Wednesday, October 27, 2010


First and foremost, I am not a psychologist, just a writer trying to understand the writing process and if I'm lucky, maybe make it a little easier. 

Perhaps later, I will post about character motivation but after having a very satisfying squizz around at other blogs, and the nearness of NaNoWriMo, I thought I might discuss what motivates writers.

The motivators for writers fall into the same two categories they do for characters: external and internal (or in psychology speak: extrinsic and intrinsic).  Let's talk about external motivators first.  External motivators are things like: money, fame, good opinions/reviews, seeing your name on the cover of a book etc.  People can also be external motivators.  Editors.  Agents.  Even critique partners can be external motivational forces.  All of these things can be extremely powerful motivators but as most agents will tell you, there are only a few writers who make the kind of money that J K Rowlings did from her Harry Potter books.  As for fame, well you either have to have that one in a million (or more) book that literally turns the literary world on its head or you have to consistently churn out high quality books over a period of time and build up a following.  Or your ex-boyfriend could be George Clooney (oh I wish) who is naturally happy to endorse your book in all his interviews.......hey a girl can dream can't she?

Here's where I talk about deadlines.  I'm an unpublished writer.  That means the only deadlines I have are the ones I set myself.  And if I miss them *shrugs shoulders* who cares, right?  But I have it on very good authority, that when you are published then someone else sets them for you and then there's no shrugging shoulders (no matter how cute you look).  No siree Bob!  Deadlines are the kind of external motivators that you either love or hate.  Some writers say they couldn't write without them (too easily distracted by lovely things like blogs or ebay or twitter or TV or Facebook); other writers feel like their deadline is a great looming boogeyman, ready to pounce and devour them alive, kicking and screaming and flailing and....well you get the picture.  So when someone says they thrive on stress or work well under pressure, it's probably a safe bet that they don't mind deadlines.  (I would like to add here that just because someone says they work well under pressure does not mean they produce quality work.  I once worked with someone who proudly declared she thrived on stress which was actually her way of saying: "I'm absurdly incompetent and I will cause you immense amounts of stress which I will find very enjoyable.")  So just be careful throwing those old chestnuts around (especially around me).

On the other hand we have internal (or intrinsic) motivators.  These are the things like: increasing your knowledge or skills, learning things, improving yourself, proving to yourself you can do something or do it better than you have before, doing something because it makes you happy. 

Now some very clever people (scientists of some sort or other) have done lots of research on what kind of motivator works best for creative folks like writers and apparently the answer is: internal.  External motivators like money only work when the kind of work you are doing isn't creative but once that part of your brain is involved, people want to feel like they've progressed in either knowledge or skill or that they are on their way to achieving a goal.

Personally I think most writers (note I said most, not all) operate from a base where they are motivated by a combination of external and internal things.  Honestly, who's not going to say they haven't dreamt of swanning around at some fantastically swish cocktail party and overhearing the following conversation:
Ogler 1: Oooh who's that gorgeous young thing?
Ogler 2: Omg!  Where have you been?  She's only the newest, hottest author in the world!
Ogler 1: Does she make more than J K Rowling?
Ogler 2: (winking) Much more!
Ogler 1: I must get her autograph.......

or is it just me who has that dream?  Whatever.  The point is, at least a little part of us wants the fame and the fortune and it can make for very nice day dreaming material........

George Clooney:  I have all your books.  I was wondering if I could whisk you away to my fabo little 6 storey shack on Lake Como and you can sign them all for me?


But I think it's the internal motivators that really keep us going and it's those that we need to examine when we lose focus or get a case of the blahs.  What motivates us to write?  By identifying that, we should be able to address our lack of motivation in a more meaningful way.  It could be that our internal motivators have changed or we have put too much stock in an external motivator. 

I'd happily confess that my motivators are roughly 80% internal and 20% external but that changes depending on my mood and what's happening in my life.  Let's just say that what started as an external motivator has become an almighty powerful internal motivator and on the days when I think "ah I can't be bothered" my internal motivator steps up and slaps me upside my head, stares me straight in the eye and says: You what?  (For some reason my internal motivator always talks with a Southern American drawl - strange but then that's me!)

And yes that 20% is mainly taken up by pathetic fantasies of gorgeous men so far out of my league they might as well be a constellation, absolutely falling over themselves trying to get my autograph.  I've spent many happy hours conjuring up what to write in the front of George's book.  And Tom Selleck's.  And Chris O'Donnell's......and sadly the list goes on. So, what about you?  Are you an externally or internally motivated writer?  And what do you do when your motivation goes AWOL?


Talei said...

Motivations eh? I have one for you - its an award at my blog! Do drop by to pick up. ;)

Joanna St. James said...

ha ha this is really funny good luck with the clooney dream.
I stopped over from Talei's Blog

Elissa Graham said...

Talei - who needs Nobel or Pulitzer prizes when I have lovely blogfriends like you? Thank you for the award. Do I need to answer the question and do I get to choose how many I pass it on to?

Elissa Graham said...

Joanna, glad you stopped by. I fear dreaming of George is as close as I'm ever going to get (but at least that way I look just the way I want to - reality can be so harsh sometimes)!