Motive Killed the Writer

Writing is very psychological. Some even argue that it’s as much an extension of identity as the fork is an extension of the hand.  Writing arises from the depths of who you are. For some writers it takes years to understand this. Most never do.

Understanding what’s flowing through you is a must for creative writers and business writers alike.

Several years ago two of my university students submitted final papers. One was desperate to maintain his grade point average so he could become a scientist. His writing abilities were vocational at best. The other needed to keep a sports scholarship. He’d come from an inner city school and it showed. He was barely literate. Both cheated. The first had his girlfriend write portions of the paper that couldn’t have been more obvious if she had actually done it in her own handwriting. The other cut and pasted directly from Wikipedia.

These students weren’t motivated by learning even when the resources were right there. Their true motivations poisoned their futures. One falsely believed math skills alone would carry him through his career, and the other wasn’t even literate enough to pass grade six. Dishonest and narcissistic and misconceived motives made success impossible and cheated them of one of the richest aspects of life there is – writing well enough to express themselves and open doors to opportunity.

So what motivates you to write? To get rich and famous? To rival the latest big name or be part of a trend? To cope with personal traumas or stressors? Bragging rights? To prove something to someone? To yourself?

There are two legitimate motivations all successful authors share: the perfection of craft, and honouring the art of storytelling.

That’s it.

Even if the need to psychologically manage childhood trauma was the reason a writer began to write, it is not the motive. It isn’t a coping tool, it’s a tool for communicating the best message in the best way possible – the well-told story. To be professional means being in supreme control of the material and process, and not the other way around.

Great writers are driven to hone words and sentences and structure like a finely wrought sculpture. They see it. It’s almost physical.

Write from the wrong motivations and what will happen? Well, when the writing fails to meet the needs of the motivation there’s not much reason to go on. When rich and famous eludes you you’ll quit to find something else that can get you what you want. If writing is your coping mechanism, you’ll never be able to take control of your story or your craft any more than you’ve been able to take control of the problems that drive you to write. Your writing will be interminably linked to your psychological state. Need bragging rights? Step this way, my friend, into the world of audience – the workshop, the writer’s group, the classroom – and see how long you want to continue writing when you discover yourself sinking to the bottom of the talent pool. Facing your inadequacy (all writers do, every day) will not compel you to soldier on when you’re driven by a need for accolades. When the praise dies so will the desire to write.

But if you write for the sake of the craft and the art of storytelling, then this will push you on no matter what happens to your life or your writing. You will always find better words and sentences, better arrangements; your interest will be solely to tell the most important story ever because you’re the only one in the world with that story inside you. It comes from you.

If writing really is the most profound extension of the self, then what can anyone produce who doesn’t understand where it’s all coming from?

Know yourself, know why you need to do this.


Filed under Business Writing, Editing, Fiction, Sandra Chmara, Writing

4 responses to “Motive Killed the Writer

  1. Thank you, Sandra. This hits right to the heart of my writing life. I have just begun blogging and reading posts on WordPress, and came across your blog through tags on my own.

    A writer lifts her voice in silence, sails away without leaving port, realizes she may never return, cries without tears, and smiles without anyone to appreciate how wise she looks when she does. She thinks and therefore she is, falters and therefore she isn’t, feels her destiny so it only matters that she keeps on writing. The window is wide open and she leans out as far as she can without falling into the prickly bushes below.

    I would like to put your a link to your blog on my blogroll, if that’s ok.

  2. Your editor’s eye must’ve caught that extra “your” in the last line of my original post.

    Oh, the hazards of blogging…

    • I’m so glad something is resonating.
      re: previous post – Yes, go ahead and link it. Until the business logistics get hammered out it’ll be mainly blog posts but I hope readers and writers will find them useful in the meantime.

  3. By the way, I love the sub-title of your blog:
    “Where Skill Meets Art”

    Artistic endeavors do not see results by magic…it takes a lot of time and dedication, and perseverance no matter what!

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