Motivation and Writing I

I always read or skim books on motivation or learning. Even though I’m no longer teaching, I use it for myself. Yesterday, I discovered Drive by Daniel Pink, which has some hard, scientific studies on motivation and productivity, and my experience as a teacher agrees with his findings.

I’m sorry this is a little long, but I think it’s worth it. It does have some new ideas on the subject, all based in real-world research.

I was surprised that money, beyond that which puts food on the table, does not actually motivate us well. One study found that people will do things for charity or for free far more than they will do things for money.

Mark Twain summed this idea up:

There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign.

Other findings?

Higher rewards lead to worse performance.

Rewards narrow our focus and hinder creativity. In artists, commissioned works were rated as having the same technical quality as non-commissioned works, but commissioned works were rated as less creative.

“The highest levels of creativity were produced by subjects who received a reward as a kind of a bonus,” of which they had no knowledge until after they completed the task. And those rewards are better if they’re praise, feedback, or useful information about their work, rather than monetary or materialistic rewards.

The studies also show (and I’d say they pretty much 100% agree with my experience as a teacher) that the stick and carrot approach does not work as well as we like to think it does.

Three things work:

Autonomy: A full feeling of choice. The research says makes for happier people. There can be deadlines, but people need to feel like they can get the job done the way they want to get it done.

Writing is like this, of course. Easy-peasy. :-)

Mastery: Improvement, rather than results, make more effective goals. “The desire for intellectual challenge—that is, the urge to master something new and engaging—was the best predictor of productivity.”

This fascinates me. I said before that “numbers” goals were not terribly motivating to me. Perhaps I need to focus more on mastery goals.

Purpose: People who set profit goals tend to be anxious and depressed while pursuing them, and unhappy when they achieve them. People who set purpose goals are happier as they work, and fulfilled when they achieve them.

In writing, I suppose a goal of “making readers feel understood” is more motivating than “make $50,000 this year.”

In a couple days, I’ve got another post on the practical applications of this information for writers.

What think you about the above? And what motivates you? When are you most productive? How are you most driven?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings | Tags: , , ,

What Motivates You?

It’s that time of year. I’m pretty aggressive about analyzing the year before and planning for the year(s) coming. I check in once a week, but I try to focus on the small steps on a daily basis.

Hence the need to step back once a year and look at the larger picture.

And I’m puzzled. I nail all my “idea” goals. Like “Be real” (2006–totally); “Live outside the window” (2007—took me two years, though); “Be more mindful” (2008—didn’t really succeed at that one yet); “Live slower” (2009—check).

Every year I also set “numbers” goals, what they call “SMART” (smart, measurable, achievable etc.) goals, like write X number of words a day, exercise X number a week, lose X number of pounds. “They” say these goals are THE way to make goals, but I don’t buy it. I fail those almost immediately. Those kinds of goals don’t motivate me and they don’t work for me.

So I’ve been reading a lot on the science behind motivation. This is the time of year where I’ll skim through a ton of self-help books. I’ve found that 2009 seems to be the year for “real” help, rather than rah-rah unuseful stuff.

I’ll let you know what I’ve come up with in the next few days.

In the mean time, Dean Wesley Smith is doing a repost of his Motivation series. Good food for thought when thinking of your annual goals.

People are motivated by different kinds of goals. Some prefer way easy ones, like 100 words a day, and generally do more. Some prefer perfect-sized, like 1,000 or 2,000 words a day. And some thrive if they put out a wild goal, like 10,000 words a day… even though they never achieve that, they get a lot of work done.

What kind of goals motivate you? Historically, which kind of goals do you nail? Which kind of goals do you drop almost as soon as you start?

PS: Here’s a link to an Excel spreadsheet I made, with the help of Meljean Brook, if pretty graphs and tracking numbers help motivate you. It works for up to six books, but you can plug in more or take away some, if that suits.

PS2: My offer in 2009 still stands in 2010; I’ll be happy to customize one for you, as long as it’s for Excel 2007. I can try for Excel 2003 and the like, but I’m not sure it’ll work.

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags: , ,

Toiletries & Trees

It’s funny what you get used to. At the campground, half of the showers are in English and half are in Spanish. This means that it’s a coin toss as to whether “C” means cold or hot, and whether “H” means hot or cold.

image The funny thing is, the half that are in Spanish are “Mexican-style.” This means that “C” is always first. The thing you have to be careful about, is the cold water isn’t always first; sometimes it’s the hot water first.

