What is it? What is it that compels us to put thought to paper, to fashion a sentence…and another and another…to rework and rewrite and then, finally, to send those pieces of our soul off into the world? Is it that we desire fame and want to be noticed? "Hey, look at me?" Is it that we enjoy suffering? Because we know that the writing life inherently involves at least a little of this most days, and a whole lot of it others. Are we just practicing, writing just for the sake of littering a white page with black letters? Or is there something more?
Of course, our motivation for continually retrieving pen and paper, or facing our blank computer screens day after day, varies depending on who we are, where we’re at in our life, and what our goals are. But I would hazard to guess that at bottom of all our motivation is something much less shallow or simple than anything I’ve proposed thus far.
I’ve been thinking about this subject for a while now because I think it’s important we’re aware of our own intentions, as well as to use what time and space we have each day as wisely as we can. I am someone who is driven, in many ways, by my desire to help provide for my family, even while knowing that if I’m going to do this through writing, I am going to have to be fully engaged in my craft and the outside world, and I am going to have to work my rear-end off. Nevertheless, I am compelled by this need, because writing is something I’ve nearly always done relatively well, and it seems pointless to go down another road less familiar when I’ve had success through writing and, through more hard work, anticipate more.
But even that isn’t enough, and I’ve known it all along. There’s something else about the writing life that is so alluring that when asked what they’d most like to do in their lives if they could choose any endeavor, a room full of women on Oprah a few years back responded, "Write." It wasn’t until then that I realized just how universal this need to express ourselves in written word seems to be. There’s something soul-freeing about turning our inner thoughts into something tangible; something that has the potential to be a transforming force to others.
My blogging pal Jody Hedlund said it so well in a recent post of hers, "What a Writer Wants Most," that I’m inspired to borrow a few of her words:
"But most of us want our words to make an impact, to hit readers in the heart and leave an imprint that changes the way they view life. We want our words to breathe fresh hope into lives that often so desperately need it.
"We labor over our stories because deep down we know that the real joy in writing comes not only from the creative process, but also from being able to share the pleasure of our stories with others."
Spot on! There is an innate need in us, all of us, to share our stories, to know that our thoughts-turned-into-words have truly affected others. And most of us hope that our written expression will stir something within our readers, causing them to be changed somehow from taking in what we’ve taken the time to write.
Not all of us choose to do this through writing, since our gifts are not always the same. For some, it might happen through another artistic channel. But the need is there in every single one of us and it is an extremely powerful need. And part of that need comes from our desire to not leave this world without having made a difference, without having left some kind of indelible mark behind.
A few months ago, something happened in my life that caused my motivation to come to an absolute halt for a period of about three days. I truly was ready to give it all up, every last bit of writing. Once I started down that road, every piece of writing I’d done until that point seemed completely meaningless. I would call what I experienced a "dark night of the writer’s soul," and it’s happened to me a few times before, but this time it was quite intense. Several factors contributed to my emerging from that pretty much intact and not too much worse for wear, including the voice of a writer friend I will introduce next week. But I would not wish it on any writer. If it does happen, know that it can and will most likely pass with the help of a few rightly-timed variables.
I’m greatly relieved my "dark night" dissipated fairly quickly this go-around. I feel so much more alive when I’m writing, when I’m sharing tiny shreds of my soul so that others might feel more peaceful, more thoughtful, more joyful, more alive themselves.
Are there other factors besides what I’ve mentioned that keep you motivated? Have you ever lost that motivation, even if for only a short while? If so, what brought you back?