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The Amateur Writer - The Motive Center — LiveJournal
September 11th, 2004
10:52 pm

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The Amateur Writer

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From:stevekelner
Date:November 17th, 2004 07:45 pm (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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I've been advising writers for over ten years now as well as being a management consultant for 14, so I am very familiar with the trickiness of application! I wouldn't have written the book had I not felt I had gathered enough to be useful, but there are no guarantees. People are too complex for that.

Please note that "social" is not the same as "wanting to have impact." You can be a loner who wants to have an impact on others collectively, and be socially completely unskilled. It may, in fact, be a reason why people write instead of just becoming a politician or schmoozing at parties! I also know many psychologists who are socially unskilled, which is why they (consciously or no) became psychologists--to figure people out intellectually rather than intuitively.

Incidentally, I'm not offering a random opinion here based on my own insight, as you seem to imply, but the result of years of research. 23 of the first 24 published writers I studied in depth (motivational assessment plus interview and discussion of writing methods) had amazingly consistent motive patterns, plus a pattern of Activity Inhibition (the ability to restrain or channel motivational energy/emotion) so high as to be unheard-of in any other profession. In other words, they wanted to influence, but were superb at channeling that desire into writing instead of going to meet people. There are exceptions, of course, but they are explainable.

A number of people on the LJ have given me, um, feedback on the purity of writing, saying that what they write for their community is somehow nobler or better than writing for money. Well, maybe that's true for them, but Shakespeare would probably disagree. Lots of great writers wrote wonderful artistic statements and made money. What that does is perpetuate the myth that good writers are unworldly people who don't need money--and therefore would only be spoiled by having it. I think this is pernicious, given the many starving writers I know. Someone (I forget who, I think Linda Barnes) said "money doesn't spoil writers, it frees them! It allows them to write."

My own well-paid career has certainly slowed down my writing--a fully engaging and fun job that is more than full-time does have a way of draining your energy...but speed isn't everything!
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From:tipgardner
Date:November 18th, 2004 03:59 am (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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Hi Steve,

I'm late to a meating, so just a brief response and more later.

First, social vs. impact - absolutely, that is not a difference I meant to draw. I wouldn't have even grouped those two in a mutually exclusive axiom, but then, you're the psychologist, so you know better than I do. :)

Feedback on your purity - Yes. It can be pernicious, and I have no particular attachment to the purity of art produced through starvation vs. that produced by a large advance. Again, nothing I was trying to imply.

I will respond more thoughtfully in a few hours. Thanks again, Steve.
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From:tipgardner
Date:November 18th, 2004 07:20 am (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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I'd like to focus in on one element of your comments, here, Steve, if that's alright.

The issue of expertise, data sampling and research is a fascinating one. Please don't imagine that I meant to imply that your credentials are dodgy or that you don't have experience and domain knowledge. I assume that making a living as a motivational psychologist, being paid to speak on the topic and having a book published as well, gives you strong, conservatively measured, credentials, so no attack was intended on that front. In the main, I'm agreeing with you, not arguing, just pulling out elements of interest and commenting as that is one of the main draws of LJ.

In my professional life, credibility, expertise and possession of the data to back up one's position are the most valuable commodities one trades in. Knowing how to tell people with large egos and often large bank accounts what to do is also an important skill. So I think I know where you are coming from on those issues, we just apply them to a different client base, as it were.

The interesting thing to me is data sampling and drawing conclusions. On the one hand, if someone said that approximately 95% of my sample universe was in agreement with my thesis, I'd say I was spot on. On the other hand, statistics are tricky blighters and 24 is an awfully small sample size. However, you're not studying the effects of Vitamin C on pregnant women, so one presumes that you don't need a 100K person research group! But drawing conclusions from a specific data set and applying them broadly is a dicey issue, one way or the other.

As to your last, if you're having fun, being engaged and making a satisfying wage, you are already ahead of (and this is pure speculation on my part!) 90% of the Western world. :)
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From:stevekelner
Date:November 18th, 2004 08:40 am (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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Sorry if I seemed a bit testy--as a sometime scientist, I try to draw a line between my (admittedly strong) opinions and what I think of as factual! I'm curious as to what your own professional life is; it sounds as if we have points in common. Don't hesitate to jump in--that's what this blog is for!

I simplified my results for easy consumption, but since you know about data sampling, let me elaborate. I did say the first 24. In fact, I've also done a lot of post-hoc analysis of writers' self-descriptions, and I've continued to gather data off and on. What is not clear from my description was how amazingly strong the pattern was. I think I have this elsewhere on the LJ, but what I got was a mean of 88th percentile Influence motive, 22nd Achievement, 18th Affiliation, and a very low standard deviation for the Influence Motive. That's awfully high for a normed mean. Motives typically vary pretty evenly across the population to begin with, and the norming flattens them out relative to each other, so I can say with some confidence that the strength of the relationship is much higher than the sample size alone would suggest. The AI finding is even more striking: the average in a US population is 1.75, SD of 0.25, and I got an average of eighteen! I think my lowest score on AI in my group was 14. Again, that's so strong as to be almost inconceivable. I have never seen scores like that in twenty years of motive work, never seen anywhere near those scores except in published writers.

