Tag Archives: Teresa M. Amabile

Writers with No Desire to Publish

The senior editor of a literary journal asked a writer friend of mine to submit a piece for a future issue, but my friend who thanked the editor for the compliment has no interest in submitting anything to that magazine or any other.  I’ll call her Kathy because that’s the name she wishes she brown silhouette against gold background of a woman working at a computerhad, but doesn’t. It is a highly-regarded journal and would enhance any serious writer’s reputation to appear in it. That journal had published other pieces of Kathy’s in the past during her particularly prolific period when work poured out of her and was in demand by editors and readers. Some of her books were being published at the time, and many of her articles appearing in magazines were achieving record readership scores.

Kathy is far from alone now being a writer who works as hard as ever at the writer’s craft to perfect her work, and has high standards–revising, refining, embellishing, cutting, and improving endlessly–but does not care to be published by book or magazine publishers. People like Kathy enjoy writing for its own sake and its own sake alone. Publication that was once important to her is not important to her now. People ask her, “Don’t you get a kick out of seeing your name in print?” and she answers, “Ive seen it in print many times so it is not as big a thrill.”

colorful pile of open magazine pagesI am talking about the difference between writers whose overriding goal is to see their work in print–a Publication Focus–contrasted with writers whose overriding goal stops short of publication in which they are not interested. They are concerned solely with generating what is in their judgment the highest possible quality text–a Production Focus.  The latter are more than contented to produce works they are proud of without seeing them published.

Having their work published seems an automatic motivation for writers that follows sequentially from writing the work, and is generally expected of writers–you are a writer and you write a story, for example, and then you are expected to submit it to a magazine (or a novel to a publishing house) where a committee of editors and managers evaluate it in comparison with other submissions and decide if it is suitable for them to publish. The submitting writers are competing for a prize and the prize they are competing for is seeing their name and their work printed, perhaps for pay, but even if not for pay, for the delightful satisfaction of well, having a work published which they can tell friends and family about, which for most writers is the whole point, the end goal for which they are prepared to work very hard.

What could writers who are not motivated to publish possibly be thinking, and what does motivate them to go on writing with no intention or hope of seeing the finished product in print where it would be read by  hundreds, or thousands of others–or more–many of them fans of good writing?

Research

Production Writers who have no desire to publish don’t have to wait for money or praise or any external reward to be fully satisfied. All that fantasy picture of woman standing on an open book flying a kitematters to them is that the works they produce be the best they have the skills to produce. They believe that because they are not interested in publishing but in producing the highest quality work they can, they are more creative and do better work than they would were they competing with others to see their work in print, and there are grounds for that belief.

Harvard psychologist Teresa M. Amabile has spent her entire career trying to understand what motivates people to be creative and what are dis-incentives. She has staked her reputation on proving that creativity increases when you are what she calls intrinsically motivated and engage in the creative activity for the sheer pleasure it offers (as Production Writers do). If you write, paint, sculpt, dance, etc, to earn rewards other than the enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of performing the activity as well as you are able (as Publication Writers do), you are extrinsically motivated and  become less creative. The work that results is not as finished-beautiful-aesthetically pleasing-masterful as it might have been.

Amabile tested subjects ranging from young children to college women, giving some of them rewards for doing the work. What they had pile of magazines and booksproduced was then graded by professionals–seasoned painters grading the paintings, experienced writers the writing, etc. The results were significant in that no matter what the reward was or when it was given, if the subjects thought they were working for  external rewards, even a little trinket, and not for fun and pleasure, they became less creativeBut when they were light-hearted and fooling around and no external reward was involved, they were more creative and their work was better.

In one experiment Amabile divided writers into two groups. She had one group fill out a questionnaire about the joys of writing for its own sake such as being able to experiment with words. The other group filled out a different questionnaire about the external benefits of writing like being on a bestseller list. Writers in both groups then wrote short, haiku-like poems. Then a panel of judges—poets–rated the poems. The writers who had been thinking about rewards like bestsellers wrote inferior poems. Extrapolated, that suggests that it may be detrimental to the quality of your next novel to have making The New York Times list on your mind.

