The Motive Center
Self-control of motivation|
Back from London for two days, and I am delighted to see so many people reading the blog! One issue raised by a couple of people is the issue of fanfic. The great thing about fanfic is that the work required is relatively low--it isn't too hard to write something people like, and it is a LOT easier to get it published.
One of the traits I found in conventionally published writers is a high degree of what we in the motivational psych biz call "Activity Inhibition" or AI. This is the ability to channel your emotional energy, to restrain your impulses, to act in a mature way despite emotional arousal. I won't go into the details of the measurement, I'll just note that to be above average in the US requires a score of 2 or better. The average writer I studied had 18. Yes, eighteen! For those into statistics, the normal standard deviation is 0.25, so the typical writer I studied was so far beyond the norm it is frightening. (The 64-Sigma level!)
What does this mean? Well, writers are people motivated by the desire to have an impact on or influence others, but to do this requires them to sit in a room alone and write. It is a heckuva lot easier to whip out a short piece, post it, and get feedback than it is to write, rewrite, mail out, wait for responses, mail out again, get accepted, wait for the magazine or book to come out...most of the writers I studied were novelists, and typically it takes anywhere from three months to a year for a productive writer to write a novel, and then another year to get it published. That's a very long postponement of gratification!
One of the dangers of the fan community and the con scene is that you can get that instant gratification of the influence motive through web postings, through panel appearances, or through blogs, and this diverts your energy from writing. There have been SF writers who wrote basically one story and then parleyed this into appearance after appearance at cons...and basically quit writing. Why bother, when they got the satisfaction they craved without so much work?
Now let me be clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with fanfic...unless YOU want to do something more or different. If you don't, congratulations! You've got a fun hobby that enables you to write without provoking too much anxiety (though the person who commented that they are pushing aside stories to write fanfic for the fans sounds like they might be getting some).
If you want to move to a bigger pond, as it were, then you might need to constrain yourself. A few options that come to mind:
1. Stay off the web for a while (gasp!)--if necessary, unplug your modem to make it more difficult
2. Get help from the web--go to a workshopping site, so you can get feedback to improve an existing story instead of just posting a first or even later draft.
3. Explain to the fans of the fanfic what you are trying to do, and hopefully they will support you. Also, a public declaration of a goal increases the chance that it will be done!
Seeing people respond to my blog energized me (it's that impact-and-influence thang) despite being jetlagged and at roughly 4:30am London time on my internal clock. One thing I swore to do on this site, though, is to make sure I have content and not just mood. WIth luck, I am providing that, and ultimately perhaps there will be another book out of here--so I am applying the same principles to myself!
You want to be careful about posting original stuff online--it becomes "published," and you can no longer sell first rights, which is the only thing magazines and so on are interested in. Go to a locked critique site--sf/f writers can't do better than Critters
|Date:||September 11th, 2004 02:24 pm (UTC)|| |
Interesting--I am a little surprised by this, actually. But what I plan to do here is to identify topics of interest, and write short answers. Before I put together a new book, I plan to rewrite them all anyway, and in a more linear form.
The motives are (and should be) public domain, of course. I'll post something about them pretty soon--perhaps on the website.
What a wonderful post (in fact, your whole journal is interesting and helpful) and I recognize so much of what you say. I write fanfiction and don't have any plans to write original fiction at this moment (but who knows what may happen in the future). Fanfiction still provides me with enough challenges to keep it interesting, mainly because I'm not a native English speaker (I'm Dutch) and writing in English is a challenge all in itself.
But I am writing a novel-length story at the moment, fanfiction, but it is a novel in a way (176000 words at the moment, will finish around 200k). And I've decided to complete it before posting any of it to the net. And it really is an enormous difference to writing shorter pieces of fanfiction, which give you that instant gratification of feedback. It really took some getting used to, but I have discovered that writing a novel-length story is gratifying in its own ways, even without receiving feedback instantly. Just the fact that I'm writing it is very gratifying. I never thought I'd be able to, and well, I'm doing it nonetheless.
Thanks for all your helpful posts, and I'll be keeping an eye on your journal.
