Over the weekend my husband had to drive back and forth between Chicago and Detroit—a long trip made tolerable by books on tape. One of the books he listened to was Drive, titled appropriately enough for a road trip, which talked about what drives us to do what we do.
Now since I neither read the book nor listened to it on tape, I’m filtering this through the discussion my husband and I had about what impressed him most. Hopefully I’m doing the author and his topic justice. Basically my husband explained the difference between whether we’re motivated by love of what we do (intrinsic to our passion and nature) or if we’re motivated by the results we receive when we do what we do (extrinsic elements, i.e. money, a paycheck, acceptance, even fame).
I daresay most people believe artists are usually motivated by intrinsic values. We can’t help but write or paint or create, because we have characters or images or inventions swirling around in our head and they need an outlet. But over the years I’ve met a fair number of successful writers who are smart enough to write because they’ve learned how to do it, and enjoy the freedom, the title, and the money (even if it isn’t as much as people believe it to be).
It’s also possible to start out with intrinsic motivation, writing for the pure passion of it, but end up with more extrinsic values driving us. That’s when writing becomes a job: after the passion has cooled, but there are still publishers willing to publish you, readers waiting for another book. Another check waiting to be cashed.
Yikes! Writing, a job? Doesn’t that sound like a corruption of something holy? I admit there are areas of writing that unavoidably require job-like effort, such as anything related to the business end, including marketing. But the longer our writing remains sacrosanct, the longer the quality will remain the best we can produce. I know, I know, there are people out there brilliant enough to produce great art just because of their brilliance. But I maintain that coupling talent with passion produces the best result. A writer might enjoy the freedom writing allows, but if a writer writes because they can’t wait to get the story down, then the whole process from the creation to the reader’s experience is usually more enjoyable.
I don’t think either motivation is wrong; perhaps one is easier than the other, for various reasons. Are you motivated by an intrinsic or extrinsic drive?