If the Baby is Ugly….

You know that thing you do, that thing where you justify the reactions others have to your work?

I wrote a book once. Well, actually I wrote several books. None of them sold very well, and I took to saying “It is because my genius is not knowable.”

Have you ever said that? Really, now. You know you have. Maybe not in those words, and maybe not aloud, but you know what I’m talking about. People just don’t get it.

You know what that is? It’s the use of self-affirmation to ease the pain of what you perceive as different from what you expected. We practice this technique quite a bit, but some of where it starts is with the dissonance we feel when what we say may not be what we really mean.

Cognitive dissonance, defined, is “an internal state that results when individuals notice inconsistency between two or more attitudes or between their attitudes and their behavior.”

In English, man!

In simple terms, it’s that slightly uncomfortable feeling you get when the baby is ugly but you say “He’s soooooo cute!”

uglybabyIf the baby is ugly, the baby is ugly. Why do we say it’s not? Because the parents are friends and we don’t want to upset them? Yes, that’s probably the motivation behind the lie.

It’s the same with reviews, you know.

Think about that for a moment: Why say “This book is the greatest ever written!!!!1!” when you know the writing is horrible, the story doesn’t go anywhere, and you would rather watch paint dry than read another chapter?

You know why.

It’s cognitive dissonance and what you’re saying right now (“They are writer friends and I want to help”) is self-affirmation. You’re saying something to cover your butt, to make yourself feel better for leaving that five-star review on Amazon for a book that should be one (or fewer stars).

Who are you helping with that?

Are you disillusioning the writer or are you making yourself feel better by “helping” someone else out who is an independent like you?

If the baby is ugly….

Bruce Blake, who might be known to some here (*wink*), once edited a manuscript of mine. It had errors. There were problems and inconsistencies and “farthers” where there should have been “furthers.” Between his edits and Scott Bury’s (who might also be known to some here (*wink*)) were kind enough to say “you know, this baby is ugly.”

You know what I did with that knowledge? I edited my manuscript, breathed a little, and still published it. The book sold little, and in my head I thought “it is because my genius is not knowable.” So while there was honesty in the reviews, I still thought what others had to say was off the mark and practiced self-affirmation when I should have practiced rewriting draft 52 (or 53…I lost count).

So what is needed in our industry? What is needed, I think, is a bit of honesty. If a manuscript sucks, regardless of how many other published manuscripts an author has or the size of their publishing house, the writer needs to know their baby is ugly.

I wrote a two-star review of a David Morrell book once. It felt good. I didn’t lie.

Will he care? He’s Rambo. Of course not.

But if an up-and-coming writer really wants to improve, if they really want to give the baby plastic surgery so-to-speak, they need to know the truth and we (as readers and writers and reviewers) need to be able to tell them that truth.

Cognitive dissonance is a thing. Self-affirmation is what helps ease the discomfort.

In the words of Bob Newhart: “Stop it.

If the baby is ugly….

Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes. He is the author of A Difficult Mirror, Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors, and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang.

He also gets up before 4am to milk (words, not cows).

Do They Write What You Read?

I had a question the other day while working out the details of a character in my head: how often do writers develop characters who write and how often to readers get to read what they write?

I have no statistical answer to this question, but it has now been nagging me for a few days. Honestly, I’m not talking about the Mort Raineys or Paul Sheldons or Jack Torrances, who are all author-characters (or is that character authors?). These protagonists were designed to be mirrors of the actual author and likely a catharsis for the real; writing about writers is often therapy.

What I’m really referring to are the characters who dabble in poetry or song, who may be hunters or lawyers or mathematicians or magicians in sum, but have tangential creative bits that really, really, really flesh them out.

When an author drops in a bit of poetry that the character has “written” or they drop in the lyrics of a song (without the obvious and impossible to pen melody), readers are treated to something: an opening of a vein, a glimpse into the tender side of a hard ass, a glimmer of hope.

Sometimes those poems or song lyrics are ties which bind a story like an iron thread running through the pages to keep disparate thoughts together.

Sometimes those poems or song lyrics are just glimpses of whimsy.Writing-Poetry

Whatever the case, how often do readers really get to see that side of a protagonist/antagonist they have either grown to love or grown to hate?

Think of Bilbo Baggins and his whimsical songs.

So in my head, I envisioned doing a little research on this topic as a reader. It may take a while, but I’m going to look for the creative side of characters to see what they have done. Believe it or not, I would–as a reader–pick up the “Collected Poetry of Hobbiton” if such a think existed or maybe the “Whimsical Writings of Susan Pevensie.”

But I’m a geek.

Anyway, one of the characters I have been working on of late has a creative side. He’s asked to write something by a therapist as a way of getting in touch with the boy he had been.

