Monday, November 29, 2010

A Post For a Day When Your Backpack is Heavy

Okay, this isn't merely an "Oh my stars, how cool!" post, but the discussion starts below the video because the clip is relevant to what I want to say.

So. That looked incredibly thrilling, right?

So. How did those (gender-neutral) guys get to the top of the mountain?

I saw fences up there. It may be they lucked out and there's a gondola or a road that takes them to the top.

Usually however, with these kinds of sports, each of those amazing flights down the mountain involves a lengthy slog up with a backpack full of equipment. And maybe the skiers had to wake before dawn to do this. Maybe they had to camp in the snow to be ready for their moment.

So the connection with writing becomes apparent--it takes a writer one or more years to write a book, but it only takes a reader a few hours to sail through that thrilling ride and alight upon "The End" wanting more.

And this is true of all kinds of endeavours; it takes days to paint a portrait but only an instant to look at one. It takes months to develop a mathematical proof and only a few minutes for your colleagues to read through it.

Which brings me to the idea of motivation. It can be dispiriting to anyone to know their work can be consumed (and forgotten) so quickly by its intended audience.

So why are we writers doing this?

Here's a potential reason: I read an article recently (and am having trouble finding it now, unfortunately) that studied what motivated a group of children to draw with crayons. It found the children were most motivated when they decided for themselves that they were going to draw, and they were least motivated when offered a reward as incentive to prompt them to draw.

This isn't a surprise to me, because I've noticed this tendency in myself regarding a wide range of pursuits. If I decide it would be cool to paint a picture/write a book/create a computer program, then I can work very hard for quite prolonged periods on that project.

I don't find it a huge incentive to consider that I might ever make money doing whatever it is--and an offer of payment beforehand sometimes even sours my enthusiasm. The "ooh, wouldn't that be cool?" factor far outweighs "hmm, could I sell this?" as a reason for me to start working.

The tricky bit is when I don't feel the "ooh, wouldn't that be cool?" incentive. Then I have to substitute in a solid "this would be worthwhile" belief and make myself plug away at the project. It isn't that I've lost the love of the activity; it's just that at a certain point, inspiration gives way and I have to adopt a work ethic.

I've read about many writers who say they don't exactly like writing; they like having written. They're immensely proud of what they create, but they don't find the process itself all that fun.

And again, that's not really a surprise. All they're saying is that the mind-searing, glorious flight down the mountain is often the sole reason for slogging up it in the first place.


Do you like writing, or do you like having written?

What motivates you to write? What spurs you to start, and what spurs you to finish? Are they different things?

And, tangentially, would you climb a mountain if you could fly down it?

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

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