Last week got ate up in ‘doing the right thing.’ This blog comes in secondary to “doing the right thing.” In the future, I’ll try to remember to put up short news posts if there are going to be weeks without any new content.
In my last discussion post, Ideas, Squeaky Toys of Doom, I touched upon a few motivations of why people write. (And wow, that generated a lot of response. Thank you guys! You’re all great.) And I guess, it’s the next natural thing to talk about, once one has an idea, there has to be some sort of will to go forward with it, other than tossing it in the bin as useless. As in all things, from going to the grocery to store, to committing a crime, one must have a reason! And if you want to sound sinister (or overly legal) we call it motive!
Before I start meandering, the dictionary describes motive as an inner drive or impulse that causes one to act. A motive is an incentive. It’s the stimulus that gets us out of our chairs (or into them) and doing something. They are the reasons that provide us with the stress to change our ways. (Yes, I said stress. There is positive stress and negative stress, just like there is positive criticism and negative criticism.) Motivations affect us and can be as varied from “I need to eat” to “I have a dream.” Eating is something solid, dreams, are the exact opposite, ephemeral. And having both is important. (I’ll just leave this here.) Motivations are what take you from where you are now, to the future of where you want to be if you want it.
And motivations, these reasons, are as varied and broad and different as the people that come up with them. These are a few I know it. Whether or not the writers you know fall under them may or may not be the case. Just like there is no bad idea, there is no wrong motivation to write. At least, I’m not holding any judgements. And all of these can be combined and used to fuel each other.
Basic Motivations: Money, Fame (Power), Love
Firstly. Let’s get these three fundamental motivations out of the way.
Money, everyone wants to write a book and get rich just like JK Rowling. They want their own house, a swimming pool and a private jet. (Hey, don’t we all want to be rich. No judgement.) Or, you’ve got the other writers, who want to make enough money just to pay their bills and live comfortably. Money is a big motivating factor. The world seems to go around on money and it’s hard to do anything without it. We’ve all got to eat. We need roofs over our heads and as a society we’ve become very dependent on this thing called electricity.
Fame, and I lump fame with power. Writers, just like everyone else, want to be known. They want to be recognized. They want to leave behind a great body of work that people can come back to over and over again. This is a way to become immortal. Fame also brings other perks. Fame can bring television or movie deals. Fame has public appearances and interviews. Fame has people coming to you instead of you going to them. Fame gives you influence and power. Influence and power can change things. Some people like the idea of it.
And love, there are writers that actually just enjoy writing and want to do what they do. They love to come up with ideas, string together plots, hack through scenes and what characters grow and change. I feel, and this is just my feelings and opinions, that all people should love what they do in one way shape or form. And if writing is what makes someone happy and that’s what they like to do above all others, then that love can be a great motivation.
Now, there are five other motivations that I have thought of/remembered and there are probably many more, but these are ones that I see talked about by other writers.
Motivation: “I like this.”
These are the writers who just plain like a concept. I don’t think Louis L’amour and Zane Grey would have wrote so many westerns if they didn’t plain just like them. (Err, that was unintentional, and I’m leaving it. Homophones!) These are writers who will take their idea and just pound it into the ground until you have to wonder if they ever had another idea in their head. Brian Jacques wrote 21 Redwall novels before his death. Mercedes Lackey has written 30 tales in Valdemar (and as far as I know is still writing in that universe.) Jim Butcher is on his 16th Dresden File (of a proposed 28, I think.) And Anne McCaffery’s son has taken up where Anne left off in Pern. And that, ladies and gentlemen is just in science fiction/fantasy. To write that much material for one universe or genre alone takes dedication. Formula writers (by which I mean the structure of their story is the same for every single book/trilogy they write,) genre writers and romance writers can fall under this motivation.
But then there is the opposite.
Motivation: “I don’t like this. I want to see this instead.”
This motivation is often reactionary. This is the cry of disgust from every reader who has thrown a book across the room, got up and went to their computer and sat down and tried to write it better. There are also things that some writers just don’t want to see or write in their novels, so they don’t.
This writing can often be derivative. But you say, what writing isn’t? That’s a real good question. But this motivation uses a lot of things in the public domain such as Jane Austen, Sherlock Holmes, fairy tales and legends. Historical Alternate universe can also fall under this, such as ‘His Majesty’s Dragon,’ by Naomi Novak. In fact, I feel almost anything considered ‘historical’ can be considered this. A ‘I don’t want to see the battles of the war of the roses, I want to know about the love lives of the nobles instead!’
