How I'm still motivated to write even though no one cares
Like a lot of other people, including those lucky ones who've been published or have an agent or editor waiting for their work, I was having a hard time writing during the initial phase of the lockdown. I could easily use work as an excuse, because in the early days, I was working so much, by the time I got a day off, I stayed in bed for hours and didn't do anything productive. But even after that, when my work stabilized and my days blurred together and I had more free time, I still had a hard time, because unlike work, which has deadlines and concrete expectations, what I write doesn't really matter because no one is waiting for it or asking for it. So if I wanted to, I could go for months without writing anything, and no one would care. Maybe in the early days of this blog, people would wonder where I was, but for fiction? I could write five books and it wouldn't matter. I've already written a horrible one, which I threw out in a recent Kondo-related purge, and I'm on the second draft of another. I've also finished Nanowrimo several times, but that's all rubbish, as the Brits would say. What really matters, at least to me, is the revision that I'm doing of the novel. But from late March to late April, I couldn't settle my mind enough to face it. I think it's because the city was rolling up around me and places were shut down and I was spending so much time in front of screens to get paid work done, it was hard to switch to the other Chicago that I've been writing about. Also, I just couldn't calm down. I was on high alert for a virus that was creeping through the city, as if it was randomly going to show up at my door at any moment. It's really irrational but I kept feeling like I had to be ready. Ready for what? If I continue to social distance and sanitize, I think I'll be fine. But I was too tense to relax my mind to get back into the world that's very different from my own.
Then something clicked. I was so tired of my stark lifestyle that I started to think about my fake blog and this real one, and I ended up writing the grateful post (actually rewriting it because the previous version, written in mid-April, had an edge to it that reminded me of how David Bowie probably felt when he recorded Low at the Hansa Studios near the Berlin Wall; my first version was written in a desolate, quiet downtown and I was too spooked to relax). Then I wrote in my fake blog, and something in my mind was open, and the creativity rushed forth. Then I kept writing, whether it was in my fake blog, my novel, here...I'm back!
But still, no one cares if I finish my novel. I have to summon super-powers to motivate myself to finish the revision of the book, and I even have to be motivated to write here and at the fake blog, especially because I don't have the numbers I had when I started this years ago (since I'm not a social media star and don't know how Google likes me at this point), and because I have no idea if anyone has found my fake blog. No one is saying to me, "Where's your latest post?" But I keep on writing. How? Why?
I've done several searches to find out how people stay motivated to write. I found a post about motivation by someone who's refreshingly honest about her experience in lockdown, and I've been watching writers talk about it on MasterClass (which is not a "class" but just a bunch of videos and worksheets that all add up to a high-end YouTube). But the difference between the rich superstar masters and me is that they have legions of fans waiting, editors that would love to help them polish their blockbusters, agents and movie producers who are ready to set new deals...they have major external motivation, and they can buy another house or plane when their new creations are released. I have none of that, though would perhaps be more motivated if people got me a Starbucks card because they like what I write and appreciate what I have done in podcasting.
Several months ago, when I wanted to give up writing the novel because no one cared, I contacted Austin Gilkeson, who was in the anthology I did a while ago and has since published stories and has an agent. I asked him how he breaks down the general goal of finishing a novel into smaller, attainable goals, and told him that it seems pointless to me because I have no audience. He said that he has "no real system" and what keeps him "going on a project is an obsession with whatever" he writes about. That is dedication to the craft, and it seems like it didn't take a ton of time to get an agent either, which means he's a good writer. I'm probably not a good fiction writer, but I don't know for sure because I don't have any friends/contacts in the biz to give me feedback or even hope that I'm on the right track. Many people struggle to get a pro to take their work, but there are the superstars/well-connected rich people in New York who get a lot of help from their contacts in the publishing world so that they can craft a successful book. I'm not one of those folks, so I'll just keep writing, as Austin has done, and hope that it will pay off some day.
Even now, sitting in a downtown that has become more lively since some restrictions have been lifted, I am motivated to write with no external motivation. And late last night, after I finished some paid work and favor work, I was very motivated to write for the fake blog. What motivates me is the option to step out of my regular life, where I really am not in control of the work. I have to get work done, but I'm not creating the work; I'm merely meeting requirements that others have established. I'm not complaining because I like work so much that I never want to retire, literally, unless I become too ill to work, and am very motivated to be conscientious and a team player. But having to meet deadlines, do things to specifications, fake introversion, etc. feels like I'm just serving all the time and not generating. But when I write what I want, it's my world, my thoughts, my mind. Even now, I have a lot of work waiting for me at my fancy computer, and writing this isn't going to result in a paycheck in the mail, but it's invigorating and I feel more centered instead of being on the edge wanting to be approved or wanting to get tasks done in succession.
What's also helped is being part of a writing group. I don't show anyone my work, but if they say that we're going to meet at a certain time, then I'm willing to write for a couple of hours before we meet up and give a "report," which is really just saying "I wrote/edited x." At least there's some accountability and a deadline. Even if I had just one person to report to, I would be motivated to write because I would want to report something instead of saying "I tried to write x" or "I had a lot of work, so I did that instead." But the bottom line is that in my life of getting stuff done, toiling in obscurity, and suppressing my personality to survive the introverted world, I've carved out a slot that allows me to be independent of constructs and restrictions, and liberates my mind.