MOTIVATION AND FRIGIDITY
As people and as writers, we tend to underestimate the impact of motivation and frigidity. Ignoring either can carry huge penalties because when you get to the bottom line, regardless of what we’re doing, our motivation for doing it governs whether or not we’ll be successful at it.
My one rule in writing is to never write a book I don’t love. In the beginning, I had many more rules, but situations arise and events occur that have managed to kick every other rule I set off the list.
That might sound confusing to some, but the truth is, it’s a simple matter of what motivates and when it motivates. Let me share an example.
I was cruising along writing paranormal novels. Then I went to the grocery store and overheard a young airman and his wife debating between buying a can of tuna and a jar of peanut butter. They couldn’t afford both. That startled, stunned and sickened me. It MOTIVATED me to abandon paranormal novels and write military novels: stories about those who serve and defend.
The emotion triggered was first shock and then rage. That inspired a deep dedication to the work. I wanted everyday people not involved in the military to know what it costs those who protect us.
When my mother was ill, I wanted to write a book for her that had all of her favorite things in it. She had been a lifelong voracious reader and very supportive of my writing efforts–even early on when no other person in the world cared whether or not I wrote.
The emotion triggered was love and the desire to give her a meaningful gift. That inspired a deep dedication to the work. It wasn’t easy. I had to write a contemporary novel that read like an historical, a time-travel that wasn’t a time-travel, dual plot lines, dual timelines, a Scotsman protagonist and a spunky heroine who loved him throughout the book not just at the end of it. It had to have an intriguing mystery and page-turning suspense. And it had to be credible. “Real people and real problems,” she said. That was an amazingly tall order, but I was MOTIVATED, and FESTIVAL was born.
In other novels, fear or rage motivates me to write a book. But that fear and/or rage takes many forms. Grief at losing my father (MAYBE THIS TIME), Abuse (ALL DUE RESPECT), political outrage (LADY LIBERTY), Terrorism: Biological warfare (SHADES OF GRAY), Psychological warfare (ACTS OF HONOR), chemical warfare (DUPLICITY). All of the aforementioned and more (the War Games series books, i.e., BODY DOUBLE through DOUBLE DARE and LADY JUSTICE, where shopping malls are biologically contaminated and our water or food supplies are poisoned.
My point is these motivators struck home. They didn’t just touch me. They scared the hell out of me and/or made me so angry I couldn’t not write them. Being interested isn’t enough. To spend your time (your life) writing something, you should be dedicated. Determined. You should be passionate.
If not, write about something else. Because, as I said above, regardless of what your motivation for writing a book is, that motivation determines the project’s success. Tap into those universal emotions and wallow in them. You’ll need that immersion at some time during the writing. That initial enthusiasm burst lasts about three chapters. After that, you need discipline and determination to keep writing, and that’s where your motivation carries you. Without it, or if it is weak, then you’re going to end up with a lot of projects started and few to none ever completed.
What is motivating you to write the story you’re writing? What motivations are strong or too weak to work for you?
Those are valid questions, and the answers to them are extremely important. Typically, however, the answers are also decidedly unique to the author. Maybe you’re in a crisis and want to help others navigate a similar crisis successfully. Maybe you’ve unlocked a secret that has help dramatically improve your relationships with others and you want to share it. Maybe you are a survivor of this or that tragedy, or a victim of this or that scam, or you’ve gone through a horrendous or funny or unbelievable event that you just have to share or you’ve imagined a situation in your mind and you want to manifest it in a novel to discover what happens!
What trips our switch is unique to us, but there is a rule of thumb to assist in determining the strength of the motivator. If it is tied to a universal emotion–an emotion that many human beings experience–then odds are high that the motivation is sufficient to sustain the trials of novel writing.
Bottom line advice: know what motivates you to write and never waste your time writing a novel you aren’t totally invested in writing. It’ll spare you rejections because your motivation is what permeates the book in a million ways to create “the magic.” It can’t be forced or faked. It shows every time.
These same principles apply in character motivations. If you need more information on that, I recommend you visit my free library: http://www.vickihinze.com and read the articles on Creating Unforgettable Characters, The Fictional Dream and Conflict.
So let’s say you’re strongly motivated to write a specific story. You dive in and things are going along great . . . until you reach a point where you’re going to have to reveal your soft underbelly. And you fear that revelation is going to cause challenges for you. Some common ones are:
You have to write a love scene and your minister, parents or kids are going to read it.
You have to use street language true to the characters, which includes that “f” word, and your kids, parents, in-laws, pastor or priest is going read it.
You have to relive horrific events you’ve endured and overcome and you know it’s going to bring them all back again and it’s going to hurt like hell.
You don’t want to reveal some aspect of yourself (your life or that of someone close to you) that will be revealed in the writing. Oh, the people close to you know this stuff, but do you want to be that exposed to the general public?
These are the bones of frigidity in your writing. We don’t want to embrace embarrassment, shame, that to which we are opposed or pain. We survived terrors once. We are not eager to relive it. And we like our privacy and believe there are things we shouldn’t and don’t want to share with anyone else, much less the public.
Those are but a few of the motivators that entice writers to be frigid. To hold back because to venture forward either takes us outside our personal comfort zone or crosses a line we are opposed to crossing.
Listen, there are private, personal things that you just plain don’t touch. Every single writer in the world sets those boundaries–and they should be set. Every thing in a life is not everyone’s business and to consider that it is, is amazingly arrogant.
You have to define your boundary. Set your line in the sand that you will not cross. Don’t apologize for it. Don’t resent it. It is your right as a writer and as a human being.
That said, you have to be true to your story. That’s your responsibility as a writer and as a human being. So find a way to meet the story’s needs and not violate your personal ethics. Both carry equal weight and an equal obligation to succeed and not fail either.
Admittedly, finding an equitable solution can be challenging. But you are creative, and if you seek, you will find one.
What you can’t do, should never do, is fail to fulfill your promise to your reader by avoiding something that should be addressed. Same holds true for the writer. So understand that if you write novels, you’re going to trudge through dark places and emotions you’d rather not face. Some things will sting, some will cut deep. Just remember, you hold the knife.
Often just knowing that negates a lot of would-be frigidity.
Which brings us to Procrastination. That’ll be our topic in MISTAKES WE MAKE: Part 5.
I hope this helps!
© 2006, Vicki Hinze