I also find that this motivation can also be used as sort of a research tool. For instance, when a writer likes things from two or three different (but similar potentially or even not) novels, but doesn’t like how any of those novels actually used their ideas. So, the writer takes the ideas they like, combine them into one thing and wah lah, they have their own universe to play in.
“I don’t like this, I want to see this instead,” is a huge motivation in fan works. A huge amount of fan work is either exploring romantic pairings that wouldn’t happen in canon, expounding upon things that weren’t seen in canon or even changing the setting completely and seeing what the characters will do. Continuations, prequels and the children of the main cast are all very common stories that happen in fandom. Given how huge fanfiction.net, mediaminer.org and AO3 are, plus the stuff on journaling sites, private sites (including forums) and tumblr and so on. This is a huge stimulus for people of all ages to write.
Motivation: “I have a story I want to tell.”
The ultimate, “I have something I want to talk about.” By golly, these people have something to say and they’re going to say it, whether you like it or not. They may have a message to get out there.
There is the personal side of this. These are the autobiographies, biographies and ‘based on a true story,’ writers. They’re using their story to spread a message or theme that they think everyone should hear. Which isn’t a bad thing, everyone who writes has a message whether or not they know it. These writers are just more aware of it than others.
Then there is the not as personal aspect of this motivation. These are writers that have a story in their head that they want to tell. And they’ve looked on the shelves and it’s not there, or it’s there in similar form but not how precisely they would do it. They see a void in the market place that they want to fill. Or sometimes, they just have a story in their head trying to get out and they need to get it out so they can move onto something else! There is usually a heavy dose of ‘I like this,’ involved in this type of writing.
Motivation: “I want to help others.”
Ah, the selfless motivation to write or the pretentious one depending on how you look at it.
This can go hand in hand with “I have a story to tell.” These writers hope that by telling their story that they can inspire, help or warn others. Stories about overcoming adversity. Stories about reaching out to others. Stories that show the bad side of life. Or conversely, the stories that show the good side of life. These writers want whoever reads their story to take away something from it, something that will hopefully make the reader a better person.
I have to say that a lot of Christian fictional literature falls under this heading. I’ve read quite a bit of it and not a lot of it has stayed with me, because there isn’t a lot of Christian fictional stories (or at least not when I was reading them) that focused upon walking the life of a Christian. They were usually much more focused upon converting the reader and if you’re a Christian already it feels like they are preaching to the already converted (aka the choir.) Or they were trying to show what a good Christian marriage was with varying degrees of success. Pick one.
Motivation: “I want to feel better.”
This motivation is where writing hits the pure emotional level. This type of writing is cathartic. It releases the feelings inside the writer and gives them a voice. A lot of emotional writing comes from a place of anger and despair. How the writer chooses to translate that anger and despair in their writing is up to them. There are those who will through the guise of writing graphically describe incidents that happened to them so that they can use the characters as a method of coping. They take back their power and control in their writing and use the fictional world as a cipher of the real world to change things. There is also the opposite, those who take that anger or despair and write silly happy things as a way of making themselves feel happier. It’s a way to make themselves laugh while in the undercurrents of the writing they are also often dealing with the deeper issues in their life. In emotional writing, an audience isn’t necessary and may or may not be helpful.
Emotional writing can go along with “I have a story I want to tell,” and “I want to help others.”
Now on the other hand, some people write dark, angry, disturbing stuff because they like writing dark angry disturbing things. And other people write funny silly things, because they like writing funny silly things and they don’t need to feel better. (So, I don’t recommend you call out anyone on the motivations for their writing if you feel it’s coming from an emotional place, because it may not be and you shouldn’t assume anything.)
A lot of these motivations for writing are the same as the motivations for publishing. There is a huge difference between writing something and publishing that something. Just because a writer creates a story, doesn’t mean that they will want to or are going to put it out there in a public manner. That’s their choice and no one should try to take it away from them.
Motivations are tricky things. They can change over time or be joined by other incentives. If you desire to write, there is no wrong reason to do so! They’re your reasons and no one has the right to call them bad ones. It might be because of one of the reasons I posted here or because of others. Whatever the reason is, we writers have to feed those Squeaky Toys of Doom and keep on plugging away.