Monday, July 18, 2011

Mentor Monday: Why We Do What We Do (2)

Last week I decided to learn why there are so many people willing to try their hand at writing for children when they probably won’t receive the usual rewards (fame/fortune) that most people expect for their work.

I’ve been reading Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I know a lot of writers. The majority of us get very little return on our “investment.” I asked various authors to share the reason they write for kids. Most of the answers, like the following, were quite altruistic:

“I write for kids because they still wonder and dream and question. They look at the world with fresh eyes, they’re open to new things, and I get to show it all to them.” Barbara T.

Barbara’s answer actually fits right into one of the three reasons Daniel Pink says we can be naturally motivated. According to Pink, there are three intrinsic motivators and, I think for most of us writers, all three exist in the background of our determination to succeed. The three intrinsic motivators are: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy allows us the privilege of self-determination. We create our own work. We pick the time of day we will complete that work. We choose the way we will present the work. We even get to pick what we’ll wear while we’re working.

“[I write for kids] because I have enough confidence, now that I’m older, to believe that what I have to say is worth writing down. I don’t necessarily write for kids, I write for myself.” Diane M.

“Writing for kids is like discovering a coral reef that teems with life both on its surface and hidden within. When I submerge myself in words, I become playful, gain insight, and feel alive. In short: If I can’t write, I go crazy. Deborah B.

Mastery gives us the pleasure of watching ourselves become more skillful. We are thrilled at the perfect turn of a phrase. We secretly rejoice when a sentence says exactly what we want it to. We revise and revise again until the words feel right.

“Writing for kids is often the greatest challenge for me as a writer. Younger readers require clear, concise, and captivating prose, so I have to be on my game.” Jo P.

Purpose is the most important “why” of the three in my opinion. Your purpose is your goal and generally this goal has to do with the way you will contribute to society, to the greater good. Like Barbara T., many writers feel an innate need to give back:

“I write for kids because when I was a kid, books were the most important thing in my life.” Sally W.

"When I first started writing, my audience was adults, but from the beginning I was eager to write for young people. Maybe because I enjoy having conversations with them (both literally and via the written word), being part of their education, entering their imaginative worlds.” Tabatha Y.

For the last few years, we’ve devoted Mentor Mondays to study the art of writing for children. I believe it’s important to stop once in a while and study yourself. Ask yourself, as I asked these writers, why you do what you do.

Now that you know that your motivation should have three segments, make sure you are meeting all three intrinsic needs: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If your writing has become a chore, it’s possible one of these parts is missing. If they’re all there, you might feel like Tammy G.:

“I enjoy writing for children, because everything is new and interesting when seen through a child’s eyes. I find myself looking at the world in a completely different way every time I write for kids. I get to learn right along with them.”


Andrea Murphy said...

Excellent post, Mur. I think examining motivations periodically is a good way to keep the ultimate goal in sight. Since 99% of us (I love making up statistics) who are writing also have day jobs and families grabbing huge chunks of our time, it's inevitable that the writing will go in and out of focus. Remembering why we wanted to do it in the first place can help maintain that focus.

I'm Jet . . . said...

A truly important and masterful post, Muriel.

I agree that it's important to examine those intrinsic motivators, but that sometimes we forget to do it.

Great job!