Seems to me that if you can write a 176,000 (so far) story in a non-native language, your idea of "challenging" is different from mine! Sounds like this is a good idea to complete it first, and what you may want to consider is re-reading it yourself (and editing it) before posting it at all. I find re-reading stuff I have written can be very energizing as well--if I think it is good! Even if it isn't, I find rewriting pretty engaging.
For those who don't know, the classic short novel is only 65-75,000 words, so you've done a trilogy's worth of books there--or perhaps one big fat fantasy novel, I don't know. Perhaps the longest novel I have read is Shogun, which is probably around 450,000 words.
Good work, and good luck!
I just found your journal through my friend mollymoon
who is also one of my beta-readers. I am a struggling writer of Harry Potter fan fiction. I've not written anything original and don't plan to at this moment. I like writing HP fan fiction because the overall universe is very well-defined, so I don't have to invent a lot of stuff to make my stories believable. I write short stories rather than novel-length specifically because I can't plot longer stories, plus I do enjoy the immediate feedback from posting a finished story. My stories are usually driven by character and dialog rather than plot, which I think makes them more suitable for short stories. I might be odd but I adore the short story as a literary form and I think a really well-crafted short story can be uniquely satisfying to the reader as well as the writer. Sorry, I don't mean to babble. I might be one of the few fan-fic writers who isn't planning a giant Fan-Novel of Doom ;)
|Date:||September 11th, 2004 02:37 pm (UTC)|| |
Larry Niven commented that he, like other SF writers, liked writing in a consistent universe because it was easier--you can build on things already there instead of inventing a new world every time. This is a problem peculiar to SF&F writers, of course, though something similar is true for historical novelists--they have to research an existing world. So you are doing the same thing in someone else's universe.
Interestingly, in the past ten years there have been a lot of stories written and published in this way, like Asimov's Robot City, the Foundation follow-ups by good writers, the Man-Kzin Wars (set in Larry Niven's Known Space universe), so it is even possible to get published doing what used to be pure fanfic. Not easy unless you are already published or have some credentials somehow, but it is an interesting trend.
As for your short-story comment, this came up in (I think) the panel I moderated at Worldcon. My award-winning mystery-writer wife Toni L. P. Kelner and I have discussed mystery short stories and concluded that generally out of plot, setting, and character you can only have two out of the three. Mysteries usually keep the plot. SF often leaves it out, because a cool idea is sometimes enough.
Thank you for this post, it was very interesting. I shall check out the rest of your journal in a moment. :-)
I'm a fanfiction writer; have been since I was about 14. I originally used it as an opportunity to 'practice' before offically working on my original novel, but I've since been waylaid by several fandoms and my undying love for the fanfiction culture. Seven years later, and I still only have an outline for that original novel. ::laughs:: I'll get there eventually, I would hope.
The trouble with fanfiction (the only trouble, really) is that it makes a writer a little lazy in terms of worldbuilding - I've forgotten how to start from scratch! So your tips will be rather helpful on the day I finally decide to get to work on something (hopefully) publishable. Thank you. :-)
|Date:||September 11th, 2004 07:12 am (UTC)|| |
After about twenty years of not writing anything that wasn't programming documentation or memos, fanfiction did get me started writing again. I'll give it credit there. However, fanfiction feeds on itself and I found it locking down my creativity so I've quit and am now working on my own writing. While my fanfiction had a tenuous relationship with the world I was using, it provided a crutch and an easy way out in many areas. I didn't have to develop my world or rules. After a few stories, I found that the existing constraints no longer worked for me.
At this point in my career, I'll opt for obscurity while I write my stories and novels and hope to get published. I'd rather be known for my own writing than using someone else's constructs.
|Date:||September 11th, 2004 02:39 pm (UTC)|| |
"I'd rather be known for my own writing..."
And this is why you must leave fanfiction. Personally, I enjoy worldbuilding (I ran a lot of D&D back in the day), so that can become as tempting for me as fanfic is for other people--too much world, but nothing happens!
At any rate, everyone starts out an obscure writer at some point. More power to you!
What an intersting topic! Fanfiction for me was getting back to writing when I had forgotten that once upon the time, before university and real life got in the way, I used to like it. The wonderful world of free betas also helped me to improve my English; it still does. To be truthful, I rather write fanfiction and have friends teach me about grammar and spelling through my own stories than pay huge amounts of money to attend a boring English course. Learning by doing and all that.
