What motivates you as a writer? What keeps you going, or rather coming back to the blank page (or screen)? Here is an excerpt from my book Women Voice and Writing, to help you think about this…
I was in a group of writers that met for two years to try to collaboratively write a book together. We learned a lot about different approaches to writing, and a lot more about each other. We were a tremendously rich resource for one another, an unlikely group of women. Left to our own devices, we would not probably have chosen each other as friends, yet the process of attending to task blossomed friendship within it.
However, after 18 months, we had copious outlines for our book, and no real writing yet. We had pieces here and there, but we kept losing momentum, then would regain it. It looked like our fire was going out. I asked the question of us: “Let’s look truthfully. Do we really want to write?” One woman answered immediately, fervently, slamming her fist down on her leg, saying, “I want to publish.”
This startled me. It clearly was true for her. But she had not written much yet. She wanted to edit and pull things together, but the writing motivation was not as strong as the publishing.
Acting coach and author Konstantin Stanislavski, when discussing actors and their art, advises, “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.” This applies to writing too. We need to love what Louise Wisechild calls the “I must write” voice in ourselves, not just ourself in writing.
We can be motivated by wanting to publish, to be heard and have audience, students, listeners. This must be balanced with the urge to write because we have something we need to say, even if it is not well received, or not listened to.
And it helps to treasure our craft. Learn it, practice it. Keep working at it until we figure out our voice and what we have to say.
Louise Wieschild: It’s a test that all writers go through: to devote a lot of time and energy to something and put it out, just trusting that the book will find those who need it. I was very lucky to get The Mother I Carry published, which is the first place that people can get knocked down. To deal with it not being what we think of as “successful” makes me really evaluate, and go close again to that thing that says, “I must write.”
My work has to have meaning. I have to feel it might help or heal. But the “I must write” voice is the one that reminds me that I write for myself—to articulate my own passions and to survive emotionally.
It is estimated that only 1% of people at writing workshops and programs are getting published. Students hope that a workshop will result in a magic formula: “If you do this and that, then you’re going to get published.” Odds are against any single workshop or program resulting in publication.
We need both the inner drive to write and listen and clarify and create—and the desire to connect with an audience larger than ourselves.
For me, finding my own writing voice means being willing to take a stand, to stand apart from the collective and speak up. It sometimes means standing outside of the dominant culture, like Louise’s experience, and Yoko Kawashima Watkins’ as a child. Or standing apart from our family culture, as Megan Leboutier’s writing required of her. For women, who have experienced marginalization in this culture, standing apart from it again to speak one’s truth takes a belief that what we have to say is worth listening to. Or it takes the inner force of having to say it, even if not listened to. When Caroline Bird went to bed for a week, catatonic at an editor’s comments on women, and then got up determined to write the book Born Female, she knew she had to write it. Even if not listened to.
For women who belong to minority groups, who stand even further outside the dominant culture regardless of gender, coming to voice requires tremendous courage. They are already standing apart. To take another step more, to go on record, requires courage and fire.