Being, Doing, or Having Done? What’s Your Writing Motivation?

“I hate writing, I love having written.” –Dorothy Parker

It’s been crunch time for me, well, for probably most of the semester. For some odd reason the onslaught doesn’t seem to let up. And when real life responsibilities seem to get overwhelming, I start dreaming about writing. I long to be working on a novel, even though the reality is that when I actually have the time I often find other excuses not to park myself in front of the keyboard.

I’m in a day job where I am paid to talk about writing, which is kind of a dream job for me. But I feel kind of like a hypocrite if I don’t have an active project going right now. There are times when I just love writing, just savor every moment of sitting in front of the keyboard and letting the creative juices flow. But that’s when the creative juices are flowing freely. Other times, it’s like trying to prime a water pump in dry and dusty west Texas.

There are three kinds of writers, they say. There are those who are motivated by identity. I am a writer, therefore I must write. If I don’t, I’m a hypocrite. It’s kind of like a Christian who believes in God but who never prays, never reads the Bible and never goes to church. The world is full of them. They think they will be saved by just identification, just as those who call themselves writers think that a book will appear on their bookshelf with their name on it because they claim to be a writer. Well, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The second group are those who just plain enjoy writing. I have a student like that in my Narrative Writing class right now. You don’t have to do anything to motivate her. She’s like an unbroken colt in a pasture, ready to take on the world and ready to race the wind. Ask her to write ten pages and she’ll stop at 15. The only problem is that all that energy and motivation needs to be contained and controlled, and often that’s a challenge. This girl came into class thinking she could only write a certain topic in a certain way. Fortunately, I think we’ve had a breakthrough, and I see a lot of promise headed her direction.

The third and final group are those who see writing as what it is: work. And that’s the reality, it is work, especially if you have decided you want to get paid for it. But if the only reason you write is to make money there’s a good chance you’ll become disillusioned very soon. It’s like marriage. Marriage is work too, but you don’t commit to it because you feel obligated to; you do it because you love it and you love him or her. You have to love writing in order to stay a writer. You have a social contract with your reader, but you have one with yourself as well. Would you continue writing if you never got paid again? Do you write for the art, the craft? Do you feel you have something to say?

The reality is, all three of these motivations are valid, and the best situation is when you’re motivated by all three. You want to identify with being a writer, even though you need to recognize that life goes on beyond the page as well. You need to write because you enjoy it. And you need to write because you are committed to making the very best product you can. Do all three and you will be a lot happier camper than if you just do one of them.