January 13, 2012

Writers' Rites: On Motivation

"BIC. Butt In Chair. There is no other single thing that will help you more to become a writer. William Faulkner said: 'I write only when I’m inspired. Fortunately I’m inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.' BIC." ~ Our Lady Jane

Happy New Year, again - I took a little hiatus from having a brain for awhile, but it's mostly back in working order, so here I am.

I don't remember who said it, but it's one of those jokes of which I can only remember the punchline - or the sort-of punchline. Basically what the joke was saying is that it's a bullpuckey kind of job that we have, where we can check out of it because we lack motivation. That's just not an excuse that anyone else can have.

Judge: I'm sorry, this case is going to have to go back on the docket. I'm just not feeling moved to pass sentence right now.

Obstetrician: Chica, you're gonna have to just hold all that in, because I am so not motivated to deliver your child today.

Policeman (over the crackling of the radio): Meh. Another call. Whatever. The Muse of the law enforcement just isn't whispering to me today.

Teachers: I'm not feeling it today, kids. Just color for awhile or whatever. I'm going to stretch out and read.

(Oh, wait. That last one did happen a couple of times while I was teaching. Never to me, of course.)

You see what I mean? It's kind of ...well, bull, as I said. You're a writer if you write, and if you don't write... well, you're kind of like those knitters who still call themselves that, and haven't picked up a pair of needles in ten years, yet still have skeins of yarn in a box somewhere. We call those folks people who need to declutter and donate some stuff. (And if this is you, please: don't make the scary people from Clean House have to come and see you, all right?)

Wait - I saw that flinch. Don't think I'm coming at you with judgment -- Oh, my goodness, I am not. I am coming at you from a seat on the couch next to you, wherein I have whined to myself that I am not motivated and this doesn't feel like anything but the most grinding of work, and what was I thinking, hoping I could come up with anything sharp and fresh and new, but which is turning out to be stupid nattering, and shouldn't I get a real job, one which will help pay for the roof and put my metaphorical kids through college, and one which will allow me to respect myself, and not be at the mercy of strangers and -- gah! -- critics for the rest of my life. I am coming at you from the place of being a writer in a funk, but we both know that if we stay here for too long, that "unmotivated" thing will twist us into someone we are not meant to be.

'Cause, here's the thing. We have the motivation. We do. Without motivation and will and the ability to put sentences on paper, we wouldn't be writers. And we are.

What we're lacking isn't motivation and the murmuring of the muse.
What is lacking is the courage to just get on with it.

How easy is it to say that we're too tired, too busy, too stressed to finish a story? How simple are the distractions of Dancing With the Stars or the Food Channel, or the sudden need to have a clean house or to pet the cat so you can get started with work?

...How hard is it to actually look at what we're writing, and know that it's not working, not one word of it, and to delete the whole file and start again?

Yeah. Sometimes, it's like that.

The thing is, nobody is going to give the time or attention span to do the work that you want to do. No one is going to give you the clarity and the focus and the plot. You have to really work for it. You're going to have to sweat and sit down and say things out loud and mutter to yourself; stand up and shadowbox or shuffle your feet to make sure you've got the movements right. You're going to have to suffer and bite down and maybe bleed.

Writing is sometimes work - more work than any of us want to admit. It's a pain. It's singing this writing song louder than the other little neurotic tunes playing in your head. It's bouncing in your chair when your butt-glue (thank you, Yat Yee) comes unstuck, and having to hold yourself there by bracing your feet.

And then, after all of that, your end result might be mediocre or even awful. You might find your creation laughable. You might be shocked. You might be deeply disappointed, as the wonderful Ira Glass says, but you'll have proven something -- to yourself, and to the watching world. You can write. You can finish. You did it once. You'll do it again. And, as your good taste and your love of story will still exist, you'll do it better the next time.

So, from my position next to you on the couch - perhaps let's call it the Whining Couch - I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. What I'm telling you is this: we're all on the same couch. The springs poke into our bums and the stuffing is leaking out, and we're all here, at one time or another. I'm sitting here, looking over at you, and deciding that I'm going to stop looking at the output or plot brilliance of other writers, and mind my own keyboard. I'm going to stop waiting for lightning to strike, and I'm going to strap down my own cold, unwieldy prose, and hit the switch and make my own magic. I'm going to let loose the leash on my motivation, let go of the tether to caution and safety and --

jump -


Colleen said...

You already know this, but I love you. Thanks for the post - seriously - THANK YOU.

MotherReader said...

Thanks. I needed that.


Anonymous said...

thanks...you rocked this post!

tanita✿davis said...

Just another day on the Writer's Whining Couch, guys. Here's to getting up and getting back to work. ♥

Kelly Robinson said...

I guess that as a freelancer I'm lucky I so often have deadlines imposed on me. I really don't have the option of lack of motivation!

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

The Whining Couch! It's about time the Writers' Waiting Room had some furniture besides the wet bar ...

Sarah Stevenson said...

I'm starting to see a Toon in this, about the Writer's Waiting room...

Excellent post! Perfect for the start of a new year.

tanita✿davis said...

Kelly: I, too, periodically get deadlines imposed on me... but having to write doesn't always translating into feeling positive about it, and I've heard of even fairly famous YA authors ducking and avoiding until they're pulled into their editor's office and given a desk!

That would gall me -

But, I also know about being on the whining couch, and even a hour a week there wastes time I wish I could have back, so here's to finding out that the Whining Couch has springs that poke me in the butt.