Above my desk is this index card.
How We Spend Our Time is How We Spend Our Lives
There are so many things competing for our time and attention. I know I can heat up a can of soup OR make my own. Heating up the can definitely fulfills the need to get something in my belly but lacks the sensual pleasure of chopping fragrant fresh herbs, dicing up a nice mirepoix, smelling the savory flavor of onions caramelizing in butter. Consciously making a decision about what brings us pleasure is a constant calculation. As a writer who also owns a business based on the art and craft of writing I often find that I have to make a choice – what form? What subject? What genre? As someone who writes in fiction, non-fiction and prose poetry I have a lot of ideas but need to at times stop. Take a breath. And then ask myself why I am writing.
I eat because I have to. Do I write because I have to? No, writing is not a biological need even if does at times feel as nourishing.
Why I Write, Why You Write
Inspired by the book, Why I Write, George Orwell details his process of becoming a writer. I think it is important to outline your awakening, look at your aesthetic leanings, and gain some self-awareness of who you are as a writer. As Orwell stated:
“Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.”
We are all inspired, some of us take those inspirations seriously whereas others may not be consciously aware of the stories that push them forward.
From Octavia Butler’s archives at the Huntington Library, one of her motivational notes.
Twenty Creative Questions
The Game of Twenty Questions is described as “a spoken parlor game which encourages deductive reasoning and creativity. It originated in the United States and was played widely in the 19th century.” Obviously the questions below are not yes or no, as it would be in the game, but instead open-ended queries into giving the writer a sense of solidity to their aesthetic sensibilities and goals. At the end you should be able to say, “I write because….”
- Why do I write?
- What are my influences and why?
- What needs to be explored?
- What topics interest me?
- What is the state of the human condition?
- What does success look like?
- What publications inspire me?
- What conditions inspire me?
- What is not me, not effective? (I tend to write longer fiction stories, very few publications will take over 3,500 words).
- What is my relationship with market forces and trends?
- What is old and no longer serves me?
- What do I need to move towards?
- What are three words that keep me going?
- What does the ego say?
- What are your fears about writing?
- What does failure look like?
- What is your imagined perfect space/place?
- Who would you model your career or practice on?
- Who would you like to write a fan letter to?
- What/ who should you re-read?
You can tackle one of these questions a week and write without stopping, and leave it to the side until you finish all of them. Then reread and see what has come out. Can you answer the question of what truly motivates you? How can you feed that urge?