There are, as I noted, always exceptions. My intent isn't to say that "if you lack this motive pattern, you're doomed!" I have two points to make. First is that most people who write probably share this pattern, and since this motive is both negatively valued in the English-speaking world and nonconscious in the first place, people are unlikely to take best advantage of their own motives unless they are informed. Second is if you do not have this pattern, you might need to work a little differently from many other writers. I did have exceptions in my study, and continue to find individual variations, for which I have suggestions in the book. I think pretty much anyone can write if they set their minds to it--the trick is to set their minds!
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From:tipgardner
Date:November 18th, 2004 09:26 am (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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Those are indeed peculiar and interesting numbers. It makes sense, though, that a portion of the population that is already deviating from social norms and achieving far above those norms within their elected profession would have a certain pattern. Studdies involving professional athletes, for instance, are always at pains to acknowledge the genetic near impossibility of those being studied. In any groups that have achieved at the level we are discussing, there has already been a) a self selection process and b) an unusual drive and c) something (tangible or intangible) that "sets them apart" for lack of a better phrase, from the majority of their community or even other human beings more generally.

I very much appreciate the background on your data. That helps fill in the picture to a tremendous degree.

You also asked about my professional life. I invest, mainly in private companies. So I am a glutton for details, but in fact, I am usually forced to make decisions in the absence of anything bearing resemblance to a complete picture.

Motivation is a very tricky thing, and I applaud your efforts to help artists (especially as many of them, probably even those as driven and directed as those who have been published, are somewhat victemized by stereotypes) to get disciplined, focused and productive.
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From:stevekelner
Date:November 18th, 2004 11:20 am (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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Oho! So are you a VC of sorts? My daily (and sometimes nightly) life is being a global leader in the executive appraisal and development practice of Egon Zehnder International (www.zehnder.com). There are a few VC and Private Equity firms that have used us to evaluate the leadership of a potential acquisition, for example. Usually after, but more and more people are asking us as part of their due diligence. It's worth doing, for just the reasons you raise! If you want, we can discuss the business applications further off-list or on, for that matter. My next book in progress (very early stages yet) is about applying motivation more broadly to life, and this is one of the areas I'd like to discuss.

At any rate, you raise a very good point around the highly selective sample. I did deliberately go for "published writer," as I saw that as the target for many writers. However, I didn't get people at the far extreme of writing! I didn't get people like Stephen King, for example, the hyper-successful or even just hyper-productive writers. Mostly I have mid-list or even relatively newly published writers. It is also interesting to note that the pattern holds through every genre I studied (e.g., mystery, thriller, SF, nonfiction, romance, romantic thriller) even though the motives related to reading those genres vary.

Of course, again as noted, I don't assume this is the only possible motive pattern in the book, so there's room for all motives. One writer I interviewed was strongest in Achievement motive. Interestingly, she managed to publish two books--both collaborations. But she published!

I appreciate your applause; I've written as an avocation most of my life, and I feel this is an opportunity to help people who want to write but can't seem to get started. I helped my wife get started, and she's got eight books, 15 short stories, two awards, five nominations...that's pretty satisfying!
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From:tipgardner
Date:November 18th, 2004 01:43 pm (UTC)

Re: Escapism and Community

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As far as anything you care to discuss off list, always feel free to e-mail me at tipgardner@gmail.com.

I do a small amount of venture investing. I tend to focus more on traditional private equity - turn arounds, growth or buying a family out in traditional industries such as manufacturing, services and distribution. I have also done some LBO work, but I don't like auctions or the attention that public deals command. Bad for business, I always feel, even if they are good for marketing. Private equity, like all businesses that live on putting capital to work, rapidly becomes an asset management business, focused more on fee growth and preservation than returns.

I have not generally utlized executive search professionals in due diligence, though that trend has been growing, particularly among venture investors since 1998. It's very interesting and probably quite an intelligent utlization of the skill set.

I wonder if many of my mates on LJ are attacking you? (That's meant as a spot of humour! You seem to take a lot of my comments as argumentative.) At any rate, I don't think that your sample is so selective as much as the phenomenon you've chosen on which to initially base your studies drew you to a naturally self-selecting group. It is, however, interesting to me that you do not seem to have studied any non-genre writers. I would be curious to know how, if at all, a Joyce, Amis, Franzen, Rushdie, etc. differ in their motivations from genre authors, who by definition almost have to have less lofty ambitions one hand and more on another. Sort of like going in for experimental theatre or music instead of West End musicals or Pop. Non-genre writers on the one hand