With all that said, here is a part of a piece by Mark Allen Haines, protagonist of a work in progress:

On a street called Intention the spirits sigh;
Horse-drawn carriages bang over cobbled stones
As dirt covered urchins toss a ball
In front of shops and carts.
There is a ragged man,
There is a Bobbie,
There is a newsboy with tidings of joy
On a rag that costs two pence.
A bell chimes as a door opens
On the corner of Intention and Meaning.
A child steps out on the stoop,
Dirty face,
Adjusts his apple cap,
Looks at the beggar in the gutter and whispers a prayer:
“Let one live.”
In the boy’s grimy hands, a note:
“Take care to watch for toolers and nobblers,
As you cross to Intention and Sense.
Two tokes from the baker.
Skip home in haste.”

In the stillness of questioning there are wandering eyes,
Dirty faces, fake smiles,
And piercing gazes that probe
The soul of a boy who may be a man.
The child, afraid,
Hands in pocket,
Jangling coins,
Walks head down, feeling judged by all,
Trapped in a box of his own making.
“That’s a good job, but…”
Words that float like steel razors
Slicing the edge of esteem like teeth in meat.
“That’s good work, but…”
A voice, harsh, unkind,
Yet full of wisdom, age, what to be,
What he’s not.
What he is, the beggar in the street
Holding hands out for a halfpence,
A praise without condition,
Something never given, only wished.

Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes. He is the author of A Difficult Mirror, Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors, and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang.

He also gets up before 4am to milk (words, not cows).

On Resilience

Did you ever think of deleting your work?

I do.


There’s a way through this swamp of sadness (that’s A Neverending Story reference, by the way), and it starts with resilience. Resilience, as defined, is an ability to bounce back from difficulties, often emotional. Resilience is something that has to be rebuilt into a person because, believe it or not, as kids we were really good at it.

As adults, we suck.

Take for example the problem of learned helplessness. I went through a whole slew of posts on motivation and how learned helplessness can kill a person’s desire to move forward with a project. But if that helplessness is not dealt with in an effective manner, there is little doubt that resilience will suffer.

Think of a rubber band for a moment.

It is elastic.

It is resilient.

Now, stick that rubber band in the sun for a few days and bake it.


The longer the rubber band is in the sun, the more brittle it becomes. When you try to pull on it after a few weeks, it will probably break.

That sun is like the negative reviews or poor sales you might see as an author. It bakes your brain and turns your resilience into a brittle round thing of rubber. When a person pulls on it after a while, it’ll break.

Ray Bradbury once said that writing is like jumping off a cliff and building your wings on the way down. He later admitted that as a youngster growing up and writing, he was awful. So what made him continue to write?

Resilience, or something he called “a love of writing.”

Building back the resilience you had as a kid takes time and effort. You can’t do it by snapping your fingers (or buying a new rubber band). You have to take it one step at a time.

This post has some tips.

Here’s the gist of it all, though: You have to enjoy the trip down the cliff as you build your wings.

A sage once told me to walk toward the horizon and not to stop until I got there.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I get the point.

Keep walking. Enjoy the journey. You’ll get there.

Stephen Crane (who I think I may have been in a past life) said this regarding resilience and the need to keep walking:

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never —”

“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on.

Morla, the Ancient One

Morla, the Ancient One

Welcome Back to the Blog

by Bruce Blake

The time has finally come…the return of the Guild of Dreams.

After a lengthy hiatus (if you choose to read that as ‘Bruce got lazy for an extended period of time’, I would probably be hard pressed to argue the point), the motley blog crew have returned to entertain and enlighten. Returning to the Guild are myself, Autumn Birt, Chantal Boudreau, Scott Bury, Joshua Johnson, AM Justice, Steven MontanoGuild-wglow 300, and Benjamin X. Wretlind.

So here’s the set up: we’re paring things down a little, with regular posts scheduled for Mondays and Fridays. That’s not to say you won’t see the occasional post on other days…special guests, book announcements, cover reveals, and the like may pop up at any time, so be sure to sign up for email updates over there on the top right if you haven’t done so already.

And what can you expect from the posts you’ll find on the Guild? The easiest way to figure that is to have a look back through previous posts. If you’re too lazy or preoccupied to find the time to do that, then let me fill you in: you’ll find pointers on writing, editing, formatting, publishing, and the like; you’ll find out where ideas come from, how characters are developed, and how to promote your own work. If prior patterns hold, you will likely also get to see some cool pics Steven uses to draw inspiration, stories of Autumn’s travel adventures, Chantal’s artwork, and Scott’s perspective on what the hell is wrong with the publishing industry and how to fix. Throw in Amanda’s writing chops (and Game of Thrones analysis), Benjamin’s creativity, and Joshua’s love of the writing process and tools, and I know there will be something here for everyone.

So sit back, pull up a chair, and the let the Guild of Dreams take you to worlds you never knew existed.