As it is, I am now in a turning point, where I ask myself if I shouldn't stop playing in other people's sandboxes and start building my own toys. I'm not too sure about which would be the best decision, though.
In any case, I'll be looking forward to your future posts regarding this and other topics.
|Date:||September 11th, 2004 02:44 pm (UTC)|| |
Learning by doing
It's well established in the Adult Learning field that people have different learning preferences or learning styles (see David A. Kolb's work, one of the best-known and used models), so "learn by doing" is preferred by some people; "learn by watching" is preferred by others, etc. The four styles Kolb identifies are basically Watch, Think (conceptualize), Experiment, and Jump In. Kolb also found that doing more than one could be helpful, too, whether it was a preference or not; more information was retained.
My attitude is (as people who saw me at Worldcon know): Whatever works! In your case, you can learn by doing your own stories as well, of course. Why not? The worst that happens is that you have more practice.
Here via dialy_snitch
, I think...
Interesting thoughts, but personally, I really disagree with your premise. I write fanfiction, both short pieces and longer, novel-length stories. I also write short and long original fic and work on journal articles in my field as well as attending graduate school. I'm reasonably sure that I've got the ability to postpone gratification out the wazoo, frankly, because I've been doing it in school and in my life for years -- postponing the gratification of having a life, a job, any kind of money, or family life until after school is done.
My ability to postpone gratification has nothing to do with the reason I write fanfic -- I write in other people's worlds because it's a great excersise and allows me to isolate my problem areas as a writer and work solely on those. For instance, I can work on characterization by allowing JK Rowling to provide the setting and the world and focusing solely on that one issue in a way that I can't in my original novels. Plus, post-publication, a huge amount of time and energy is required to get an audience for an orignal novel, through promotion, publicity, touring, and basically begging people to read your stuff. You don't just 'wait for the book or magazine to come out', as you put it. I very much DON'T have to devote to that right now, nor will I for some years.Which doesn't mean that I'm not workin on my own stuff... just that I'm not seeking publication at the moment.. because I think that my books deserve that from me. So fanfic is a way for me to hone my skills as a writer and keep my hand in while I'm using my "mad AI skillz" at other tasks.
|Date:||September 13th, 2004 06:27 pm (UTC)|| |
Not postponing gratification
I didn't say everyone wrote fanfic because they were unable to postpone gratification, at least I didn't intend to! I noted in some other reply that people can also just plain enjoy what they do, and evidently you do that.
It does seem to me, in fact, that you have plenty of Activity Inhibition, but it is pretty much all in use already, along with a heckuva lot of motivational energy. AI can restrain energy, but if the energy isn't there in the first place, AI is irrelevant! And of course, you can simply dislike the other tasks--the writing being more fun than the selling. I mentioned at Worldcon that one mystery writer of my acquaintance (Phil Craig) wrote ten unpublished novels because he typed them. When he got a novel returned, even when it said "fix it and we'll reconsider," he would rather start a new one than go to the trouble of retyping and rewriting! The word processor was a godsend to him, because it made rewriting very low-pressure and even fun.
You are welcome to disagree with my premise if you want, but the pattern I saw was extremely clear. I don't say that anything in psychology applies to everyone (indeed, I have said explicitly that it doesn't), but this is one of the more consistent things I have found in writers. When you study 20 published writers in a row, writing in genres ranging from historical fiction to mystery to SF to nonfiction, and every single one has 14 AI or better, one assumes this is not an accident!
In fact, it seems to me we are rather more in agreement than not!
|Date:||September 13th, 2004 01:05 pm (UTC)|| |
I write fan fiction because I feel that writing for money is no different from performing sexual acts for money, and I do not wish to become a prostitute.
Your assumptions, sir, are flawed.
As an author of TV tie-in novels
, I'm a brazen strumpet!
Don't denigrate the money. Trading your skill as a writer for bucks is not different to trading your skill as a plumber or a typist or a teacher. Besides, in my case at least, the money has often made it possible
to write - I couldn't have written all those novels for free, I'd have starved. Before you get too cocky about Your Art, keep in mind you're embroidering on a readymade tapestry.
