What’s my motivation?

It’s a caricature more than a character, but the image of an actor begging of his director, “What’s my motivation?” is familiar to most of us. Of course the actor isn’t really referring to himself at all. He’s asking the question on behalf of his character. For reasons that may be of value to no one else on the planet, the actor wants to know why the person he’s playing would do whatever it is he’s supposed to do at this precise moment in the play. Or perhaps his focus is more intensely concentrated on why his character would say a particular thing, rather than something else, under present circumstances. As writers we don’t have that luxury. There is no one to query for information, other than ourselves of course. Certainly, editors will have their opinions of our work. But editors generally read our finished work. They aren’t prone to long, drawn out discussions about why our story line headed in this direction or that one. That’s not their role for the most part. It’s the writer’s job to come up with the goods, lay the story out from end to end, hooking the reader near the beginning and not letting him go until the end – at the very least. If we can keep them guessing beyond the final page, all the better. That’s where sequels are born, in the curiosity that lies between the ending of one book and the beginning of another.

Beyond all that, a writer has to find in himself, or herself (as the case may be) a reason to shut themselves off from the world. Writing is not an activity that lends itself freely to social interaction. It can be a profoundly exciting pastime, or a emotionally draining experience. It can be both, sometimes in the same sitting. But whatever the moment brings, the process must be suffered or celebrated alone, in solitary, where our creativity can roam free, unfettered by the social graces our civilized companions have come to expect of us.

Some writers find motivation in dreaming of the enormous piles of money they imagine are waiting on the other side of their first contract to publish. Others are drawn by the promise of fame, or at least a higher degree of social acceptance than they currently enjoy. And more than a few of us put ourselves through the arduous task of crafting a story for nothing more than the personal satisfaction of seeing our own names in print.

None of these motivations is wrong any more than they’re right. Whatever moves you to write is probably the correct motivation for you. It has no bearing on the writer down the street, up the stairs or across the room. We all must do what we do in our own time, in our own way, for our own reasons.

When any of us gets right down to brass tacks, we find the keyboard and the pen leave us to work on an absolutely level playing field. We will be judged on what we produce rather than why we produced it. Just as we should be.

Jamie Beckett

Burritos and Gasoline

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