Motivation and the Writing Life (Part 1 of 8)
As a Christian youth leader many years ago, I developed and taught classes to both junior high and high school students. One curriculum, called Life in the Real World, focused on life skills for young adults, with the goal of turning the material into a book. The classes, ranging from basic investing to the proper use of a credit card, were well-received by the high school kids, but the book languished and eventually died. It’s now packed away in boxes lining the top of the master closet, much to my wife’s dismay.
Back in late 1995, a wonderful lady and fellow writer named Barbara Graham invited me to teach a class at Tarrant County College (then Tarrant County Junior College). The thought of teaching a class to a roomful of adults taking her evening creative writing class both thrilled me and scared the bejeebers out of me. You see, at the time I suffered from a debilitating disease called spasmodic dysphonia which all but rendered my voice useless (for those who listen to NPR, this is the same disease Diane Rehm suffers from). Folks who knew me well said I sounded like a three-pack-a-day smoker. But I persisted, developing, polishing, and presenting “Motivation for the Writing Life.” Despite my hitching, gravelly, hard-to-listen-to voice, the students politely hung in there with me and I finished it. Whew! Barbara invited me back to teach additional classes, but the worsening spasmodic dysphonia and the associated depression ended up putting me in the hospital in January 1996, and it wasn’t until sometime in 1999 that the devil finally left me alone and my voice came back. Now you can’t shut me up!
While updating and polishing “Motivation for the Writing Life” for junior high school students in Garner, Texas, I got the wild hair to post it here instead (I decided to teach them a class on journalism, to cover the wider range of interests junior high kids seem to have!).
Please help me to improve this curriculum by sharing your own thoughts, experiences, and ideas on staying motivated as a writer. I wholeheartedly welcome your feedback and inputs on this.
As always, thank you for your loyal readership. Without you this whole endeavor would be meaningless.
And now, Part 1 of 8, “Motivation and the Writing Life” …
THE DECISION TO WRITE
A long time ago a young man wanted to impress the wise old king who had ruled the kingdom for many years. He purchased a small dove and closed it up in his hand. “I’ll ask the king whether the dove is alive or dead,” he thought. “If he says it is dead I will open my hand and let it fly away. But if he says it is alive I will crush it.” As the king approached, the young man jumped into the procession and bowed before him. “Master,” he said. “In my hand I hold a dove. My question to you is this: Is it alive or is it not?”
The king gazed at the lad, smiled and said, “That, young man, is for you to decide.”
Indeed writing is a decision, a leap of faith. Florence Nightingale once said, “. . . there never was any vagueness in my plans or ideas as to what God’s work was for me.” You know that old aphorism, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness?” I propose we add an addendum to it: “Writing is, too.” For what is a writer but a reflection of God’s creative power in each one of us, an expression of His ultimate gift as image-bearers of the ultimate Creator?
Writing is a decision we have to make every day, sometimes moment-by-moment. It all comes down to one question: Why? If the “why” is answered to our satisfaction, then the “how” will work itself out. So why do we write? Why do you write? Why does anyone subject themselves to this beautiful torment? Here’s a simple writing test: Sit down and begin a novel. Here’s a tougher writing test: Finish it.
So why do you write? Maybe you have no answer. Or maybe you have a very specific answer. One weekend my wife, Mary, and I attended the Lexi-Con writer’s conference in Denton, Texas, and during the symposium I became a member of the Texas Association of Authors. After paying my dues, founder Alan Bourgeois asked if I’d be willing to return to the meeting room later that afternoon for a quick videotaped interview. I agreed even though I had no clue what the interview was going to be about. At the appointed hour, I entered the room with a bit of trepidation, sat down in front of the video camera, and hoped I looked somewhat presentable after a non-stop day of hard-core conference-going.
After switching on the camera, Alan stepped aside and asked me a simple question: “Why do you write?” My simple answer: I have to. I know, I know, it seems trite and ambiguous, but writing to me is my lifeblood, the thing that keeps me going when I awaken in the morning, the thing that sings me to sleep—or keeps me up—at night. I write to understand myself, to comprehend life, to question my existence then try to answer it. To me, the expression of life is life itself. I write because it’s what I was “meant” to do. And I’m not alone: many writers with whom I’ve spoken can’t really put the reason into anything more concrete other than “I have to.”
That’s good enough for me.
But it surprises me that not more people respond with, “I want to.” Dorothy Parker, American satirist, once said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” At the October 1995 Freelance Writers Network meeting in Fort Worth, Dan McGraw, then an associate editor for U.S. News and World Report, said that going after the story, doing the research for it, and figuring out an interesting angle was, to him, the essence of writing. For him, the physical act of writing was tedious.
For others the very act of writing is its own reward. “I love writing,” declared James A. Michener. “I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotion.” I can relate to that as well, especially when ideas blend together with the words dancing around in my head to pirouette gracefully across the computer screen. Prose can become poetry can become love can become . . . life. Who doesn’t want that?
(Coming up: Part 2–Dreaming for Dollars)
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes