulous guest bloggers we’ve had. This was an amazing blog.

    I know writing is the first joy for me, getting published would be a wonderful addition to that. However, I would not put in the hours I do, and make the same sacrifices, if I wasn’t writing with publication in mind. But I would still write.

    The only fiction writers I know, I’ve met through the wonderful online community I discovered when I joined RWA. Interacting with like-minded friends is definitely part of my happiness.

  4. Amy, this looks like a blog that I’ll need to devote some concentration. I’ll be back! (By the way, MM ladies, this blog is very timely in my life right now. Big smooches to you all for always being so supportive!)

  5. Amy Atwell says:

    For Edie–re: the writing community:

    It’s true that finding the right “writing tribe” can make a world of difference. Back in my theater days, I worked with a woman who firmly believed that even in this modern era, humans had an instinctive need to form tribes. A couple hundred years ago, you were born into a tribe or community based on geography, and you pretty much remained within that community your whole life. But now people are more mobile, so geography plays less and less a part. We seek groups of like-minded people, people who “get” us, who appreciate our goals.

    I thought my desire to write was pretty weird until I finally found other writers on the internet. Then I found my first critique partner, RWA, PRO and slowly started to form deeper connections with individuals. Without them, I never would have finished my first ms, much less three.

    Like you, I hadn’t realized *how* important these relationships were until recently when I looked at all I was doing and tried to figure out where I could pare back. I cut back on my work hours, but adamantly refused to give up my goals loops. I’ve cut back on my participation on those loops some, but I think the less I participate, the less I feel driven to write.

  6. Amy Atwell says:

    For Liz, re: wanting it all:

    I’m so glad you found the blog thought-provoking. I’m sure your answers to the questions were a little different from mine, and I’m thrilled to hear you want it ALL! You deserve it—and I sincerely hope no one reads my blog, does some soul-searching and decides to give up writing.

    For me, I also still plan to pursue publication. But now I recognize I have a potential conflict with submitting for publication—that loss of autonomy and complete creative freedome makes me nervous. I remember overcoming the same concerns when I first started entering contests, and I think that helped me grow as a writer.

    We talk about all the ways we sabotage ourselves—we don’t prioritize our writing, we make excuses of not enough time, we hide under a rock for weeks following a rejection, we drag our heels when we get a request. Rarely do we make the effort to uncover the real reasons we’re sabotaging our own writing. In my case, I’m not sabotaging the writing as much as I’m sabotaging my own efforts to get published. My challenge is overcome these fears/concerns I have about publication so I can pursue it with the same joy I derive from a freshly written manuscript.

    All the best to you on your writing career, Liz!

  7. Amy Atwell says:

    For Michelle, re: Writing for joy vs writing for publication:

    Thanks for your kind words–I’m still honored to even BE among the guest bloggers here!

    I hope all writers write first and foremost for the intrinsic joy it brings them. I know I do. But, like you, I’m a goal-oriented person, so once I found myself piecing together an entire novel, my thoughts turned to what I should *do* with it when it was finished. Publication seemed like an obvious answer. I love reading books—how cool would it be to write one and get it published?

    At the time I made my long-term writing goal, I had no idea that I had any hidden conflicts with it. This exercise won’t change my mind about writing, but I hope to overcome my psychological setbacks to pursuing publication. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  8. Edie Ramer says:

    Amy, I’m committed to publication. I know once I’ve sold, the “control” is out of our hands. I accept that and I’m trusting (praying, lol) that I find the agent and editor and publishing house that will do the best job for my books.

  9. Theresa says:

    Amy,

    This blog rocks. It really does. You know my answers to your questions mirrored yours pretty much completely. Oh yeah, I want to get published. So then why do I sabatoge myself so much?

    Honestly, I think its because of that big question looming. . . what if I don’t ever get published? What if it doesn’t happen. Or what if I do get published, and it turns out to be a crappy experience? Looking back ten years from now, will I regret all the hours I put into the writing when I could have done something else?

    I’ve pretty much arrived at the answer myself through the last few weeks. I need to focus on the real reason I started writing. Which was when I was a child. I wasn’t thinking of publication then. I just loved bringing a world and people to life. I loved being able to create something and have other people actually want to read it….

    Yes, I want to get published. But I want to write for myself first. I want to love what I’m doing and what I’m writing.

