Thursday, May 20, 2010

a ding in the universe

The other day I watched a video that turned around my thinking and explained things to me that made sense. In fact, it made sense of several questions I've been asking myself lately:

(1) Why on earth do I devote most of my free time to writing novels?

(2) Why have I decided to self-publish my novella?

(3) Why cannot I seem to motivate myself for a huge project I'm supposed to be working on for a friend who who is paying me a significant amount of money?

The answers were in this video, and things suddenly became clear.

Victoria Mixon shared the video, which she found on another blogger's site where the video was related to blogging. Victoria related the video to writing, and I agree with her 100%. I don't participate on this blog or write my novels for money.

The video is 10 minutes long, so I don't blame you for not watching it. But, seriously, TEN minutes isn't that long, and you might learn something. I'm glad I took the time to watch it. This has changed my view on a lot of things.

The gist of the video? How money motivates us, and more importantly, how it doesn't. If you've ever once considered publishing for either money or fame, think again. I can imagine this is why many authors' work slacks off once they've published one or two great works.

I can imagine this is why I freak out about traditional publishing and look at it as a full-time job, which I'm not interested in pulling off at this point in my life. I know self-publishing can be just as much work, if not more, but not when you keep it on a small scale and not when you're not in it for the money or fame or to get your book to thousands of people/a huge audience.

I can imagine this is why I keep procrastinating the project I'm supposed to be doing, which consequently, requires insane amounts of creativity from me, and I'm simply not coming up with anything good. Or anything at all.

I can imagine that this is why I must know the motivations behind what I create. That, right there, shapes the future of my projects. Do you know the real motivations behind what you create?


  1. Do what makes you happy, good lady. If self-pubbing will do that for you, why not?

    Actually, since I know fine well my work probably won't achieve blockbuster sales, I really just want to publish a novel to prove to myself that I can. I know the odds are stacked against the debut author, and I love bucking the odds like I love vodka (which is a lot), so I'll work my ass off to make that happen.

    Of course, I think your writing's good enough that you could easily publish via traditional routes, but if that's not what brings you joy, then fuggedaboudit. Peace is more important than publishing deals.

  2. Thanks, Simon. I'm not throwing out traditional publishing, by any means. Like you, I would like to prove to myself that I can do it. I just don't wish to do it with my novella, is all. Traditional publishing, however, is not in my immediate future. I see myself trying for that in three or four years, perhaps longer unless something extraordinary happens. We'll see.

    Keep working hard! I know you'll make it. :)

  3. Excellent article! I feel the same way that you do. If I do happen to get published someday that will be amazing, but either way, I write because I HAVE to. I wouldn't be me without it. Writing is like breathing in my world... kind of a necessity :)

  4. I don't think money is my main motivator, but I do know that approval from others is important to me. I think that can be inhibiting for an artist, so I work hard to push thoughts like that out of my head. And, I'm getting better at it. When it's not about approval from others, my motivation is to write the better book, the book that I would enjoy reading more than anything that already exists. When I'm clear-headed, that's my main goal.

    I hope I can watch this video tonight!

  5. Kristen: That's great that you feel that way. I do, too. But I do see people saying this all over the place, and they still seem to be scrambling for agents and publishing as if it's the highest achievement to reach, and that can be really detrimental, I think. When we decide that the worth of our work is not reliant on approval or a publishing contract, I think we reach a higher plane of happiness. I'm finished rambling now. :)

    Davin: I hope you can watch the video tonight, too. I'm interested to see what you and Scott think of it, which is one of the main reasons I put it up on here. So make the time!

    Also, I think "clear-headed" is a great phrase for writing for ourselves rather than another motive that will most likely shape our writing in other ways (not necessarily bad ways, but different ways than we would shape it). I feel clear-headed with Cinders, and I've only felt that way with my short stories in the past, never my longer works, which always seemed like I was putting them up on a publishing pedestal.

  6. Michelle, I found a quiet place and watched the video. It's perfect, and it really captures what I've been feeling. AND, it makes me totally excited about our next contest!! Don't you think the two match up perfectly?