I had experiences that confirmed Amabile’s research in my writing life. When I was writing one book, my mind was solely on communicating in man sitting on the edge of a cup of coffee, writing on a laptop computera clear, informative, and entertaining way concepts that were unfamiliar to western thinking. It was a challenge because the concept of the book was totally new and original. Every day’s work  of many hours was fulfilling, I didn’t spend a second thinking about how my book would do in the stores, only about the book’s clarity and how useful I could make it and how inviting it would be for readers. It was a highly successful and profitable book and my ambitions for the next book I began were high. But I found my thoughts losing focus. They often wandered away from the book’s content and style and how to satisfy the reader to where I would build the new house the new book’s royalties would bring me and the kind of cars I would buy. Both books received many accolades and made best seller lists. But whereas I wouldn’t change a single word of the first book, I live with the knowledge that the second book could have been better.

Publication Writers in Contrast with Production Writers

Publication Writers often experience stress and worry about the chances of the work being published. But in contrast the Production Writer feels no pressure, no stress, and is relaxed. That experience can make Production Writers feel freer and bolder and unafraid of taking chances they might not otherwise take, but which might improve the work. That freer confident mood can lead to leaps in their performance. William Faulkner is a good example.

When Faulkner realized that his complex rhetorical style and subject matter weren’t those of a commercially-popular author (would not lead to extrinsic rewards such as high sales) he began a period of sustained creative energy. He started to become great. He decided to write for himself: brown shut door in the middle of black wall“One day I seemed to shut a door between me and all publishers. I said to myself, ‘Now I can write.” He started working on The Sound and the Fury, “thinking of books, publication, only in the sense in saying to myself, I wont (sic) have to worry about publishers liking or not liking this at all.”

A disincentive Publication Writers must face is the inevitability that their work is going to be evaluated by editors and others. They are competing for the good opinion and a favorable decision of people who have power who will be passing judgment on the quality of the work, and indirectly, also the quality of the writer. That is why rejections can be so hurtful and discouraging, and taken so personally: “In rejecting what I have worked so hard on and put so much effort into they are telling me I am inadequate.” Thousands of writers make the decision to quit silhouette of dejected man sitting with head on his hand with a background of words such as worthless, unwanted, hopeless, etc.writing every day.  Most of them quit because of the heavy, depressing weight of too many failures and too few–if any–successes and the toll of failures on one’s confidence and sense of competence and self-esteem. Extraordinary self-confidence is necessary to persist in the face of failures and setbacks.

The knowledge that the submission will be evaluated negatively affects the writer and tends to produce works that are more conventional. Some of them are written specifically to suit the publication as if to order. Magazines and publishing houses make very clear the kinds of materials they are in the market for and will publish. Possibly the works could have been better written had the writer been more relaxed and playful and had not been seeking the approval of editors so desperately.

Writers at ease and at work–in a favorable state for creativity–have many of the attributes of children at play. Psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott wrote that “it is in playing and only playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative.” Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson said it is striking to see a two-year old child rolling a ball. They can throw the ball on the floor again and again, watching it roll a hundred times and never get little boy in yellow and blue rain jacket playing with a ball in a water puddle or near a water's edgebored. Just as children do that, writers can do something remarkable. As fully absorbed as children, they can work on perfecting a single paragraph forty or fifty times without experiencing a moment of boredom while people who are not writers and think that one draft is sufficient are astonished that such a feat is possible. The conclusion of Amabile’s experiments was that a playful approach like that of children increases the likelihood of producing creative results, and that pursuing external rewards diminishes the person’s creativity.

Being competitive makes it hard for most writers to be relaxed and in a light and child-like playful mood that is conducive to creativity. But competition is a major feature of most writers’ experience Out of necessity writers are forced to be competitive when they try to get their work published. There may be hundreds of other writers attempting to get their work published at the same time in the same magazine or thousands with the same book publisher.

In contrast, the absence of competition and evaluation (other than their own evaluation, perhaps severe, but coming from no one but Woman writing on glass pane in front of her the words, "I'll do it My Way."themselves) which Production Writers experience has been shown to improve the quality of the work that is produced.  That is why so many famous writers think that they, and no one else, are the best judge of their work and why so many of them ignore or don’t ask for the advice of editors. Who enjoys being evaluated? Writers often dread evaluations, and evaluations negatively affect the writer’s mood and thus the quality of work that is produced. A Production Writer may ask for editorial assistance–to be helped–but not to be evaluated.

