About a year ago, almost to the day, I wrote a post here breaking down the differences between having writing dreams and writing goals. As I looked back at it recently and began wondering how many of my own had been reached in 2016, a realization came to me: Dreams are fine, but they’re almost always beyond your control. Goals can be useful, but they’re constantly evolving.
This year I decided to reflect on reasons for writing — not wondering so much about our hopes or ambitions related to it, but why we have them at all. What’s the point of investing so much of ourselves in this? What do we hope to accomplish from it? With all the frustrating moments that pile up along the way, why even bother, really?
I came up with a fairly predictable list of my own reasons that, when taken as a whole, weren’t very convincing. As I thought about why each was on the list, I found that every reason could be traced back to either insecurity or arrogance. I felt I had to prove I was worthy of my dreams and goals — both to myself and to other people — or I was too quick to believe that not only was I worthy, but I deserved seeing them happen. Here are some examples of what I mean:
*I want to see something I wrote on a shelf in a bookstore. (Insecurity: Why would being on a bookstore shelf make me, or my writing, any more valid? Why would it take that to make me feel I was good enough?)
*I want to write something that will be meaningful to people. (Arrogance: What makes me think I have anything noteworthy to say in the first place?)
*I want to write something that people in the publishing industry would respect and take seriously. (Insecurity: Why should this mean so much to me, if I’ve lived any kind of a life that, hopefully, has already earned me the respect of other people for different reasons?)
*I want to be successful enough at writing so I can devote myself to it full time. (Arrogance: I must have a pretty high opinion of my work to think I could possibly be one of the few to ever see Royalty Dollar #1, much less go full time, someday.)
*I want to publish a book so the people in my life will be proud of what I’ve accomplished. (Insecurity: If anyone is going to be proud of me, why does the reason need to be so specifically defined? Why would it take an achievement like publishing for that happen at all?)
*I want to write something great someday. (Arrogance: So now it’s not just stopping at meaningful? And where did I get the idea I was capable of anything great?)
That writer brain can set some nasty traps and dig some twisty rabbit holes for you if you let it.
One of the reasons it was so important to me to reflect on motivation was the preparation I had going for a new manuscript. I’d spent nearly all of 2016 in a back-and-forth revision dance that finally felt like it had paid off with a solid manuscript, so it was time for a new one. I had an idea I felt strongly about, so I immersed myself in the mindset that planning it down to the most minuscule detail was the way to go. Between my character sketching, my setting descriptions and the pre-synopsis I wrote of where I expected the story to go (it was too comprehensive to be called just an outline), I had a planning word count nearly equal in length to the manuscript I’d just finished revising. I’ve always been a planner, but this was a new level.
The work started pretty well, and I saw things coming together in positive ways. However, having this road map to adhere to made the writing feel different. I wasn’t getting caught up in the excitement of what I still believe is a great idea for a story, and I couldn’t figure out why. So eventually, I stopped. Not just working on that story; I pretty much stopped writing. That left me feeling like a hole was opening up inside me, which is not how things are supposed to happen. Writing had always been a retreat, if not an escape. It was something I could rely on to help me process what I had going on in life. Without that, the hole kept getting wider and deeper, because I wasn’t filling it with a very specific purpose.
So, I made the difficult decision to put aside the project I had invested so much planning into and started a different story, one that had been rattling around in the vault for years. I only had vague ideas about it, but felt like it would be more fun. Days later, without even trying that hard, I was thousands of words into a new manuscript and felt that part of me coming back to life. I was writing like I always had— just telling a story because I wanted to. It was fun again. The hole was filling. My head was clearing. The emptiness wasn’t there. Instead I was carrying around a growing collection of ideas I wanted to try. Nothing structured, all random. I wanted to see what was going to happen next, and began planning out just far enough ahead.
I felt like had my answer. Why write? What’s my reason?
I write because I feel wrong if I don’t. I don’t feel complete without it. Whether I’m writing something that only a few dozen or potentially thousands of people might read someday, or something that I’ll never show another living soul, I simply need to do it. Any hopes or dreams or goals beyond that just have to exist separately.
I imagine this is probably true for a lot of us. Whatever goals you set for yourself in 2017 — reach for the stars, but keep your purpose in mind. Write because you need to. Write to fill the hole. Write because you love it. Respect the hopes and dreams and wishes that happen as a result of that need, but put them in their proper place, and let them resolve themselves along the way.