It's an excellent point that writing fanfic gives quicker gratification than sitting around waiting for the rejection slips to show up in the mailbox. I got my start writing fanfic, and the combination of quick publication and an interested audience helped bootstrap my writing. This was so crucial to my career that it's taken me a long time to recognise that there are perfectly sound motives to write fanfic other than polishing one's prose with a view to becoming a professional: community, getting one's rocks off, sheer enjoyment.
OTOH, I'm not sure my motivation is "the desire to have an impact on or influence others". After rummaging around in my head a little while ago, I discovered I don't have a mental model of my audience
. Certainly I love getting feedback and knowing that I've communicated something to others, but when I sit down to write, that's not what's on my mind. The craft seems to take centre stage - getting the synopsis to hang together, churning out the day's thousand words. (I played bass guitar on the weekend for the first time - three entire notes!!! - and couldn't work out why I was doing it until my husband pointed out it was fun!)
"Did I say writers were prostitutes? Hell, we're crib girls, banging and climaxing every fifteen minutes." - David Gerrold, on TV scripts
|Date:||September 13th, 2004 01:16 pm (UTC)|| |
2. Get help from the web--go to a workshopping site, so you can get feedback to improve an existing story instead of just posting a first or even later draft.
I just wanted to comment on this section, with regards to fanfic. Many finfic writers I know go through a *lot* of rewriting and editing of stories, often getting feedback from several people before they post -- not just fine tweaks, but opinions on major aspects of plot, character, etc. So this isn't something which would be a novelty for them.
Here via daily_snitch
Amen. Fanfiction is dangerous to a writer of original fiction. I'm 24 and have been seriously writing since I was 11. My greatest dream is to become a published novelist. I started out writing fanfic for my own enjoyment. This was before the days of the Web! That eventually evolved into my own original SF/fantasy universe.
I finished the first draft of my first full-length novel in late 1996. I got online for the first time a few months later. And my original writing has been at times painfully stagnant since then. Everything you said about patience and instant gratification is so true. It's a shame, but it's true. I'm sure it's possible to balance online fanfiction with offline original work, but I don't have that self-discipline.
It's a vicious cycle, too, because the more you write fanfic and get positive reinforcement from other fans, the less you want to work on original material that gets completely ignored. 90% of the hits to the website for my original universe comes from a fansite for a fantasy series
that I also run. That's horribly depressing to me. Nothing means more to me than the characters I've created all by myself, in a universe of my own making. Yet they get completely ignored by all but a precious few friends, while scribbles about Harry Potter or whatever get gushed over. It's insulting in an indirect way, and not at all conducive to pursuing a career as a published writer of original fiction.
Sorry to ramble but what you wrote really rang true for me.
Are you stagnant? Really? I've designed a universe or two for roleplaying purposes, and it takes a great deal of thought and creativity, in my somewhat biased opinion. If you would rather be writing novels (or short stories, or haiku, or whatever...), then perhaps you should find a way to manage yourself to do it, even if it is a piece at a time. My first stab at a novel was a D&D-based story. (I was reading the outline to my then-girlfriend--now a noted poet--and suddenly stopped and said "I can't finish reading you this--it's crap!")
Motivation is like a firehose sometimes--it's hard to aim. When that is the case, you might need more external structure to help you aim it. Just a thought.
|Date:||September 16th, 2004 03:13 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Get out, Get Out, GET OUT
Ummm...you are on my site, last I looked. If you don't like what I have to say, don't read it!
And please don't assume you understand my "assumptions," either. I've written since I was nine years old, everything from fan fiction to academic papers to, yes, published fiction. I don't mean to appear disrespectful or patronizing towards those who are emotionally invested in fanfic--it would be a strange attitude for me to have, considering how emotionally invested I am in writing.
I think this is hugely oversimplified. It's not about not wanting to work.
Put plainly, the whole REASON that women write the overwhelming majority of fanfiction is BECAUSE the overwhelming majority of the entertainment industry just won't churn out genre stuff that appeals to us. If I were content with genre TV that is marketed almost exclusively to young, straight, white males I wouldn't be motivated to write the fanfiction in the first place.
