The Interplay Between Goals and Motivations

We all have goals. They are as diverse as we humans are: that’s a good thing. Our goals may be to graduate from university, get a job, move to a new city or any other desire. And similarly, our motivations for achieving our goals are just as diverse. Comparing and contrasting the goal with the motivation will lead to some incredible personal insights into one’s desires and expectations.

Sometimes goals and motivations can be the exact same thing. The more basic the motivation the more likely the goal will match. Take hunger for an example. The goal and the motivation align perfectly. The goal is to eat and the motivation is to fill your empty stomach. When goals and motivations match one can then focus on the means, or solution, to achieve the goal. Though knowing what the solution is just the first step. One has to put forth effort on the solution. For me, knowing that the solution for the long grass in my lawn is to mow it, doesn’t take the place of actually mowing it. (Note: I hate yardwork).

Sometimes goals and motivations differ in slight ways. They still align, but are not perfect matches. These are harder to understand and harder to solve. An example could be the goal of a clean house. Yet, the underlying motivation is to have a tidy home free of clutter and disorganization. Just cleaning the house will not achieve tidiness. Recognizing that fact requires more thought and care toward the solution.

Sometimes goals and motivations don’t align well at all. These situations represent the most complex of problems for they require considerable abstract thinking and painstaking thought to solve. Sometimes we don’t understand the interplay between what we do and why we do it. It requires introspection.

To further complicate things sometimes there are surface motivations and then there are deeper, underlying, motivations. Deciphering these different layers of our desires takes effort. Effort we avoid because we’re tired or sad or feeling stress or have to household chores. In the modern world, at least for most of the time pre-COVID19, we didn’t have time to reflect on ourselves. With many nations having lock-down directives perhaps now is a perfect time to contemplate on what you want and, more importantly, on why you want it.

My goal is to be a published author, to earn an income from my writing. It’s as good a goal as any. My underlying motivation for writing is something I realized only recently. It’s not to be famous. Not to be rich beyond imagination. Not to be respected. Though I do want these things to varying degree. My ultimate motivation is to leave behind something tangible for my children. Something, that long after I’m gone, they can look at and nod, “My father wrote this.” Not just look at it, but like it. Perhaps, even cherish it. Though that is for them to ultimately decide.

It’s hard to quantify this deeper motivation. It’s love. It’s hope. It’s legacy. It’s a want to be remembered. It’s a need. It’s me.
It’s want any parent would want, I think: to be cherished and remembered by his/her children with love. I want to achieve that, in part, with the words I leave behind.

Goals are the what. Motivation is the why. Effort is the how. Knowing what each variable is, is important. I’ve come up with an equation that sums up my thoughts: (Goal + Motivation) x Effort = Success. Now what this equation shows, at least to me, is that when the goal and motivation are joined together it’s easier to apply effort to them equally to achieve your success, whatever you’ve defined success to be.

Writing that equation is easy. Thinking about each step, forging a path from left to right, understanding each stop along the way, is hard. I think it’s worth exploring. For me, even if I don’t become famous, don’t become a respected author among the masses, don’t become rich, at least I’ll have my writings for my children to read. In the end, that reward is priceless.

Photo by Mischa van Lieshout from FreeImages

Piecing Words Together

What drives you to write? What makes you wish to take pen to paper or finger to keyboard?

For me it’s the allure of creating something that didn’t exist before. Some people liken it to having a god complex, especially if you’re writing a genre where you create the entire world or, in some cases, the entire universe. Creating a world with characters and situations that lead to fantastical adventure is thrilling.

An interesting quirk I’ve discovered after writing over 560,000 words in my novels is that sometimes something will hit the page, out of the blue, and I will have no idea where the idea came from. It’s as if the universe granted me some bit of privileged information, a eureka moment, and I just happened to be writing at the time.

Writing a story is like a putting together a giant puzzle. One that only the author can put together. The dynamic part is I don’t know how many pieces there are and I don’t know what the full picture looks like when I start. And when these eureka moments happen I’m presented with an extra piece of the puzzle I didn’t know existed.

Characters Can Exert Their Will

I enjoy writing characters with hidden desires, grand goals, troubling flaws and dismal failures. In the writing process I’ve found, likely because I’m more of a pantser, a character comes along who is hard to understand. You’ve met people like this in real life where you can’t relate to them in any way. I remember training an individual and trying to find out something about him, anything, so as to be able to make meagre conversation. I utterly failed to connect in any meaningful way. Characters can be like this. They can be hard to understand. They take time to unravel.

And then there are characters where you seem to instinctively ‘know’ them; what they want, what propels them forward, what their biggest challenges will be. These are all clear to you. Most likely these are your main characters; the ones you’ve fashioned your story around. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some people in real life where I just knew them at first sight. I could be myself right away. I’m not talking about outgoing people who can approach anyone, but people with whom you can make an almost instantaneous, personal connection.

