On Motive

March 7, 2015 at 12:10 am (Uncategorized)

Beach Diary

I wanted to say something about the motivation to write as well as about the motivation to publish.

In my last post, I addressed the distinction between wanting to publish versus wanting to be read. In it, I alluded to external validation and my belief that, while not a primary motivation, this is a very common one and one which I believe the literary world promotes.

Today, I’d like to take that a step further. It’s true, it promotes it, but indirectly. I remember reading an article in Poets and Writers awhile back, where the author, who had taught MFA students, was appalled by the level of scathing criticism his students had towards a well-respected an anthology. An anthology, he was convinced, that many of his students would never publish in. He remarked that students in workshops “should be criticizing each other, not other writers.”

Often, I’ve seen this sort of disconnect in the literary world, the one between those that are published and those that aren’t. You see it in MFA programs. You see it in industry magazines. You see it from agents and publishers. At the same time, there also is this stigma in the literary world (at least in MFA programs and in magazines like P&W) around having any motive aside from the pure desire to move others with your writing. It seems a bit naive, if not downright disingenuous, to bestow a higher status upon those that have published and then criticize those who haven’t for wanting what has clearly been presented to them as the criteria for credibility.

I think it’s part of a more over-arching mythos of authenticity that surrounds the literary world. I say mythos because of the associated belief that only those with purity of purpose, only those whose goal is to uplift others by tapping into something universal, can somehow lay claim to being authentic. Anything else–the desire for credibility, for self-expression, for sharing one’s inner world, for understanding, for a career–is deemed as somehow not only vulgar and inappropriate but is tainted to the point where one is better off leaving the profession than pursuing it for the wrong reasons.

Except it’s a lie, a myth.

When you say things like “I want to write something universal, something that will move other people” really dig deep into your psyche to tease out the answer to one simple question: why? Is it because you want to help people, inspire them? Great, so why do you want to do that? Nor does the “writing because you must” response get you out of it, because again, why must you? What is underneath that driving urge to create? If you dig far enough, you’ll find something. Maybe there’s a lot of gunk from the past that needs resolving. Maybe you have a deep-seated feeling of alienation and you want to connect with readers who may feel the same way. Maybe writing is like a puzzle to you, a way to work through concepts in a manner that’s less systematic than philosophy or the sciences. Maybe, like the INTJ author from this MBTI forum, you simply enjoy it and aren’t cut out for the corporate world. The fact is, no one does anything in life with a completely pure motive. There are always some sort of secondary benefits. Whether it’s money, fulfillment, intellectual stimulation,  putting a part of yourself out in the world or simply feeling valued and useful, we all have them and, as long as you don’t lose perspective, there’s nothing wrong with that. To claim otherwise is pure pretension.