Motivation and the Writer, Part 3: Instrumentality

In my last post I expanded on my first post. Because I am that kind of person, I’m going to now expand on the post which expanded on the first post.

What I’ve been talking about is Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of motivation and the reasons why you or that guy or that gal might not be motivated to complete the novel you started. Expectancy theory has three parts: expectancy (which I covered last time); instrumentality (which is what this post is about); and valence.

This particular post is about instrumentality, or the belief that a person (you) will receive a reward if the performance expectation is met.

What the heck does instrumentality mean, anyway? Simply put: a thing that serves as a means to an end.

So you’ve written a novel. At the end of all that work what reward is waiting for you, or more to the point, what reward do you expect? Is it sales? Is it a sense of self-worth? Is it fame? If a person lacks trust in the process (e.g., they’ve written novels before but they never sold), instrumentality might be holding them back from trying again. This is usually where most authors fall flat: the process doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.

Why is that?

There are many reasons why a person (you or me) might feel that our efforts will not lead to the outcome we expect. One of them is a lack of trust in the process—it didn’t work before therefore it won’t work this time. It’s a rather pessimistic viewpoint, but it’s also the reason I hear the most from writers.

Let me give you an example. Arthur the Author just finished a novel. It is well-written, and because he did his research he knows it must be professionally edited. Rather than rush the novel to “print,” Arthur does all the right things: makes sure it is as error free as possible, commissions an artist to create an excellent cover, sets up a marketing strategy that’s robust, etc.

Finally, it’s time for Arthur to release his novel. In the first week, the novel sells ten copies. This isn’t such a big deal because other authors have told him that sometimes sales will start slow but then pick up steam after about a week.

In the second week, Arthur’s novel sells six copies. Hmm. Well, Arthur is an optimist with an internal locus of control of reinforcement that tells him this failure must be because of his marketing efforts. So, Arthur the Optimistic Author listens to more authors, runs more campaigns, purchases more advertising, and gets so involved in social media that he forgets to eat.

By the end of the third week, Arthur has sold two more copies.

Arthur is despondent. Maybe he is not as resilient as he thought he was, and he considers giving up.

Is this the end of Arthur?

Nope. Because Arthur knows the process and he’s heard from other writers that the more books he has out, the better his sales must be. While not abandoning his marketing efforts, Arthur writes another book.

Write. Publish. Repeat.

After all, Arthur heard the process works from writer after writer after writer. It has to work for him as well.

Flash forward one year. Arthur the Author has written and published four novels. He’s worn out from all the social networking, blogging, and offline marketing he’s been involved in. Yet all of that effort has failed to push sales to an even respectable level. In fact, he’s sold a combined total of 56 copies and is over $8,000 in debt because of “doing what they said to do.”

Arthur quits.

This is just a scenario, but it’s happened over and over and over again. It happens because people expect that all the effort they put into a novel should result in sales, should result in exactly the same thing they see happening to other writers.

People are told that their performance is instrumental to success.

“If the process works for so many, then why doesn’t it work for me?”

When another writer becomes depressed in the process and wants to give up, we have a tendency to push them harder. Raise your hand if you’ve heard or said these things:

  • “It’s going to get better.”
  • “You need to get more involved in Twitter.”
  • “Just be patient.”
  • “The novel is great and word of mouth is sure to boost your sales.”
  • “Maybe you should try [insert marketing technique here].”

We need to stop this. We care too much and want to help those in our shoes because we can sympathize. Every time a writer is on the brink of quitting because of poor sales, other writers have a tendency to do everything we can to make sure they “keep plugging away.”

It’s not helping.

I’m not saying we should say the opposite, either. “Yes, you do suck.” “Yes, readers aren’t smart enough to understand your plot.” “You’re right: it should sell.”

These statements are equally as hurtful as the “advice” statements. A person who has been disheartened by instrumentality—they no longer trust the process—does not need that feeling reinforced by someone else.

So what does Arthur need? What would help Arthur get through this downturn in his motivation? After all, he has the confidence to write novels, yet he now feels beat up by reality and it seems all of his work doesn’t net the result he’s expecting.

That’s a post for a different time.

For now, though, examine your own motivation. Are you confident (do you have expectancy)? If so, do you see instrumentality in what you’re doing (is the outcome tied to your performance)?

If not, you probably need to ask one additional question: what did you think would happen?

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4 comments on “Motivation and the Writer, Part 3: Instrumentality

  1. Pingback: Motivation and the Writer, Part 4: Instrumentality Redux | Guild Of Dreams

  2. Pingback: Motivation and the Writer, Part 5: Bouncing Back | Guild Of Dreams

  3. Pingback: Motivation and the Writer, Part 6: Valence | Guild Of Dreams

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