Motivation, Praise, and Ego Stroking…

Encourage/Discourage Image by Stuart Miles

So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation.  And the lack of it. 


But back when I was working on my Ph.D., I read McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers.  In it, one of the authors, Hofner, believed that motivation was based on choice, effort, and persistence.  She also pointed out the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  Intrinsic is always stronger; however, it is not always present.  Sometimes that extrinsic motivation (the grade, the diploma) is the only thing there, and in those cases, teachers can use that to help motivate students who have not achieved internal motivation. 


Some of it the internal motivation is praising ourselves.  I just began reading “The Writer’s Workout,” which, so far, seems to be a very interesting and helpful book, and it brings up how we need to praise ourselves.  That helps.  Writers do have egos, and they do need stroking.  But sometimes that’s not enough (or even wrong).  Sometimes there’s a need for external motivation.


If writers just want to write for themselves, that’s internal motivation.  However, if they want to actually be published, they need to go to external motivation.  That’s people buying your work, liking your work, or even willingly talking to you about your work.


My external motivation that I’ve gotten lately, other than selling work, is the fact that I got accepted into two different MFA programs in Creative Writing/Fiction.  One even included a lovely note about how much they enjoyed my writing and how much they looked forward to working with me!  Lovely and nice to find that in the mailbox!


But there’s a limit to it – the motivation that is. 


While the praise and ego stroking is nice, there’s also what I consider the anti-motivator.  Sometimes we see what other people accomplish, and instead of it motivating us, it makes us competitive.  Like the episode of “Malcolm in the Middle” where a new teacher comes to the Kreylbornes and makes them compete with each other, our egos make us want to fight to come out on top.  We care if we’re 99.99995 or 99.99993.  And, really, why should that matter?

So let’s just forget about motivation and self-praise and ego stroking.  Let’s just write.



I Dreamed My Teeth Fell Out


Really.  It was like I would just be sitting there, and then I’d feel something, and I’d put my hand in my mouth and another tooth would have come loose and dropped out.  It seemingly kept going – and I kept feeling more and more empty places in my mouth.

Being the absolutely brilliant human that I am, the minute I woke up, I knew that I was not alone in that dream.  It’s one of the common shared dreams, like falling or having to go to the bathroom.  (Although I must say that I almost prefer the having to go to the bathroom dream – at least then once you wake up, everything is better.)  But this dream stuck with me, and so I had to go do my dream research.  Or get someone else to do it for me, anyway.

And it turns out that dreaming about your teeth falling out has to do with anxiety and changes, according to most sources.  Which makes perfect sense when you know that I just got back from Borderlands Press Bootcamp on Sunday night.

I knew I was in for a good weekend – or at least an interesting one – when on the first night, we were told we would either learn how to become published writers or we would learn that we wanted to write as a hobby.  And that while they couldn’t each us how to write, they could sure tell us how not to write.  It was a weekend full of helpful suggestions and lots and lots of information.  Of course, just because people are encouraging doesn’t mean that they want to encourage you.  The whole “you show such promise” and “I can really hear your voice” and often said in order to cover up the “but there’s no plot” or perhaps the “have you even taken an English class? ever?”

But even taking everything with about as much salt as you might find around the side of a margarita, I decided that I was in it for the long haul.  I came home ready to refine my work and send it out again and again and again.

My dream teeth, however, seem to have had a different viewpoint as they took to the hills after this personal revelation.  So we’ll see who’s right – me or my teeth.