    Loving what I’m producing, that’s always been my strongest motivation. It keeps me coming back to the computer time after time.

  10. Zoe says:

    Great post, Amy! I’ve thought a lot about this myself. I do want publication and “success.” I guess because when you’re published and “out there” by a major publisher you have a chance of reaching a wider audience and writing is something that isn’t complete until it’s shared.

    At the same time…one could post their work for free on the internet but our society doesn’t really smile on that. Mostly because in order for something to be “worth” something, you have to be paid for it. And in order for it to be worth a lot, you have to be paid well for it.

    For most people who write, writing isn’t just a hobby. It’s not just something cute we do that gives us some adorably neurotic little quirks, it’s who we are. And being paid for it is validation that who we are is worth something.

    It really shouldn’t be that way. And I’ll write forever with or without publication but you can’t always fight an entire society’s preconceptions about life and it’s meaning.

    So I want to be paid, though I think for me it’s less about validation and more about: “hey, I may as well get paid to do what I love.” I think it’s a shame for people to spend their entire lives making money doing something that brings them absolutely no joy but is necessary for their survival.

    I know most people who write don’t ever make enough to live on, but I would hope that people could find other things that bring them joy that they could make money with rather than be enslaved to a 9-5 they hate. Sorry, that was tangent-y but, yeah.

    Will my writer self be satisfied when I’m published? Is your sex drive forever satisfied after one good roll in the hay? 😉

  11. Edie Ramer says:

    Theresa, I’m with you. Some days writing seems one of the hardest jobs on earth, but it’s also the most satisfying. I just found out a couple hours ago that a relative is quitting a good job because she can’t stand it anymore. Her stomach tightens up every day she drives to work. I’ve been there, and I don’t want to go there again.

  12. Edie Ramer says:

    Will my writer self be satisfied when I’m published? Is your sex drive forever satisfied after one good roll in the hay?

    ROFLmao Zoe, this is great! And the answer is NO! Maybe that’s why we have sequels. 😀

  13. Zoe says:

    hehehe 😉

  14. Liz Kreger says:

    I’m with Liz L. I want to see my book in print and validate the time and effort that I’m putting into writing. I genuinely love writing and get a great deal of satisfaction in what I’ve created. Do I want to be paid for it? You bet. I don’t do my day job for free … why would I write for free?

    Love your analogy, Zoe. So true. Even though I have one book published, I find I want more (and more and more). I’ve learned what I want to be when I grow up … and it’s a published author.

  15. Rachel says:

    Amy,

    That’s such great advice to sit down and answer those questions. I’ve written them down and plan to think about them when I go to bed tonight – a good time for me to be introspective :).

    Thanks for sharing!

    And, Edie, I agree about the job that makes your stomach tighten. Writing may be hard, but it’s never done that to my insides.

    Rachel

  16. LaDonna says:

    Amy, I loved this blog! Sorry, I didn’t respond yesterday, we were traveling. LOL. Also, you have discovered the secret in, finding joy on a daily basis, and not just focusing on the goal ahead. You’ll miss the ride! I love my writing community, and the Magical gals are my sisters of the heart. I wish you much success, and thank you for giving us a terrific article. I intend rereading this baby, and posting it by my computer. We all need to embrace this. Thanks for sharing with us. 🙂

  17. Lori Devoti says:

    Great post, Amy! I say the goal of being published is like the goal of losing weight. You think if I can just sell that first book/lose that last ten pounds life will be great, I will be happy. But it just isn’t the way life works. Sure you are happy you sold the book/lost the weight but it doesn’t make you are satisfied…or that now you are set, no more worries.
    There are so many books out there, and it is so hard to stand out in that group. So, the angst goes on. 🙂
    We talk about what your real goals are at our local meetings a lot. How going for a NY publisher may not be what everyone needs. Different people have different needs and their goals should match those. Then for others NY is the best fit. But writers shouldn’t feel like they have to have NY or even publication as a goal. Do what works for you.
    Again, great post.
    Lori

  18. Edie Ramer says:

    Lori, love your comparison of losing weight to publishing. I’m trying to do both–diet and sell. 😀

    And to take it a step further, once you lose weight, you have to keep exercising and eating less otherwise you’ll be back where you started. Once you publish, you have to keep writing good books and even better ones–otherwise you’ll be back where you started.

  19. Karin says:

    Fab, blog. Amy!

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