Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Artificial Motivation

I have a secret. NaNoWritMo, the Three-Day Novel Contests? I don’t like them.

Now, I’ve never admitted to it publicly, and anyone who enters has my support and encouragement behind them, so before you get your knickers in a twist let me explain.

What I don’t like about them is the artificial motivation factor. Well, that’s not all, but I’ll start there.

The reality is, from the time we go to school we’re conditioned to operate on deadlines and schedules. I agree with that, to a certain extent, because in the real world most jobs operate on schedules and deadlines. You at least are supposed to show up for work at a certain time, or punch a clock.

Now, a few years ago I completed a creative writing diploma, and I learned a number of things through the process, and not exactly what they intended to teach me. For one thing, I started writing SC as an assignment for that course… where they taught me to pre-plot. The very best thing that ever happened was that I moved and lost the outline and when I went back to those chapters just had to learn to move forward from there. But what I realized was that programs teach how to plot a book because they can’t teach you how to write organically, or be a pantser, or whatever you want to call the approach I use to writing.

And schools don’t teach you how to be self motivated because it’s not an easy thing to teach you.

I don’t really blame schools, because they’re overloaded with issues these days. It’s just an example of how, from youth, we’re programmed to operate a certain way.

The people who end up breaking out and being huge successes are people who are self motivated.

Now, before you really freak out and think I’m criticizing all writers who prefer deadlines or those who pre-plot, I’m not. As far as I’m concerned, there are a million things vying for a person’s attention and to get to the point where you finish a manuscript, polish it and actually sell it requires enormous self discipline.

But it’s easy to slip back into old habits and get used to relying on those deadlines.

Certainly if I had a number of deadlines competing for my time and attention I’d be more deadline-driven. But this comes down to why I’m not a big fan of things like NaNoWriMo and the Three-Day Novel Contest: They don’t focus on quality. What they focus on is creating an artificial motivator to get people to write. And there's a time and place for the focus just on completion... but the reality is, if you can’t learn to apply butt to chair and fingers to keyboards on your own, you’ll have a short career.

I thought I’d be more focused with a deadline looming over me for FRAILTY. Truth was, it completely undermined my self confidence and became an albatross. I realize that may be hard for some people to believe, but it’s the truth. I’d never had a problem being self motivated about my writing… until I had a deadline this year. I agonized over every word. But then, I was writing a book that was already sold and instead of writing for myself I had the nagging fear, What if my editor doesn’t like it? It sucked.

Now I’m deadline free, other than impending edits, and it rocks. My creative juices are flowing at an unbelievable rate, and the biggest problem is that it probably isn’t a good idea for me to work on eight novels at a time, because I have ideas for about that many. Instead, I’ll focus on two for now, and then move on.

I know that some of these contests work really well for some people… but I guess I’m more about the long-term, day to day, consistent writing than anything else. And I also think it sort of sucks that there’s all this encouragement for people who commit to writing a certain word count in a month when others are slaving away all year long.

But I also appreciate the fact that I’m weird and prefer the voices in my head to most real people, so writing is like having a social life.

My laugh of the day comes courtesy of Russel.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I'm not a deadline person either. I'm frantic enough without one.

Anonymous said...

After I did my writing course I felt like it took me years to unlearn everything and write. You get all this gunk in your head about doing this like that, but what you really need is to find out what works for you. I still think writing courses are a good intro, but it's not about learning writing, but learning about yourself.

Rob said...

Interesting article.

I was thinking about taking a uni degree in writing a couple of months back after writing online and earning a sort of living for a number of years. I attended some uni open days in the UK and it really got me motivated again just to walk amongst hundreds of other authors or would be authors.

I've currently set myself the target of one flash fiction or similar a day and am having a fantastic time being creative. Every day is an exciting new adventure.

I don't know how long it will last and I suppose it's not really a proper deadline because it's self imposed and (being old) I don't really need to make the money.

Getting out of my comfort zone is the way to get my creative juices flowing, deadline of not.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ha Patti. And you are so industrious. You really produce.

Boy Amra, can I relate to that! And I agree - find what works for you.

Rob, it's interesting, because that's similar to what some of us go through going to a convention. Getting to talk to other writers! But then it becomes a distraction, for me, anyway. Writing is isolating, talking about writing is addictive, and it can be really hard coming back to your quiet office in a different country from all your friends knowing it will be months or years until you'll see them again. Depressing, really.

So everyone finds what works for them. I'd love to be closer to some of my friends, and after the divorce I may make a big move, but I know I'd also have to discipline myself then, because it would be so easy to hang out...

Rob said...

You say

'talking about writing is addictive'

I wonder if it changes one's writing viewpoint too.

After rubbing shoulders with all those other writers, I noticed that my writing briefly changed and became more inward looking.

I found I was focusing on the writing process probably too much. I had to make a concious effort to start thinking about readers who weren't authors.

But, after years of isolation amongst the green heather of UK's West Country Exmoor moorland, the company of writers has still left me hungry for more.

Perhaps conventions are the thing. I must look into them.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Rob, I think it can. Sometimes, isolation is important as we're finding our own voice and style. Initially, I didn't read at all when writing - it was necessary for me - and sometimes people would mean well but undermine my confidence in my approach to my work.

I mean, I understand the need some people have for the motivators. And NaNaWriMo can help them get a lot of content together. But then it's also rushed and has to be smoothed out after. Some people love editing and revising - I'm not really one of them. I'd rather get it right the first time through than do a complete re-write. I have re-written stuff, earlier stuff, but now not so much.

So, for me, it's all about what works for you.

In the crime fiction world there are a lot of fun conventions. You're in the UK... Crimefest in June and Harrogate in July are two options.

Rob said...

Thanks Sandra, I'll look into those :-)

Mmmm crime flash fiction?

Now there's a thought for my ideas journal!