This July I’ve been following along on the progress of Camp NaNoWriMo through different writers’ blogs. The impressive word counts, surprising ideas, and creative ways to push through that I see coming from all these writers are really inspiring. It’s exciting how the everyone’s-in-it-together energy becomes contagious and encourages writers to stretch their potential in ways they never would have before.
It’s also made me think a lot about motivation.
Where does motivation come from?
When I was a little girl I loved to play dress-up. Even back then I was passionate about stories, and so it usually happened that I extended my simple costumes into dramatic play-acting. Sometimes I was a news reporter or a glamorous actress. Sometimes I was running my own little store or library. When I enacted these narratives on my own they stayed pretty predictable. But when I was able to corral my mom and her friends into “watching a show” suddenly my small scenarios took on a sense of urgency, and a powerful demand for me to unleash my own creative voice.
The difference between playing by myself and putting on a play was that, with the latter, my creativity was now on display for others.
Would they like it? Would they think it was wonderful? What would they think?
A supportive audience can be an incredibly dynamic motivator for writers. Because we do a lot of the actual writing on our own, it’s easy to overlook that other essential interlocking piece of our writer’s purpose, which is to connect with other human beings. But that is the the true core reason every writer writes at all. Writers use the creative act of writing to examine and explain themselves and the way they see the world to other people.
And so the promise of someone else reading your work can be an extremely powerful shot of go-go-juice to your creative muscle. But if your current audience consists of readers who just aren’t that into your kind of writing—regardless of the quality of your work—then you miss out on the motivational benefits.
The type of audience that works best for you will depend on where you’re at in your process and unique experience as a writer. If you’ve already published a novel or two and are looking for feedback on the latest, you will probably seek out readers with a sharp and critical eye for improvement. However, if you’ve never shown anyone your writing before, or you’re feeling nervous and vulnerable about it, finding readers who are emotionally sensitive and encouraging should be your priority. Discovering yourself as a writer can help you pinpoint where you are in your process. Being thoughtful about the people you choose to share your writing with can help you blossom as a creative being.
Of course, there is the conventional argument that writers should always seek out blunt and brutal critique of their work. If someone doesn’t tear your writing apart, how can you ever rebuild it to get any better? And this works for some writers. Just like it works for some people to problem solve using conflict, and engage with others using an aggressive interaction style. If you are energized by competition and conflict, this method might inspire and drive you and get great results.
But writers are as diverse and layered as all the other humans on planet earth. Not every writer is energized by aggression. When you are choosing your first audience, make your choice on what you want and what feels good to you. When human beings feel emotionally supported and safe, they will thrive and grow, and then gain the confidence to explore new territory.
The energy you share with your first audience should be the energy of curiosity. They are curious about the magic and beauty to be found in your writing, and you are curious about their experience reading it, and their reaction afterward. A lot of other stuff will come up along the way. Your first readers will point out places in your writing where they were confused, and stuff they loved that you never suspected was special. You might see your story in an entirely different light or, based on their observations, decide to write a different story altogether. But you can never do without the valuable insight an audience can bring to your work.
On top of all this wisdom, perspective, and inspiration, you get to write your story knowing that someone out there is going to read it.
And that’s really what we writers live for.
Did you enjoy this post? Get more like it! Subscribe in a reader