Motivation and the Writer, Part 4: Instrumentality Redux

I’ve been going on and on about motivation, specifically Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory and how it applies to writers. (Mind you, it applies to many things a person does, but since I’m a writer and one of those armchair therapists who teach this stuff on a regular basis, I’m being specific to the writer-set.)

Vroom’s theory has three parts. First, there’s the bit about expectancy, which is a fancy term for confidence. Second, there is instrumentality, or the means to an end. Finally, there is valence, or value to the person.

I’m not going to jump into valence just yet. I have a few more things to say about instrumentality. Specifically, I’d like to ask you a few questions:

  • What did you think would happen?
  • What exactly did you expect?
  • What is this “outcome” that’s supposed to be tied to your performance?

You might say these three questions are related, and you’d be right. They are essentially the same question asked three different ways.

So, what did you think would happen? You wrote a novel, but before you gather your riches, you probably should ask yourself a very important question: Why did you write a novel?

  • Did you write a novel because you knew you could do it?
  • Were you pushed by your family or peers to put your big toe in the deep end?
  • Were there voices in your head who told you it was time they told their story? (That’s not a stretch, by the way; I should tell you how I ended up writing Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors.)

Motivation LinksIf you can answer “why” you wrote your novel (and this isn’t an easy question), it’s time to ask a follow-up question: What do you think you’re supposed to do with the novel?

  • Are you supposed to sell it?
  • Are you supposed to let it sit on a shelf and gather dust?
  • Are you supposed to get an agent to buy into your idea and sell it for you?

Give yourself some time to answer the “Why” and “What now?” questions.

Go ahead; I’m patient.

Now, let’s pretend you answered those two questions with the following: “I wrote this novel because I wanted to write a story I’d like to read;” and “I want other people to read the novel and feel my emotion.”

Okay, without getting into Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you just said you’re looking for esteem from other people. And that’s perfectly okay. We’re animals who can be motivated by either self-esteem (“I did a good job”) or external esteem (“People think I did a good job”).

With an answer to the “Why” and “What now” questions, an author will typically chose the path that’s most known to them. If, for example, the goal is to get the words into the head of other people, the novel must be either sold or given away, which means it must be published.

And here is where writers fail to stay motivated. If a novel is supposed to be published and sold in order to meet the need of esteem, what happens when it doesn’t sell?

Now, I’m asking you a lot of questions, but that’s the way discovery works.

Instrumentality—the belief that effort leads to outcome—is a major downfall with writers at all levels. It creeps in to the conscious and injects doubt into our brains like a corrosive ink. That corrosion then eats away at our motivation until we can no longer stomach the thought of seeing our work fail to sell or our genius fail to be recognized.

I understand this, and if you’re in this boat right now, know this:

There is still hope.

Hope rests in resilience.

And resilience rests…in the next post.


One comment on “Motivation and the Writer, Part 4: Instrumentality Redux

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

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