Thursday, July 1, 2010

Motivation for Writing

Since I can't decide if the Fourth of July holiday occurs on the 2nd or the 5th, I'm posting on the 1st, just to be sure (<--there's logic in there somewhere).

A series of posts, especially an amazing video about what motivates people, have gotten the clockwork in my head spinning.

The video is 10 minutes long - I've watched it twice! It's worth the time, but here's the upshot:

Studies show that people are not motivated by money.* For tasks requiring any level of cognitive effort, people are motivated by having autonomy in their lives, developing mastery over their work, and knowing the higher purpose that animates what they do.

This approach explains why people spend vast amounts of time doing tasks that have no monetary reward: learning a musical instrument, playing sports, building open source software, contributing to wikipedia. Hello, can you say BLOGGING?

*above a certain amount to get by on, and not for rudimentary tasks

But the truth of these words rang closest to why I write. I've talked before about the importance of knowing WHY you write. I write to touch (and change) young lives. I want the children and teens who read my books to walk away thinking, Huh. I never thought of that before. That higher purpose drives me to write dystopians with lessons about what it means to be human, love stories about making choices in our lives, and kids stories that bring science alive for young minds. I don't write these stories because I think I will make money from them - I'm fairly certain that I will not, or at least not for a long time. I write them to have an effect on people's lives (as well as entertain).

The video also helped me understand why I have a constant drive to improve my craft. Striving for mastery of the craft of writing is inherently rewarding - it is in the growth, the demonstrated improvement, that I (and people in general) find satisfaction.

And writing gives me a double gift in autonomy, both in the writing itself and as an occupation. I have always had a high need for directing my own work, and writing is the ultimate in self-directed employment (until you're under contract - but that's a different post). But the writing itself is an expression of autonomy: I am the master of my stories, able to decide everything from the main character's quirks to the ultimate demise of the bad guy. I literally create my own world. And how cool is that?

It is no wonder to me why writers steal any snippet of time they can to write: it hits a trifecta of fulfillment.

Happy Birthday to the United States! This weekend I'll be giving thanks for the many freedoms we take for granted in the U.S., including that treasured First Amendment.

Ink Spells will return after the holiday weekend.


  1. Nice post. I write to entertain myself (and I remain my own best audience). I have hopes that my books will be published and enjoyed by many people, but even if they aren't, they are something I can be proud of.

    Have a great weekend!

  2. @Rick I read somewhere that if you don't love your own books, who will? (and I'm almost done with Chronicles of Christmas...coming shortly!)

  3. Yeah, that video is awesome in message and execution.

    Sometimes I'm not sure why I write. Autonomy and control are a part of it, but it gets me very grumpy b/c I now understand my father's perfectionism and I don't like it.

  4. excellent! money so as to be autonomous~ ;o)

  5. Great post, Susan. Happy and safe Fourth!!

  6. @Bane Not being able to make it perfect - that's tough no matter what field you're in. :)

    @LTM Yes, if you're not dayjobbing or have some other means for support, the writing would be crazy stressful. Because it is just too hard to make a living at it. :)

  7. This is so interesting to me, because God tells us that, "He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of Him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory." Ephesians 1:5-12.

    This is why what you wrote is so true about how we don't try and master something just for money, we are seeking out to be fulfilled by something higher...and that is in God!! :) Loved this post!!

  8. @BFM I'm glad that it resonated with you! :) The higher purpose that animates our work will be different things for different people, but I think finding that sense of fulfillment is a universal human need. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Great post! I agree that I am not motivated by money either. I appreciate it (ooooh, do I ever) but that's really not the way to get me moving.

    I want to help people, to stand out, and (like you said) give people something to think about. Even if it's, "God that Vicki has got to be on something. No one can be that happy all the time" hahahaha (my husband actually said that to me when we were dating!)

  10. @Vicki I've had a few friends that were preternaturally happy, and I've thought the same thing - How do they DO that? I mean, without chemical assistance?? :) I think it's just a blessing. (your hubby cracks me up)

  11. Writing def. filly a need to create and the only thing it costs is time! Happy 4th!

  12. I don't think any of us writes -- or blogs! -- for the money. I'll have to go watch the video. It sounds brilliant.