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VIEW FROM THE TREEHOUSE
Celebrating the creative life and all that feeds it.
Displaying items by tag: creative motivation
I recently watched a documentary about the comedian Chris Rock. Something he said had a far greater impact on me than I expected and I think it’ll stay with me a long time. Truth be told, I’m hoping it does.
Rock’s a pretty down-to-earth guy, at least that’s how he came across. At one point he was being questioned by reporters about a special he’d done on TV. The interviewers kept asking him things like, ‘What are your hopes for this project? Do you see it taking out any awards? Are you hoping to be nominated for an Emmy?’
Rock seemed a little confused by the questions. As the barrage continued ultimately he shrugged and said, ‘I just want to do good work.’
A calm came over me when I heard those words. Yes, of course! No overthinking it. No lofty, pretentious ambitions. No wanting to grind the opposition to dust. Just the simple desire to do your best.
Implied in the statement (at least to me) is also the understanding you might not always hit the target. That you have no control over how your efforts are received by others. Not everything you do will be equally popular. You just have to give each project your all and hope people like what you do.
Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, has a similar quote he’s famous for: ‘Ignore the noise.’ His way of getting his players to block out all the hype and turmoil that often surrounds them and focus on what really matters – doing their best out on the field.
These two leaders from very different fields are, to me, saying the same thing: It’s not about external validation, but about turning inward; not about competition with others but competition with yourself. The striving to continually improve and be better today at what you do than you were the day before.
‘I just want to do good work.’
I think I just found my new mantra.
Following on from my last post, this question of what motivates writers and if any one reason is better than another…
I’ve been reading The Leading Edge by Holly Ransom. In her chapter titled Anchor to Purpose, Holly says, ‘The passion we derive from pursuing our purpose provides us the resolve and resilience to achieve major goals and impact…But in my experience, few people take the time to define their true motivation.’
A little bit further in the chapter she asks, ‘What is the change you want to see before you die? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What keeps you going when you’ve been shot down?’
She cautions readers to take time in answering these questions (A-ha! See, I knew it was important!) so I’ve been thinking a lot about it.
I thought I’d answered this question for myself but Ransom’s book got me wondering if what I believed was my true motivation really is.
I’ve told myself for some time now my main purpose is to move readers with my writing the same way I once moved listeners with my music.
But if I’m being totally honest, I have to admit there’s another side. Deep down there’s also the part of me that wants to take out awards, get rave reviews and be #1 on bestseller lists.
So which is it? If the second is my true motivation…well, it seems so egotistical. Will that selfishness come out in my writing? Should I admit my driving need is to prove myself? Or should I deny my ‘true nature’ and attempt to change my motivation to something a little more altruistic?
When I was ten I remember hearing the Tchaikovski Violin concerto for the first time and having a fire ignite inside me. I vowed I would play that music one day! I wanted those sounds to come out of me. I never asked myself why I wanted it, I just knew I did.
That desire kept me going through all the years and multiple set-backs until I was skilled enough to play the piece.
Winning competitions and auditions along the way helped as well. It gave me a sense I was moving closer to my goal and that others could hear my skills were improving.
Maybe it’s the same with writing. Maybe rave reviews, #1 ratings, and contest wins aren’t my primary motivation but simply proof I’m getting closer to my goal of moving others with my work.
Okay, yeah, I can live with that.
One thing I learned from my years of performing… If I focus on myself, I’m domed. But if I focus on the music I love, on what I want to give to the listener – in other words my true purpose – not only does it keep me going, but all my stage fright (page fright!) goes away.
Does an author’s motive for writing a story affect the quality of the end result?
Or, looked at from a writer’s perspective: Why do I write? Why does anyone write? Is any one reason better than another?
I’ve asked myself these things many times and never settled on an answer I like. A part of me thinks, what does it matter why you write? Yet somehow I sense the answer’s important and so I keep asking.
Below is only a partial list of reasons authors choose to write:
- purely to entertain themselves
- to escape their own world
- to entertain others
- to help, educate, or enlighten others
- they feel they have something important to say
- to become rich and famous
- to understand themselves through the stories and characters they create
- to prove to themselves/others that they can do it
- for love of the creative process, the feeling of being ‘in flow’
- they love mastering new skills
- to expose wrongs/truths
- to record history
- to see their name on a book in a bookstore
- to share their feelings with others, to communicate what’s inside them
- to create experiences in their imagination that don’t exist in their own lives
- to live vicariously through their characters
- for the sense of power they feel as controllers of their own fictitious world
- to have a lasting impact on the world
I’m sure others could add to this list. The question I’m asking is… From a reader’s point of view, considering the quality of the finished product, is any one of these author motivations better than another?
Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, whenever she hears an author say they wrote their book to help others, her reaction is, ‘Oh, please, don’t.’
Marketing gurus advise authors to write to the market. Creativity experts say if you aren’t passionate about your story it’ll show and anything less is being untrue to oneself as an artist.
James Scott Bell takes a middle-of-the-road approach, telling writers to find the sweet spot where their personal passion intersects with marketability.
But in the end does it makes any difference? Even the most egotistical creator who wants nothing but to see their name in lights can still create something of value, can’t they? Possibly even something extraordinary.
Most classical musicians I know simply love the music they’re playing and want to share it with others. At the same time there are those (and I have to admit they’re mostly violinists!) who thrive on standing center stage, being applauded by adoring audiences. Taken to extreme you get the egotistical rock star who cares little for the music itself and wants only to be worshipped by fans.
Whether an author writes for self-entertainment, to make millions, enlighten others, or change the world, does it matter to the reader?
Right now I’m leaning toward the answer: anyone who writes for any reason can produce a story others would want to read. But don’t hold me to that! I might change my mind.
I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this. Readers and writers alike!