I write fic because I can't stand what's mostly out there. If I wanted to publish, surprise-surprise, I'd have to change the way I write to meet the markets that most publishers want for the genre stuff I enjoy -- young, white, straight, and male.
If you want to move to a bigger pond, as it were, then you might need to constrain yourself.
Nope. If I want to move to the "larger" pond (although whether it's larger or not is a huge assumption on your part), I'd have to constraint myself to writing to please people who aren't at all on the same wavelength I'm on.
I write slash fanfiction -- if you can tell me where the supposed market for intellectually-driven gay male porn for women might be, I'd be happy to write for it. But it doesn't exist outside of the world of slash fanfiction. And I don't feel like writing what would sell to the market that genre publishers want to solicit. I'm not interested in making connections to the sort of market that thinks that two hot babes going at it is cool and two queer guys screwing is gross. Again, if I were happy with that sort of thing, I wouldn't be motivated to write the fanfiction in the first place.
Besides, when it comes to profesionally published stuff, you'll find more under my name in nonfiction, particularly politics. I wrote either slashfic, or 18th century colonial political analysis of the sort that tends to blow most pro novels out of the water in terms of the work required.
I'm not above gratifying myself. But the market I want to connect with is already well-served by the genre stuff that's published already.
Again, and I know this is the third time I've said it, if I were content to mold my writing to meet the preferences of the genre audience that pro publishers wanted to woo, I wouldn't be motivated to write fanfiction in the first place. Fanfiction is a reaction to the fact that the only genre stuff that ever sees the light of day is full of tits and explosions, and that leaves an entire half of humanity entirely unserved.
Also, I write fanfiction because it's FUN. I don't plan to make a living selling my handknits gloves either, and I fail to see why the only way something can be considered worthy is if it woos the almighty dollar. I have a career. Published fiction isn't part of it. *shrug* BFD.
I suppose I should also go learn how to make money cooking and knitting gloves now or else on some grand scale, it "doesn't count."
|Date:||September 16th, 2004 03:21 am (UTC)|| |
This is what happens when you try to boil down ten years of work and a 75,000 word book into a few paragraphs, eh? I think you've raised a lot of good points here, and you've reminded me of Disraeli again ("When I want to read a good book, I write one."). This is especially true when there isn't anyone else writing (or at least publishing) it.
And dammit, I never said you had to sell what you do for it to "count." I said that if you want to do that, etc.
Look, I don't care whether people publish or not. There are already a lot of books out there worth reading, even given Sturgeon's Law ("90% of everything is crap"). What bothers me is people who really do want to publish but are afraid to (and don't need to be), or people who think they have to publish when they don't, and it makes them unhappy. For me, it's about finding your own satisfaction. That's not necessarily the same motive as with published writers. For some people, getting your work read by only a small group isn't enough. For other people, getting your work read by thousands isn't enough. Olivia Goldsmith (author of the First Wives Club) wrote an interesting novel called The Bestseller, which shows how even people who sell millions of books get anxious and unhappy if they only sell 2.5 million instead of 2.6 million. Sheesh!
I guess what I am trying to say is it helps to understand what you want to do and why. Obviously you do.
Y'know, friend, addressing an entire group of people whom you do not know from Eve, defining their personality deficiencies, and offering your rather condescending "solutions..."
No, it's not worth the powder to try explaining. Short response: If you had any notion of what fanfic is about, you'd be dangerous.
Sorry to offend you. But I'm not talking about personality "deficiencies," and I'm not sure why you think I am. My intent is to get a discussion going here on what does work, not to offer facile "answers," because there are too many ways of doing things. "There are nine-and-sixty ways/of composing tribal lays/and every single one of them is right!" - Rudyard Kipling
|Date:||September 19th, 2004 09:32 am (UTC)|| |
I just wanted to apologize for all the rude, condescending slash writers attacking you after misreading your post. Apparently, the "ladies" doth protest too much.
We're all not screeching harpies prepared to descend and tear into someone so we can defend the "honor" of fanfic from someone who hasn't actually insulted in the first place.
Thanks! I didn't really think that was the case--but it's nice to have confirmation!