Goals, 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?
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 submissionsâ€”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 a valued member of the community
A sense of control
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 goalâ€”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 wasâ€”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 manuscriptsâ€”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 youâ€™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.