So, what happens when I find one of my characters is difficult to understand?

I keep writing. That’s easier said than written, but eventually, something happens. That character makes him or herself known to me through the writing. It is an exciting time. I usually have to pause and really think of the implications of what that character just revealed. In one case a simple touch unlocked a hidden connection between two characters that changed the way I viewed how they developed previously. In another instance I had to rewrite a character’s earlier scenes to make them fit with a new feature of their life that I couldn’t pass up.

In either case it is fun to discover what your characters are, especially when they jump out at you unexpectedly, when they push you to write something you hadn’t intended in the first place. You could look at it as a frustration of your overall story. Or you can say this is part of the writing journey. You’re along for the journey, too.

Again, my motto, No Vested Interest in Drafts. If something comes along and makes my story better, stronger, more powerful, then I say explore it. Because, as writers, we are explorers. We are venturing forth into another world, regardless of the genre of story. Go with it. It’s a great ride.

How do you deal with difficult characters in your writing? What tips could you share that would help others?

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments.

Photo by Pawe³ Windys from FreeImages

Schematics for Thematics

At some point in the creative process a writer of fiction comes face to face with theme. What are the deeper notes of humanity that the story sounds? What is the hidden ether that binds plot, setting and character all together?

Planning Versus Winging-it?

There are two opposite ways to write; structure a sturdy outline and theme and build upon it or wing the story as you write, discovering the theme as you go. Pantsers vs Plotters in the lingo of writing. Certainly its a spectrum and not necessarily an absolute choice of one over the other. I imagine there are others ways to write, but this, to me, is the main dichotomy.

I’m more the latter type of writer. As long as I know where a story begins and where it ends I feel I’m free to explore that grandiose middle where all the stuff happens. At times the characters surprise me and delight me and at other times they disappoint me and, to be blunt, I hate them. They are like real people in a sense; they don’t always conform to my expectations.

I get to experience the story as it unfolds, as it progresses, while I write it. It’s especially exciting when something pops off the page, surprising me, and I get into a writing rhythm. To be fair, I do loosely plan out three chapters ahead, but I find the way I write causes the characters to exert their own force and sometimes I have to re-plan the next three chapters. This has happened more times than I can count. A character will do something, I don’t know where the impetus for that act came from, but it forces me to change the next part of the story to conform. Or I’ll have to revisit the previous chapters to make sure it fits. It’s a give and take type of thing.

Cost of Writing by Winging It

The drawback for me is there is a significant amount of re-writing that is needed. And, as writing fiction is a hobby at this point and I have other obligations (being a father, spouse, son, friend, co-worker, mowing the lawn, getting groceries etc… etc… etc…) I am not able to put as much time as I would like into writing and I may, (read most certainly have), forget plot events entirely. Or kill off characters only to bring them back later on. Or suddenly change the spelling of a character’s name half way through the book. Or introduce something new to the whole story half way through.

As I read the completed first draft is completed I wonder about what the theme of the novel is. How have I unconsciously tied the characters together? Something brings it all together and all I need do is discover it. Whether the type of story I’m writing naturally lends itself to a certain theme, or the story predetermined the theme, I can’t say.

Another drawback is that I have to study my own work and make notes on what’s wrong, what’s missing, and work out how to flesh it out in a “show don’t tell” kind of way. When I start the second draft, of which I’ve only done one second draft of a novel, I can weave the theme throughout the work. I know where the story is going and how it meanders to the end scene so I can focus more on the theme, the characters and the description of the action.

I don’t even know if this way of writing is the best for me, but it seems to fit my personality a little.

I’d Like to Wing-it More Often in My Life

When my wife and I travelled to New Zealand back in 1999 I booked the flights and that was it. No hotel bookings and no pre-planned excursions. My wife did not appreciate that. She very much likes trips to be more scheduled with an itinerary so she knows what to expect. I loved the trip. We were free to go right or left as our whims dictated. Free to stay at one or another hostel. Free to go swimming or not as we decided right then and there. We were not beholden to a pre-trip idealized, and ignorant, view of our adventure. We lived it, real time. It was a fantastic trip. All the while knowing that we had to be back at the airport at a certain time on a certain day; the end scene of our travels.

Now that we have kids any travelling must be planned out a lot more and it is a drudgery for me. In fact, everything in life now with the kids has to be planned out much more than ever before. I understand that and accept it, but it’s still hard for me.

What works for you? Do you start with theme or let it develop later? Detailed story plans or flying by the seat of your pants? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

Photo by Jean Scheijen from FreeImages