The best way to recognize which kind of motivation you have is to ask yourself if you’d continue doing the work if no reward were to follow. If you answer, “No way,” your motivation is that of a Publication Writer. But if you answer, “Of course I would; it wouldn’t affect my work whatsoever,” it is the motivation of playful, child-like Production Writers.

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

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Drive and Motivation: The Creative’s Urge to Produce Works of Art

If it is your goal is to do creative work it is important to be able to understand your motivation, your drive–is it strong or weak–and to know what drives you personally through difficulties and setbacks to creative fulfillment and joy. Without drive to sustain you, your creative career will fizzle out before you reach your peak. That’s so because drive is not a luxury, but a creative’s necessity.

Drive is that ingredient igniting the human spirit and pushing creative people forward to explore the scope of their talents. It is an irresistible urge to produce-and continue producing–works of your imagination and skill. Strong drive is the reason many successful creatives work so intensely and never give up when so many of their fellow creatives have cried “Enough” and simply quit.

Many people reading this post have been writing, painting, acting, composing–creating–for twenty, thirty, or forty years. How different are they from Vincent van Gogh who said, “That which fills my head and my heart must be expressed in drawings or pictures…Drawing becomes more and more a passion with me, and it is a passion just like that of a sailor for the sea.”

Psychologist Teresa M. Amabile wondered what motivated creative people. Was creativity merely a means by which the creator could reach other goals, or was creativity for the creative an end in itself?  She staked her reputation on proving that creativity increases when you engage in the activity as an end in itself for the sheer pleasure it offers, and that if you do things to earn rewards other than the enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of performing the activity you become less creative. She tested subjects ranging from grade school children to undergraduate women, rewarding some of them for performing creative tasks. Their work was then graded by professional creatives–established painters grading the paintings, writers the writing, etc.

No matter what the reward was or when it was given, if the subjects thought they were working for external rewards they became less creative.  But when they were playing and having fun and no reward was involved, they were more creative. The conclusion was:  a playful approach to the task increases the likelihood of producing creative results and external rewards have the opposite effect on creativity.

Another experiment showed that even the hint that an external reward was riding on performance was enough to make the subject lose interest. The same happens to chimpanzees. Given paint and canvas chimpanzees become so absorbed in painting that they show little interest in sex or food. But if the chimps are tangibly rewarded for their painting, the quantity and quality of their painting declines. They do only well enough to get the reward. Chimps, like many humans, are more likely to be creative when no external rewards are contingent on their performance. Even thinking about extrinsic rewards reduces creativity among many people, possibly you. Playwright Oscar Wilde said, “Genius is born, not paid.”

Enjoying the work itself is reward enough for people who are strongly intrinsically motivated like those chimps. Virginia Woolf was writing about her intrinsic motivation when she referred to her “rapture”: “Perhaps this is the strongest pleasure known to me. It is the rapture I get when in writing I seem to be discovering what belongs to what, making a scene coming right, making a character come together.” Literary critic Alfred Kazin thought writers were intrinsically motivated. He said the writer writes in order to teach himself to understand himself, to satisfy himself. The publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratifications, is a “curious anticlimax.”

Intrinsically motivated creatives enjoying their work don’t have to wait for money or praise or any other kind of external reward to be satisfied. They don’t need anything else but their “rapture.” Intrinsically motivated writers are caught and captivated by the writing itself and compelled to be immersed in it and in making it into something they feel is worthwhile.  The intrinsically motivated creative will often say, “What I do isn’t work. It’s joy. You can say in a real sense I’ve never worked a day in my life.”

But some creatives are driven by a need for extrinsic, not intrinsic, rewards.

Blaise Pascal who wrote that “anything that is written to please the author is worthless” was obviously not intrinsically motivated. Samuel Johnson wrote that no one but a blockhead writes except for money. And Anthony Trollope wrote in his wonderful An Autobiography that all “material progress has come from man’s desire to do the best he can for himself and those about him.” He said that what motivated him was what motivates lawyers and bakers—“to make an income on which I and those belonging to me might live in comfort.” Stronger even than that after a troubled childhood was his drive to make something of himself, “to be more than a clerk in the Post Office…to be Anthony Trollope.”

