THE BLOG
06/28/2016 03:54 pm ET Updated Jun 29, 2017

A Writer's Only Motivation

I discovered a few years to my own surprise that I love to teach. I was surprised because I had long believed that writing couldn't be taught. I often didn't understand how I did what I did when I wrote; in fact, my best writing always seemed to come from someplace mysterious within me. The best word, the best phrase, or the best story twist was both surprising to me and a perfect fit for the story I was telling, supposedly, on my own. How could I teach this? How could I teach how to be surprised by yourself?

It turns out I didn't have to, because people are constantly surprising themselves. The biggest difference between most professional writers and beginning writers is that the professional writer has accepted that it is their job to be surprised by themselves, whereas the beginning writer labors under the misperception that they must know it all. The experienced writer learns that what they can't know is the source of their inspiration.

Which is how I learned that I loved to teach. Much of my teaching is a matter reminding students of how awesome they already are. They love to hear it, I love to say it, and it also happens to be true. I also teach a few things about the craft of writing itself, about the power of contrasting one thing against its opposite, about showing and not telling, about letting the readers use their imaginations. In truth, just as with surprising yourself, most writers already know this stuff, but they just don't know that they know it. So I remind them.

Maybe teaching isn't even the right word, for it suggests I am offering something my students don't already have. I am actually just clarifying what has been made confusing in the student's mind. And nothing is more confusing to most students than motivation. A writer must have some understanding of motivation if they are going to have any success at all. Until you begin to receive contracts or assignments from editors, no one is going to be asking you to write, or paying you to write, or waiting to read what you have written. For nearly every writer, the motivation to begin the writing journey must come entirely from within.

And by the way, once you have a contract or an assignment, the motivation still comes from within, which is why it is so useful for writers to train themselves in the isolation of obscurity. Perhaps you are currently laboring in this useful obscurity; perhaps you have also heard more times than you can count that motivation must come from within. You are sick of hearing it, because when you go within yourself for a little motivation, all you find is doubt and fear about the future.

For a time, I made a mini-career out of doubting and fearing the future. This is partly a consequence of being an author, of knowing that what I am writing now is going to be -- hopefully -- published and read later. All the supposed results, the money and attention and success, wait for every writer out beyond the horizon. How easy it is to believe securing that future and those results is my motivation. I must write something good today or I won't be happy tomorrow.

In truth, fear is a lousy motivator. It can get you off the couch and running for your life, but you will soon tire and believe you want to quit. Love is the only true motivator. You will never grow tired of loving what you love. That you love to write is the only motivation you will ever need if you can just leave your attention where it belongs. As soon as I began using my love of writing as my only motivation, all those results I had spent so much time fretting over began arriving. How surprising and perfect that everything I believe I need to survive tomorrow grows out of what I love today.

You can learn more about William at williamkenower.com.