Finding Motivation

I’m going to get all philosophical today.  Because that happens to be where my head is and I’d rather talk about that than the fact that I sat through two days of a writing workshop, learned TONS, and then turned around a wrote a story that didn’t use what I learned, which makes me wonder if it’s a crap story even though I like it.

So, motivation.

I am one of those self-motivating people.  I don’t tend to look for external validation for things I do.  I do them because they matter to me.  In school it was never about beating anyone else or being top of the class.

(Although, I did at least try for A’s because my parents paid me for them.  Actually, they paid my older brother for his so got stuck paying me for mine.  It was a wonderful thing.  It’s why I was always aiming for that A-.)

At work it was always about doing the job that I thought needed to be done, not just something that would pass inspection.  I could’ve put in half the effort on my first job out of college and still kept my job and received adequate reviews every year.  But it wouldn’t have been enough for me.

And, as anyone who has read this blog for a while will know, I have an ego the size of a house and generally believe that I’m good at the things I choose to do and I don’t really care about what other people think.  I’m certain and if I’m certain then that’s all that matters.

BUT.  But…

Choosing to be a writer who is seeking publication makes it very hard to hold onto that self-motivation and self-belief.

Because, essentially, when you start submitting stories or queries you are asking for external validation.

I write a story.  I like it.  (All good so far.)  And then I send it out to a bunch of strangers I’ve never met and I ask them to accept it.  It’s the antithesis of how I’ve lived most of my life.  In every other thing I’ve done in my life I just did it and if people wanted to come up to me and validate me they were welcome to do so but I wasn’t seeking their approval.

(Like how I run this blog…It’s here.  Anyone who wants to read it is welcome to do so.  I don’t promote it.)

But now I am seeking external validation.  And, as almost any new writer will tell you, trying to be a published writer is not only a process of seeking acceptance or approval from someone else, it’s also a process of failing to get that approval over and over and over again.

I have a friend who currently has a novel making the rounds.  So, this friend did more than what most of us have done and found an agent.  An agent who managed to get my friend very detailed feedback from some top publishers.

But my friend sent me an e-mail the other day about how they’re done with this writing for themselves crap, because they are tired of rejection.  Next novel they’re going to try to write more commercial.

That’s what this process does to you.  It beats you down until you’re tempted to pander to what you think the people you’re submitting to want.

Except that’s not the right path.  I know it’s not.  That’s the path of the same thing as yesterday, not the path to something better.

In my day job I have on more than one occasion had to go to bat for an idea I had.  And sometimes it took a lot of convincing to get my bosses to believe that what I was proposing would be better than what we were doing already.  But I knew deep down it would be.  Sometimes I lost and I couldn’t convince them.  Didn’t change the fact that I believed in what I said.  And that the more they followed my suggestions and saw them work the more they believed me the next time around.

I know that’s the way I need to approach my writing, too.  (Note, I am convincing myself here as much as trying to convince you.)

I’d rather strike out nine hundred times and stay true to my vision than start trying to play to someone else’s tastes.

It may be that my work has a limited audience and that audience is not one represented by the current publications.  If so, I will need to find a different path to share that work with that audience.

(Ok, so I just looked at my little board of inspirational rejections and I’m seeing some pretty big market names on there, which makes me doubt that’s actually true.  At least some of my work should be mainstream enough to sell.)

It’s hard to stay true to yourself and your vision when you’ve placed yourself in a field that is all about external validation.  I imagine it’s the same issue for singers, comedians, painters, actors, etc.

And I imagine it doesn’t go away when you achieve success.  If I write a story and people love it then they’ll want more like it.  More of that character or that world or that theme.  And I may not want to do that.  I may want to explore something completely different at that point.  And once again I will have to struggle against that conflict between my internal motivation and what the world wants of me.

Except it’ll be worse.  Right now the only people rejecting what I do are the editors and agents I submit to.  If I ever do publish something highly successful then I will have people coming to me to tell me what I should do.

(And it amazes me how many people don’t see the problem in that.)

I was very fortunate to grow up in a family that, for the most part, didn’t tell me what to be or do.  I think the only mandate I had was “go to college” because my parents hadn’t and they saw that as a path of more opportunity.  But I wasn’t told what to wear (although there were a few years there where someone probably should have said something) or how to act (again, a few times where that might have come in handy).

I was allowed to be my own person growing up.

And I think because of that I’m a fairly strong personality.  And consistent in who I am.  I don’t change to please those around me.  I am who I am.

But the writer’s life…it challenges that more than anything else I’ve ever dealt with.  I’m glad that I didn’t start down this path until I was well into my 30’s and that I only did so after having had career success.  Because otherwise, this whole process could easily erode my sense of purpose and worth.

So, for anyone else out there on this same path.  Stay true to you.  (Learn your craft, of course.  Don’t stay so true to yourself that you don’t capitalize sentences or punctuate dialogue.)  Stay true to who you are and what you want to write.  Don’t let others bring you down or make you doubt yourself.

We each have a unique perspective to share with the world and we need to share that perspective, not someone else’s.

(And if you’re just writing for the money, then why are you reading my blog???  Reading this is certainly not the path to riches.)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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