Also, while the campground is spotless and clean and wonderful, the toilets are “old and slow.” You’re supposed to flush them twice. No big deal. But I’m in the habit now.

So when I go to Borders, I do my business, then turn around and wait for the toilet to finish flushing so I can flush it a second time, often forgetting I don’t need to. And beside the toilet is a large, kitchen-sized trash can with lots and lots of neatly-folded, used toilet paper.

In Mexico, you mostly don’t flush the toilet paper. In Tucson, only some do.

On the way home, we drive the only interstate in the United states whose exits and markers are in kilometers. (There was a nationwide metric-system push, which eventually failed, when the interstate was completed.)

And let me tell you, it’s a writer’s dream. You can’t drive I-19 and not see story after story after story. Or bits which you inflate into story. More on that in another post.

image Also on my way home, I pass orange and lemon trees. For someone who has lived in Ohio all her life, real live orange and lemon trees are absolutely stunning. All that rich green dotted with vivid color. So pretty!

See anything interesting lately? Or normal to you, but not-so-normal to us?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: My Adventures | Tags:

Thousand-Word Characters

I’ve been dreaming characters. This book I’m writing is a modern retelling of Les Miserables, which I’ve tentatively titled Tears of the Wretched. Tentatively because it’s a little melodramatic. But then so is Les Miserables.

Every time I think about what I’m attempting to write, it scares the bejeezus out of me. I cringe just to tell you what I’m attempting. I’m, like, embarrassed that I presume to try this.

So moving on…

I’m dreaming characters. This is so exciting, because they are these vivid, fascinating (to me) characters. They are not main characters, but walk-ons. And they say so much about the world they live in, their society, their family, their life, and who they are, in a very poignant way. (At least, I imagine they do.)

That’s a tall order. They are a picture worth a thousand words.

image And they’re so fleshed-out, in my mind, that I could write a whole novel on each one. Which is a problem, because I keep wanting to move them up to major character status. Or actually write a novel on them.

What’s also odd is that I’m not thinking them up. They are hitting me. Bam! I am dreaming them. Just boom! and they’re there.

Surreal. This has never happened to me before, not in nine years of writing.

But thank you, Universe. No way could I write this story without some major divine intervention.

It makes me ponder. I generally focus on my main and secondary characters, and other “bit” characters are added as needed. They’re static, single-function, serving the story and/or the other characters.

Should I be doing this in all my stories? Would I have a livelier, more vivid story if I made each bit and minor character novel-worthy? Even those who are only onstage for a sentence or paragraph?

Am I reading too much Dickens? (I’m currently reading Oliver Twist. Reading Dickens is like sipping a good cup of hot chocolate: comforting and yummy.)

What think you? Do your bit characters make you want to write a whole novel on them? How do characters occur to you? How fleshed out do you go for each character? Major? Minor? Bit?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags: , ,

iWorries & iWaffles

I’ve been possessed of indecision lately. About everything. I have, no kidding, THIRTY-NINE blog posts half-started, half-written, some almost-all-written, and then I think, “meh.”

What is up with that?

A lot have to do with how I write. They seem so silly, because how I write is not how to write. So what use is that to you?

Others are political. And if I post about politics, then I have to be open to debate. Honestly, lately, politics make me tired. In general, people aren’t interested in listening, they are not open to changing their minds no matter what the facts are, so debate seems pointless. And sometimes… a lot of opinions are so uncompassionate that it just… I don’t know. As a society, we dehumanize and we withdraw compassion a lot. And that makes me tired, too.

I’m… I don’t know. I look around and I cry a lot. And the politics surrounding what I consider humanitarian issues make me cry.

And feel defeated.

imageA few blog posts are rants, and those just seem self-indulgent, and I worry people will take it personally and think I’m talking about them. And really, does the world need more negative energy?

Then there are some to do with my travels, but I want to wait until I can post pictures, and my camera is broken. I should be getting a new one in a couple weeks.

Some are to do with books I’ve read. But honestly, I find book reviews just a little bit boring. I used to do posts about how an author did whatnot, and that was interesting to me, but I’m not sure if it’s interesting to anyone else.

I’m the same way with commenting on blogs. Unless the blogger actually asks a question, I don’t know what to say. You know? So I just read and don’t comment.

*sigh* What is this? I’m Eeyore today or something.

So which blog topics that I write about do you like best? Which should I do more? What should I talk about? Any other ideas? I’m lost.

