Writing Wednesday: The Fire Inside the Eye of the Tiger
Today’s topic comes from legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson via ESPN’s Sports Guy. In an interview published about a month from when this posts (and I’m not sure how long before that the interview took place) Jackson noted that Michael Jordan was the best player ever because he used every slight (many of them imagined) as motivation to destroy his opponents.
This brings up the topic of motivation. What fuels you when writing a story? Is it dreams of fame and fortune? (If so then you’re a moron. You’ll never be rich and famous–unless you already are, in which case maybe publishing a book will make you richer and famouser.) Is it some mealy-mouthed blather about loving your characters and story? Or are you just passing the time?
Unlike Jordan, I’m pretty sure none of us are using our writing to settle old scores with people, although maybe you might get back at that jerk who cut you off by writing a scene where some jerk in a black Escalade goes flying through a guardrail and over a cliff. But there’s probably something that fuels you to finish a novel. Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint, so you need something to keep you going.
My hypothesis for today is that the better the motivation, the better the book. I consider my book Where You Belong to be my best work, even better than anything I’ve done since. One reason: motivation. Since 2002, when I endeavored to be more “literary” I had wanted to write a book like my literary hero John Irving. I tried a couple of times but it didn’t work out. Then after a sabbatical in 2007 and a dreadful warmup novel I assembled the pieces for the eventual story. This time I was more determined to get it right. I was a lot more focused than I ever was before, working until 9-10pm most weeknights and sometimes much later than that on weekends. If I hadn’t had to go to work then it probably really would have been working around the clock.
The end result of that added focus, that added motivation, was the best thing I’ve done. Since then I haven’t really been as motivated. Last year I wrote a lot but I don’t think it was as good. My motivation was really just to get things done, stressing quantity more than quality. That’s not the kind of motivation that can propel you to greatness.
The better motivation is to say, “I’m going to do this and get it right and nothing’s going to stand in my way!”
In Irving’s own World According to Garp, the titular main character completes his first “serious” story after reading about Marcus Aurelius and not being impressed very much by it. Like Michael Jordan years later, Garp uses the perceived negative of reading a bad book to write a good story.
Of course a perceived positive is just as motivating. My motivation wasn’t really negative. I’m sure other people have been motivated by love to write something really exceptional.
On a final note, I think it was in the comment’s of Michael’s blog where someone mentioned that no one wealthy had ever really published a great book. Maybe because being wealthy gets an author too complacent to muster up enough motivation for a great book. Maybe you do need to be a starving artist in order to push yourself enough to be great. Maybe it is like “Rocky III” where achieving fame and fortune got Rocky so soft that Mr. T was able to knock him out and then only by going back to basics was he able to get the motivation–the Eye of the Tiger–to win again.
So what’s motivating you to achieve your goals?
Friday’s entry is a mystery about prequels…