I’ve been writing for about fifteen years in various capacities.
Journaling, fiction, opinion pieces, work projects, blogging, and non-fiction books and articles.
Motivation is the most significant component throughout all of my writing. Most conspicuous in its absence, motivation is the difference between a finished article and an unfinished stub of an idea.
What moves you to write?
I’ve experimented with different motivations over the years. The promise of financial rewards worked…once. The hope of finding a purpose and meaning in life kept me going for a while.
For a long time my motivation was helping people by sharing insights and perspectives that I found valuable.
But that motivation took a hit as I eventually realised my insights and perspectives don’t help people. People help themselves, and they find the right material at the right time. Aka “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
My remaining motivation had to be entirely self-centred. If I can’t help others, all that’s left is helping myself. So I wrote to express and crystallise my own thoughts.
But lately I’ve been wondering if even that is beneficial. Endless rumination doesn’t help me. So why continue writing?
The end of objectivity
Recently I learned that I’ve been operating under a false premise when it comes to my own motivations and choices.
As an ethicist, I not only accepted but also internalised the fundamentals of ethical theory: that there are right ways and wrong ways to live, there are actions that further our happiness and actions that undermine our happiness. Ethics is about trying to work out principles and rules to guide our choices.
And the implication is that we can’t trust ourselves. We can’t trust our feelings, our desires, our naive thoughts and impulses. The history of ethics is a history of human beings trying to shape themselves and others, on the premise that we aren’t right the way we are.
There’s plenty of evidence to support this. But given that we create our reality through our thoughts, expectations, and what we give our attention to, the belief that human beings are in need of fixing will always provide its own evidence.
Even within ethics, people have historically held with equal conviction that human beings are born good but turn bad, and conversely that they are born bad but with some promise of turning good.
Has anyone held that people are born good and stay good just the way they are? Probably, but these people tend not to get into ethics.
What does this have to do with motivation?
What I’ve learned is that desires and preferences and impulses don’t need to be justified, and yet my own belief that they need ethical justification and guidance is a surefire way to suppress motivation.
It wasn’t enough for me to simply enjoy writing – I had to imbue it with a deeper meaning and purpose and rightness. I had to have some kind of deeper principle or basis to my motivation.
That’s a huge burden to place on something that could serve me simply as an enjoyable pastime, rather than some kind of epic search for meaning.
What if I write in the context of enjoying life, while letting enjoyment be its own justification?
Ethically, that’s a recipe for societal collapse into anarchy and hedonism. But people don’t operate ethically, they operate according to their own non-academic beliefs, thoughts, feelings and desires.
Life can be a lot more enjoyable if I accept that enjoyment is a good enough motivation to live by.
Will it mean I write more? I don’t know. But so long as I’m enjoying life it won’t matter.