And how were your holidays?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings | Tags:


Since I let myself work on Shiny Idea, I’ve been possessed. I love feeling like this. My god, I love my story. It’s crazy. I wake up early so I can work on it. I think about it all the time.

It’s like this story is a divine mission.

Which is a little depressing, since books of the heart and whatnot do not typically sell. I don’t think I’ve ever written a “book of the heart.” I’ve loved several of the stories I’ve written, but I don’t think I’ve loved my characters quite so much.

This story is so populated, my head is already spinning. I have no idea how I’m going to pull this off. I can’t wait to try.

Different things drive us in different parts of our writing life. I used to love getting in a character’s skin. When I first started writing, I would sit for hours and play with words in a single sentence. Now, my obsession is plot. The more complicated I can make it, the more I love it. Plot is the COOLEST. I think that’s why I’m having so much fun in this one. I love a ton of interweaving connections. I love the mini-stories, the hints and bits you drop and then weave in later, the twists, and—in this one—the far-fetched things I have to challenge myself to “sell” to the reader.

You know me. I love fictional fiction, where belief must be suspended. That’s going to be a struggle in this one, since so many elements are “real.” I love Irving and Dickens and Zafron and Gaiman and the like because you’re reading fictional fiction made real, not realism made into a novel.

Anyway, I’m possessed, loving my characters, and having a blast with plot. This book is going to be FUN to write. It’s a modern re-telling of Les Miserables, which always makes me cry. When I was telling the story of Les Miserables to Glenn, I choked up several times and had tears running down my face. I’ve been dying to do a modern re-telling of it since forever; I just needed the other half.

What about you? How does your current WIP tickle your fancy? Have you ever been possessed’ by a story before? Have you ever had one where “writer’s high” is nearly constant?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags: , ,

Stories Fighting; Readers

I made a decision. I made a plan. I outlined the stories I’m writing in my thirty-sixth year, with a method to my madness, a plan for my career. And this other story is interfering. What am I supposed to do?

I’m so irritated.

To make matters worse, I feel horribly underqualified to write the story that’s bugging me. The story that’s interfering has nothing to do with what I want to write. For goodness sake, it’s commercial, I guess you’d say, almost on the literary side. I am a genre writer.

I suppose it’s okay if I flit back and forth, but what really irritates me, is that the planned story is not writing. I’ve written a buttload of crap and brainstorming and nothing holy is emerging.

When this happens, I always go back to pseudonym. Her stories write so easily, mostly, kind of. Well, easily in comparison. Why do they write so easily?

There’s an element of escapism, I suppose. And when Glenn’s away, particularly, there’s an element of loneliness seeking company with my characters. There’s always a passion… usually to comfort my character, to make her feel less lonely, empower her, give her her dreams.

When things are flowing, there’s always this big element of love. I feel like my heart is wide open. Just… loving.

I need to love my audience, I suppose. Angie laughed that I’d never written a spy thriller, having been “spyscribbler,” LOL. But the number one problem I had and never resolved, is that I didn’t know my audience, and I couldn’t write blind.

So maybe, instead of searching for my story, I need to search for my readers. I need that touchstone. Even if I’m wrong about my readers, I still need to write to them. I need to love them first.

I don’t know.

What do you do when a story isn’t writing? How do you feel when a story is flowing? What triggers that rush of words, when things are going well, when you get that “writer’s high?” Do you try to get an emotional sort of connection to your readers before you start your story?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writing Craft | Tags: , , ,

2009 in Retrospect


I spent the morning reading through old blogposts for the year. Evidently, I really wanted a more peaceful life. (I got it.) And somehow, I knew change was in the air.

Biggest Disappointment: I really want a baby. Very badly. I’m not feeling much hope on that front, for health reasons, age reasons, private reasons, and health insurance reasons. I cry inside a little (or a lot), every time I see a child. I’m trying not to think about it for a year or so. I’m not succeeding.

I ended my piano studio on a kick-ass note. I decluttered, decluttered, and purged this year.

Number 1 Thing I’m Proud Of: After three (or more) years of contemplation, yearning, and restlessness, I am finally living outside the window. These are my new adventures. I bought, (broke), and fixed a camper.

Campground life in Ohio rocked. Except for Dish Day, which was a lot of work there. But I didn’t want to leave: I was close to my best friend and niece. I miss them daily. Especially my niece, who is turning three today!