  7. Davin, YES!!!!!! I do. I thought of our contest when I watched this, and they do match up exactly. I can't wait to announce it. :)

  8. This is interesting, because at this point in my life I really am motivated by money. It's not a shallow thing--but money is what my family needs right now in order to acheive our larger, more important, often spiritual goals. It's not a motivator in and of itself, but it's an important means to a much more important end. Right now, money motivates most of my writing.

    Now, that's not to say money is my *only* motivator. I'm also motivated by a drive to create work I'm proud of--by a need to grow and learn and become competent at my work. But if I hadn't sold a book this year, I really would have quit, because some things (like being able to have kids and support them) are way more important to me than books, and require money.

    This wasn't always true. A few years ago I was much more like you--unmotivated by money. I guess our motivations grow and change as our life circumstances do. I imagine as my family gets more established, money won't motivate me quite as much anymore. As I wrote for so many years without that motivation, I'm sure I'll find other ones to keep me going.

  9. At this point in my writing I am motivated by the stories I want to tell*.

    *Yeah, I know, show don't tell. Whatever.

  10. Isn't Rick funny? He's funny.

    I'm motivated by my love of writing. It's hard work and taxes my imagination and I like that sort of thing. Writing is an exquisite torture I can't live without. The odds are extremely long that I'll make any money off it, and that's fine, because I already have a job that treats me pretty well.

    I'll watch the video after work; I don't have speakers hooked up to my computer here at work. But write because you love it, that's my unsolicited advice.

    And hey, we're going to have another contest on the Literary Lab, and it's going to be ten hundred kinds of awesome.

  11. Janci: Oh, I understand that part of your motivation is money. This is because, as I understand it, you would have to begin working again at a "regular job" if you didn't start making money from your writing, and then you probably wouldn't have much time to write anymore or stay at home with your kids or whatever. That's just me throwing things out there. I understand that completely, and I may be in the same boat eventually, but right now Adam's making it possible for me to stay home, which is very nice.

    I agree with you that our motivations definitely change. I just know that money is never a great creative motivator for me. I'm afraid that if I found myself in a contract for something I was only writing for money, I would never deliver something great.

    Rick: Hah, I know what you mean. You've always struck me as someone who writes mainly for the craft.

    Scott: Rick always makes me smile. :)

    Yep, I write for the craft and because it's hard work and because I really,really miss school and thinking hard about literature and analyzing literature in a classroom setting and all that jazz. Writing helps my "mommy brain" go somewhere intellectual.

    Ten hundred kinds of awesome is RIGHT! *big grins*

  12. I agree with Janci...I have several motivators but yes, money is one of them. I am lucky that my husband makes enough for us to get by...but the kids are getting older, things are getting more expensive.....and I would really really love to be a little more secure in our finances. And if I did go out and get a job somewhere out of my home, I'd have to pay for daycare and I would lose all of my writing time and therefore be quite miserable!

  13. Stephanie: I can see where you're coming from. I think a big key in this is where we stand in mainstream fiction. If I'm going to publish literary fiction, the chances of me making more money than to just go eat out once in awhile are very small. If I wrote category romance and sold 3 or 4 titles a year, that could be a steady income. I guess the key words here are steady and significant.

    I think another thing to consider is that if I need to make money to provide for more important things, like family, writing novels isn't going to get me very far (I'm speaking only for me). It just seems like a huge gamble to bank on, which is why I'm not counting on it for any income at this point in my life. I sound really depressing, sorry. I guess I just have a bleak outlook on publishing right now, which is funny because I've never even tried to traditionally publish yet.

    You seem to be doing well, though! Your book comes out soon, and that's exciting. :)

  14. Brilliant video (both in message and execution). Thanks for sharing.

  15. I think everything boils down to: are you doing something you love. Okay, maybe there's also this: are you writing what you want to write about and not necessarily what the masses want to read?

    The more I write for myself, the more I love what I am doing. I'm doing what I want to do. Why? Because the publishing market is fickle. What's hot today, is cold tomorrow, and vice versa. So, why chase after a trend when, by the time I'm done with the trend, ooops, here's a new one, and the trend I was chasing is no longer valid?