Pablo Picasso loved being rich, and said he wanted to work without material worries “like a pauper,” “but with a lot of money.” George Orwell thought that a writer’s main motivation was also extrinsic: to seem clever and be talked about, and be remembered after death.

There are other kinds of extrinsic motivating factors than money alone—recognition, praise, encouragement, popularity, acclaim, fame, feedback, and other forms of positive reinforcement that can be far, far more powerful motivators than money. While writers often don’t consider themselves competitive, they are.  When you’re told you’re the best there is, your motivation rises. When a writer’s work isn’t intrinsically interesting, as during those times it’s boring and tedious, an extrinsic reward such as a sumptuous dinner or a compliment might supply the right motivation to continue working.

The best way to recognize extrinsic motivation is to ask if you’d continue doing the work if no reward was to follow. If you’d answer “No way” your motivation at that time is extrinsic. But if you would answer, “Of course I would” it is intrinsic.

The majority of creatives pursue both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Working skillfully makes writers feel fulfilled intrinsically. But they usually also want to see the work published somewhere—an extrinsic goal. American poet Anne Sexton wrote to her agent: “I’m in love with money, so don’t be mistaken, but first I want to write good poems. After that I am anxious as hell to make money and fame and bring the stars all down.” I suppose it’s possible to imagine anything, but it stretches the imagination considerably to imagine a pure intrinsically motivated writer who cares nothing about receiving some kind of external reward, or to imagine s pure extrinsic motivated writer who works only for rewards.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation aren’t two different types of motivation. They are on a continuum from most intrinsic to most extrinsic.

Whatever else we can say, we know one thing for sure: most human beings don’t do anything without anticipating a payoff. The payoff needn’t of course be monetary. It may be to be paid off for your efforts in other ways: through recognition or acclaim; through feedback and praise.

James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, said “I do think that the quality which makes men want to write and be read is essentially a desire for self-exposure.” Some people create to produce great art that aficionados will admire. Playwright/short story master Anton Chekhov wrote, “I take pleasure in anticipating that these same passages will be understood and appreciated by two or three literary connoisseurs and that is enough for me.” Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “A man really writes for an audience of about ten persons. Of course if others like it, that is a clear gain. But if those ten are satisfied, he is content.”

I think most creatives are driven to express beauty, the beauty they perceive in the world–the trees, the grass, a human smile, kindness, and the beauty in their souls that cries out to be shared–even if the subject of the work is not beautiful. Some are driven because they’re obsessed and can’t help themselves.

For some creatives performing their art is therapy. D.H. Lawrence, who should know, wrote: “One sheds one’s sicknesses in books.” Some are driven to have revenge. Mary Higgins Clark said that rejection slips only produced a “wait and see” attitude. She’d show people who doubted her. Perennial best-seller John Grisham said, The good thing about writing is that you can get back at people.”

Other painters, writers, actors, composers, etc., are driven by the desire to have the self-respect they don’t get on their jobs or in social or family life. That desire sparks their creativity, drive, and hard work to succeed and gain respect they haven’t found in any other area of their lives.  Some are driven by the pleasure of doing creative work.

Others are driven by their need for praise, and many others for tangible rewards like wealth that motivates almost everyone to a lesser or greater degree. There are many other reasons why creatives are driven.  Many artists’ main drive is to improve their abilities so they might improve their workmanship to an exceptionally high level just to see how excellent they can become.

Ask yourself, “Where on the Intrinsic Motivation—Extrinsic Motivation continuum would I put myself?  Most of the time I’m:

Rate yourself on a scale from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation. Where do you fall on the scale?

 

 

What motivates you most?

“The particular thing that motivates me more than anything else is:”

1.

 

“Also important to me are:”

2.

3.

4.

5.

 

It’s worth assessing how intense your creative drive is by choosing one of the following statements to describe yourself:

  • “My drive to survive, improve, and find fulfillment in the arts is very strong.”
  • “My drive is so-so.”
  • “I need more drive because right now I don’t have much.”

 

Assessing your motivation on the Intrinsic/Extrinsic motivation continuum and the current intensity of your creative drive can help you make changes in your creative practices that will make your work more fulfilling.

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Filed under Actors and Directors, Artists, Composers, Creativity, Creativity Self-Improvement, Creators' Work Life, Drive, Motivation, The Creative Process, The Nature of Artists, Work Production, Writers