Motivate Yourself to Write
Today we welcome again regular guestblogger, Dave Baldwin who shares his insights on Daniel Pink’s followup to A Whole New Mind–Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. As writers, why do we do what we do? What’s really motivating us? Enjoy!
This month I decided to crack open Drive by Daniel Pink. It came recommended to me by a handful of different people. I have always been fascinated by the subject of motivation, and I’m particularly interested in anything that might help a budding writer or artist conquer the beast of creative accomplishment. Motivation is a huge factor in writing, and I’m sure it’s no different in any other field. Becoming a writer involves long hours of reading, researching, taking classes, drafting, editing—and perhaps worst of all—dealing with criticism and rejection. In the absence of strong motivation, you’re likely to throw in the towel.
Pink begins his inquiry into the nature of motivation by challenging a long-held belief: the idea that rewards and punishments consistently work as motivators (or detractors). Pink asserts that modern business has been built on something that he dubs “Motivation 2.0,” or an economic paradigm built on the distribution of rewards as a driver of performance. Pink challenges us to consider a different approach to motivation—based on the intrinsic rewards of the tasks we do each day.
The idea of intrinsic motivation is not a new concept, but Pink explores different facets of compensation and how it plays a role in our subjective experience that surprised me a bit. For example, he discusses several different experiments conducted and repeated with different groups of people—consistently showing that people tended to lose interest in things that they were being paid to do. The take-away for creative professionals is that if we try to motivate ourselves using the dream of making a boatload of money, we are likely to find ourselves discouraged easily and often. Pink shows empirical evidence that getting paid can actually function as an anti-motivator or creativity-killer in some cases.
Pink says that intrinsic motivation can be broken into three ingredients: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy is the freedom to do what we do in the best way that we see fit, without being micro-managed or constrained to a fixed routine. Mastery is what it sounds like: becoming accomplished in the art form of our choosing through consistent practice over time. Pink highlights purpose as one of the key flaws in traditional business models—and highlights examples of businesses that measure their progress by purpose rather than profit. While there is no simple answer to the question of how to stay motivated to write, I believe that Pink’s three-part recipe is an excellent place to begin.
I’m not suggesting that if you want to be a great writer, you should give up on the idea of making money—nor do I believe Pink would suggest any such thing. But if you follow the advice given in Drive, you will see that profit is a secondary consideration. Let’s face it: creative writing is not an instantly-profitable venture. If it were, a lot more people would be doing it for a living. I think that any writer can look at the three domains of autonomy, mastery, and purpose—and focus on any one domain at a time. Which of these three areas is most important or meaningful to you? Do you value the idea of escaping your 8-5 job and working from home? Do you like the idea of becoming a more accomplished writer? Are you most motivated by the idea of making the world a better place?
As writers, we tend to share a number of different intrinsic motivators in all three of Pink’s domains. I have come to believe that writing gives us access to autonomy and personal power. The more you write, the more skilled you become in the arena of communication. Great leaders are great communicators, and this is no accident. The pursuit of mastery comes intuitively to writers; we need to keep honing our craft in order to stay sane. Writing is addictive, but in a good way—and you’ll find few writers who can be content with their lives while failing to keep up with their basic practice. Finally, writing can help you to develop greater clarity into your life’s overall purpose, because it forces you to learn to articulate one thought at a time into clear and specific form.
The next time you find it hard to motivate yourself to write, take a look at the three domains of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If you follow Pink’s advice, you’re likely to find your inspiration in one of these three places. Personally, I most easily find my motivation in mastery. I am most consistently motivated by the experience of writing in the flow. I have learned to take simple delight in watching my own fingers flitter across the keyboard, watching my own words appear on the screen, and hearing other people tell me how they have been impacted by them. I have learned to dust myself off and get back to the keyboard day after day by thinking about the simple idea that I might advance the art conversation into new areas—but only if I keep at it every single day.
If you want a shorter synopsis of Pink’s concept of motivation, you’re in luck. Pink also did a TED Talk, and you can watch it on YouTube in 18 minutes. But I would recommend giving the book itself a read—it takes a much deeper dive into the essential components of intrinsic motivation and may give you just the insights you need to get yourself started—or restarted—on your next writing project.
What do you look forward to doing every day as a writer?