    Great post and very well said. I'll have to catch the video later when I actually have 10 minutes to spare.


  16. This is fascinating. I love the video. E and I watched it together. The whole concept reminds me of a book I read last year called Predictably Irrational. One of the major points revolved around what motivates people to do certain things.

  17. I enjoyed the video (even though it took 45 minutes to download it) and sent it to some friends.

    Only trouble is, it made me start thinking. Crap!! I hate it when that happens.

  18. Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for passing that video on. I picked it up on the Bloggess, where I find a lot of fascinating stuff on her Sunday "Shit I was Doing When I Wasn't Here" wrap-up. Because she has so many followers, she gets sent all kinds of amazing links, and she posts the best ones every week.


  19. Great video and excellent article.

    When I started watching the video, I thought it was going to be more about behavioral science and less about the money part of the reward component.

    I think the behavioral model could reflect writing and publishing in one other way. This is in the schedules of reinforcement and the way it relates to the query process.

  20. Bane: Thank you for reading and watching!

    Scott: I hope you can find the time to watch the video. It's worth your time if you can. I agree that when it comes to fiction, our best work usually comes with what's closest to us.

    Lois: Oh, that's cool! Would you recommend that book? I'm glad you and E got to watch the video together. I've watched three times now. :)

    Chuck: Ack! You must have a slow connection. Sorry about that. :(

    I'm glad it was worth your time to watch even if it made you think. :)

    Victoria: Thank you for that link. Her blog's great, although she swears a bit much for my taste. Still, she has some great stuff on there. Thank you for your post on this. It has gone a long way!

    Gabi: Oh, that's interesting that you thought it would focus on the behavioral science. That's a great thought about the query process, too.

  21. I totally get what you're saying, Michelle. Circumstances change, but no matter where you're at, trying to create art only for money doesn't make sense. Money enters as a motivator in different amounts for different people, but it can't be the sole focus for an artist, as there will always be easier and more effective ways to make money, while trying to get gain is not a very effective way to make art.

  22. Funny how I just assumed the video would be about behavioral science. In particular I was interested in how random acceptances in the query process are part of what make people all the more motivated to do it.

    This discussion ended up sparking some ideas so I wrote a longer piece about it here:

  23. Gabi: Hey, that's great! Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

  24. This is a great video (and great animation too). As someone who has the "dayjob" of video game designer, I can relate to the main point.

    Of course, it's easy to miss, but right in the middle he says you have to take the issue of money "off the table." That is, you need to meet a certain minimum, so you're comfortable/not stressed, and then you can rip out the creative stuff. Further rewards don't matter as much.

    Anyway, there must be something in the air wrt to motivation today. I posted something about "Near Successes" a little bit a go.

  25. Ricardo: Yeah, there's something in the air! I like how you point out that part in the middle. It can be difficult to meet that medium, but when I do meet it, great things happen.

  26. Yeah. I recommend the book. I thought it was fascinating.

  27. Perfect! That totally made sense as to why I spend my weekends doing the same thing I do at my job all day!

  28. Great video! This brings me back to college and my short time in grad school. There has been research out for a long time supporting this finding, before this larger study.

    Ricardo pointed out the very important piece that we need to have ENOUGH money (whether earned by our art or by some other means) to be able to devote time and energy to a creative project, or else we will be distracted by our needs. But after we are financially secure, THEN money is not a good motivator for creativity.

    I want to publish and make money off my writing someday... But mainly because then I could quit one of my day jobs (one of them, at least!!) and WRITE more. I also fantasize about being able to devote time to other creative endeavors, such as drawing, painting, music, and language learning, none of which I expect to make money doing.

  29. Andy: Exactly. I knew you'd like the video. :)

    Genie: Yes, that's such a great point that when we have enough money to take care of what we need, then it doesn't really matter anymore when it comes to creativity.

  30. This video is fantastic! I dragged my husband into the room and made him watch it. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Autonomy=HUGE for me; this is actually a requirement

    Master and Purpose = things to strive for, always.

    Thanks for making it so easy to keep in my head, to pull out on occasion for motivation.

  31. I keep thinking about this post and video. I might have to blog about it! (I promise to link!!) :)


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