Restlessness followed me to my first stop, but not to Arizona. Part of that restlessness was my foot; I’m dying to get back to Tae Kwon Do. The foot’s actually doing better, and I practice my kicks in the pool every day. As soon as I can run, I’m signing up.

I am disappointed I won’t get to Slab City for another year.

The trip across the US was exhilarating. Living in Arizona is like living in the Wild West. Border Patrol is BIG, here.

Number 1 Thing I’m Least Proud Of: On a related note, I’ve been wrangling with writing all year. I felt I was getting worse. I wish my word count had been better. I want writing to be easier and faster in 2010.

ADD has been a big challenge for me, probably because my lungs have been drowning, and lack of oxygen makes thinking even more difficult.

I decided to read 365 books from September 2009-2010. I am about thirty books behind, but I’m thrilled that reading has become a bigger part of my life than Facebook and blogging, LOL. (Although I miss the socializing!)

At the beginning of the year, I was moved to tears at Obama’s inauguration. Near the end of the year, I was heartbroken over the prejudice against same-sex marriage.

And finally, my favorite and most self-inspiring post of the year is There’s No Traffic On the Extra Mile. For the thing that was most hard for me to write this year, I went twenty extra miles to get it done. (Seriously, swear to God, it was so challenging for me that I just went crazy, doing about eighty times the work it called for, and that’s probably an under-estimation.) And I’m tickled pink that it ended really well, being one of the things I’m most proud of.

Overall, it was a year of big changes, probably the biggest of my life thus far. I miss my niece and best friend. I can breathe better here, and I’m learning how to control my asthma. I think it’s a year I can be proud of.

How was your 2009? What are you most proud of? Least? What’s your verdict?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: My Adventures | Tags: , , , ,

The Lazy Work

I keep skipping the work that makes me feel lazy. Problem is, there’s no skipping it. If you skip it, you don’t move ahead. If you skip it, you don’t get the story done.

So why can’t I do the lazy work without feeling massively guilty and unproductive?

the research

I once researched espionage for about ten months (one six-month stint and one four-month stint) over two years, before I realized that writing a spy thriller was not going to happen anytime soon.

So now, doing even a day of research freaks me out and makes me feel like I’m wasting time. I think I’m afraid that if I do research, I won’t write the book.

But, um… I can’t nail the book until I do the research. *sigh* I’m stuck!

The Simmering

Usually I set a story on simmer in my imagination while I’m writing the story or two before. Ideas percolate, the characters get real, and scenes start to bubble up to the surface.

But when the simmering process is incomplete and you don’t have another, mindless job to make you feel useful while your imagination is simmering…

…you have to watch the watched pot that feels like it will never boil.

I mean, it doesn’t make me feel like a productive member of society when I go, “YES! Finally! I dozed off and was in my story world!” Or even worse, “I DID IT! Days of imagining my story have paid off: I’ve finally had a dream in my main character’s point of view!”

And, to steal an example Laurell K. Hamilton recently cited: “I’m ROCKING now! I just put on winter coats in ninety degree weather because it’s winter in my book!”

Tangible Progress

Counting the words you wrote for the day makes me feel like I’ve made progress. Research doesn’t feel like progress. Thinking doesn’t feel like progress.

But it has to be done.

So how do you manage it? How do you not feel guilty when your word count doesn’t go up? Is this just my problem?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags: , ,

Better Than Cabbage Soup

It’s the Rumi poem with the ugliest title. The real meaning of the poem doesn’t suit my purposes, and I’m not quoting the whole thing, because the “Better than cabbage soup” line spoils the mood for me.

For some reason.

Before Poet Joey accuses me of a literary sin, I have a defense: religious words have such a long history of selective pruning to suit the purposes of the selector, I have plenty of precedent.

For the record, I like cabbage soup. It’s just not evocative of a Rumi mood.

If your mind and stomach
burn with the fire of hunger
it will be like a heavenly song for your heart.
In each moment that fire rages
It will burn away a hundred veils
And carry you a thousand steps
toward your goal.

Be empty
and weep with the fullness of the reed flute.
Be empty
and discover the mysteries of the reed pen.

The (out-of-context part of a) poem seems to say it all for me. Sometimes, when something is your only option, it’s a whole lot easier to make a success of it. If the obstacle to your goal is what stands between you and food in your belly, pushing past that obstacle becomes world’s easier.

How do you stoke the fire in your belly? What makes it easy for you to push past that which is hard? Which obstacles are you thankful for?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings | Tags: , ,

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