Underlying Motivation – Getting Through the Rough Spots

>> Monday, December 20, 2010

Writing after you’ve sold is very different than writing with the goal of selling in mind. I wouldn’t say it’s either better or worse…just different.

Instead of writing toward your own vision, a reckoning force now has altering input. This force will take the shape of your agent or your editor, or both. If you’ve chosen these professionals well, their ideas and suggestions will take your skills and storytelling to a new level. They will push you and challenge you. They will, ultimately, make you a better writer. And this is exactly what you want, because you’re look at writing as a career, not a single contract.  Right?

Your answer at the sign of contract:

  • Absolutely!
And after you discuss changes:

  • Shock: Wow. That’s a lot of work. Like…a lot.
  • Reaffirmation: I’ll be a better writer. This will be a better story. It will all be worth the effort. This is what I want.
And somewhere around ¼ way amidst revisions:

  • First inkling of fear: How in the heck am I going to do what she wanted? In the page count she wanted? I’m good, but…am I that good?
  • Reaffirmation: She believes I can do it. This is what I want. I love this story. I love these characters. I can do this.
And somewhere about ½ way through:

  • Frustration, doubt and recognizable fear: What the hell did I sign up for? Why am I doing this again? What if she hates it when I’m done? Could I face doing this again?
  • Resignation: If I back out now, I’ve killed any chance of having that writing career I’ve dreamed of. I’ll lose all self-respect. The story is strong. The characters are compelling. I have to push through.
And about ¾ of the way done:
  • Apprehension & disbelief: Holy shit. Was I high when I said I could make those changes she wanted? By that date? In that word count? When was the last time I went to the grocery store? Did laundry? Showered? Can I kill these characters now? Is it too late to change my plot to something worthwhile? Who are these kids running around my house calling me mom? Who is this man calling me honey? What day is it? No...more importantly, how many days do I have left to deadline? Will every book be like this? Is this really what I wanted?
  • Blind ambition and an incongruous trust in the universe: Don’t look up to see how far you still have to go. Don’t look down to see how much work you’ve already done. Don’t look around to see what else is passing you by. Just. Keep. Working. You gave your word. You have to follow through.
This is where knowing your underlying motivation for writing will pull you through.

I’m not talking about surface motivation: Writing is fun. It’s fun to make up characters and tell stories. Writing is creative. It’s my outlet.

None of those will get you through those rough stages.  At least not time after time, book after book.

Only recognizing and honoring your core motivation will keep you focused and give you the purpose you need to push up that hill.

So, why do you need to write?

Yes, it can be a creative outlet, but it had better be one that speaks to your soul. One you feel empty without. One that can’t be filled with any other creative media, because I’ve tried many, and they’re all a hell of a lot easier than writing. And most pay more, too.

Yes, it can even be for the money, but that sale must be something that validates you on a visceral level, because there are far easier ways to earn a paycheck—bigger, faster and in an equally creative field.

I've know for a long time that writing for me is both a curse and a calling.  In my gut I know I couldn't stop writing, no matter how grueling.

Only after going through all the above stages twice, first with the revisions of my debut novel, FEVER, and again with the completion of my second novel, BLAZE, which shares an overarching plot and characters in common, did I discover why.

My underlying motivation to write is communication.

At the deepest part of me, I need to communicate. First and foremost, with a core part of myself. But just as important to the process is sharing the result of that communication with the reader. 

I am a lover of prose.  Not purple prose, but purposeful prose.  I craft and recraft and recraft sentences and paragraphs and scenes with the ultimate goal of expressing whatever deep emotion simmers within my character. Whatever it is he or she needs to voice in order to grow and change and ultimately find happiness.

That's what we all seek, isn't it?  Happiness in one form or another?

My goal, I discovered, is piecing words together in an effort to find the most powerful way to express my character's struggles on the path to reaching this goal.  The battle of their individual inner demons.  I strive to portray situations and characters and ultimately toil a compelling story that speaks to the reader through emotion.

And story is emotion.

So in the darkest moments of writing, when I’m sure I’ll never weave the threads I’ve pulled from the bolt into the tapestry I imagined, I remember that base need to communicate.  

I need to communicate in order to understand myself and others. I need to understand myself and others in order to make sense of this world and my life and all that happens day to day.  

I need to write in order to be me. Authentically.

Why do you write?


Sharon Hamilton 8:00 AM  

I really like this post and it speaks to me-volumes! Although not quite published, my series will be shopped this January and I have already experienced some of what you've described just getting my ms ready for my agent. I'm going to save this and read it every time I am asked to make changes. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who stumbles in and out of feeling confident, but at the end of the day, if we still love our story and the writing, then we know we're doing the right thing. It's been said before every great artist, actor, writer has the same thoughts of self doubt, but then it's "showtime" and they put it all aside and do the best they can.

Nickie Asher 9:05 AM  

What a great post. For me writing is like breathing...not an option.

Anitra Lynn McLeod 10:13 AM  

I write to share my vision of the world. I see action, adventure, drama, and romance. Even during the darkest moments, in my books or my life, there is always a glimmer of hope. :)

Joan Swan 11:22 AM  


I love your term "showtime". That is the equivilant to our "due date".

Good luck with your series, and yes, we all feel this way. Even the multipublished authors I know still get the nerves.

Joan Swan 11:23 AM  


Sounds like your set! :-) Breathing is definitely not an option. And I know how you feel.

Joan Swan 11:24 AM  


What an awesome outlook! And that's how we keep going - that glimmer of hope. Never let it go out. Thanks for posting.

Sharon Clare 3:19 PM  

Sherry Isaac sent your link my way, Joan. We're critique partners. I love your outlook. I haven't yet reached that struggle, but I'd love to give it a try. Thanks for giving us a reality check and the very best of luck!!!

Joan Swan 3:33 PM  

Oh, aren't you the lucky one? Sherri is a fabulous writer, not to mention a great gal!

Thanks for the best wishes. Right back at you! And thanks for stopping by!

Gloria Richard 6:14 AM  

Hey, Joan! Great post. I won't bore (impress?) you with the number of Rhett Devlisht techniques I noted, but there were many...good ones. I'm not in rewrite mode on my current WIP (heavy sigh), but the self-doubt and affirmations you described hit the mark even for this anal first draft writer. To address your challenge: I write because the characters, once entrenched in my psyche, become important to me. Yes. They talk to me. I want to weave a story that's compelling, and the characters (crazy as it sounds) take over plot development and twists. I owe them and myself the best tale I can write. Oh! And, there is that niggling vouyeristic desire to give the H/H their dynamic sex scene. :-)

Gloria Richard 6:30 AM  

Yes. It's Gloria again. I'll take advantage of your archives when I begin rewrite of my YA into a middle grade series. The character in that novel won't go away. Michelle "Mitch" Madison is tapping her eleven-year-old foot awaiting her turn. So, the MG Light Fantasy series is inevitable and the next project on the plate.

Joan Swan 11:49 AM  

Ah, yes, those talking characters. Don't you just want to smack them sometimes? Mine can get so dang demanding! Have to write just to shut them up! :-)

Thanks for coming by Gloopy!

Anonymous,  8:33 PM  

What a tell-it-like-it-is piece, Joan! I really got a lot out of it. Communication is my main goal, too. It feeds my soul to write and create something where there was nothing.

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