Motivation and the Writer, Part 6: Valence

Back in May, I started writing about Victor Vroom’s theory of motivation (expectancyinstrumentality, and valence) and how it applies to the writer set. Here now, we conclude (or I conclude).

Valence, essentially, means value. What value do you see in the work you’re putting out? In a nutshell, if a person has the ability to write (and the confidence) and their efforts have led to outcomes according to a set process, do they see any value in that outcome?

Was all that work satisfying?

What if you wrote books and they sold? What if fame was something you didn’t want but you received it anyway?

If you don’t see value in the outcome, you’re not going to be truly motivated (and I mean intrinsically, not extrinsically).

I was teaching a class the other day and asked the room if money was the true motivator. Only one person said “yes” while the rest rattled off things like achievement, having autonomy, doing something for a purpose.

So what determines the answer to the final question: what is value?

That’s simple, really. You determine the answer. Only you can say the effort you put into a work of art has value.

Here’s the problem with valence, however: it’s not an easy thing to figure out. For example, you may say finishing a novel gives you satisfaction because you completed it. However, when you put it out for the world to see or you try to find an agent or you get that first not-exactly-glowing review, you lose motivation.

When you lose motivation, then, did you miss what you value? If completing the novel was truly satisfying, shouldn’t everything else be nothing but icing on the cake?

I used to think I wrote because I wanted to leave a mark on the world. Even if someone said “That novel really hit home and I can’t get it out of my head” (hey, it’s actually happened), then I would know I made a mark. Therefore, according to all the aforementioned blather, I should still be motivated, right?

So do I get true satisfaction in leaving a mark?

Or is it something else?

Positive psychology is an awesome idea and relatively new (the term was coined in the mid-1990s). In a nutshell, here’s the gist: we used to say if you reach a milestone (get a good job, become famous, are successful), you’ll be happy. However, in neuroscience it doesn’t work that way.

The truth is, if you’re happy, then you’ll be successful. If you’re happy, then you’ll find and be what you value.

It’s opposite the way we think of things.

That’s where writers get valence wrong. Writers are human and as human we say the product must produce the satisfaction we seek.


Let me say that Vroom’s expectancy theory (expectancy, instrumentality, valence) should be changed slightly: seek the value first, be satisfied in who you are and what you can do, then write your heart out.

It may mean putting down the pen for a while until you find out what really drives you as a person.

Motivation and the Writer, Part 5: Bouncing Back

Since May, I’ve been writing about Victor Vroom’s theory of motivation and how it applies to the writer set. In short, this theory is all about expectancy, instrumentality, and valence.

In my last post, I explained the death of a writer’s motivation as one that is often due to failed instrumentality; that is, when a book has been written and it fails to sell (the means do not lead to the expected end), motivation suffers.

If you need to catch up, go ahead. Read it all here.

Before we can move on to the last bit about motivation (valence, or value), we need to take a look at what happens when…well…nothing happens.

We’re capable of writing that great novel. We have the ideas, the time, the ability. We put our pens to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) and we write until we reach “The End.” Finally, after completing our novel, spending time editing it and having it edited, writing another draft or five, we’re at the point where we’ve decided to sell it. We are ready to strip naked our souls and let the world gawk at us.

The problem is, no one is gawking (the novel doesn’t sell).

There are several things we can do at this moment, and one of them involves the delete button. However, I think I would be correct in saying that this rejection of our work is something that all writers have in common. And what were we told about all those other writers who failed at first?

We’re supposed to “bounce back,” right? We’re supposed to try and try again.

Here then is a trait of personality that not all people have. It’s called resilience.

GumbyResilience is that deep quality that allows some people to be kicked around by a cruel life and yet still come back like Rocky or Gumby. Resilient people won’t let failure overwhelm them and suck dry the marrow of their motivation.

What are some of the factors that make a person resilient? How about a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback?

You see, even after the means to the end—the instrumentality of an effort—fails, resilient writers are blessed with an outlook that allows them to move forward in time and not focus on failure.

Simple to do, right? Well, what if you’re not a resilient person? What can you do?

The American Psychological Association (APA) has listed a few tips to help you build resilience.

  1. Make connections (that whole “social networking” thing existed before Twitter, you know)
  2. Help others (nothing feels better than that)
  3. Maintain a daily routine (write, edit, repeat)
  4. Take a break (just not for years…try it for a day or two and take a walk on the beach or in the forest)
  5. Learn self-care (really, if you don’t feel good, you won’t want to bounce back)
  6. Move toward your goals (did you set a goal in the first place?)
  7. Nurture a positive self-view (you are good at what you do; how many people have actually finished a novel?)
  8. Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook (again, how many people have accomplished what you accomplished?)
  9. Look for opportunities for self-discovery (keep learning and learning about yourself)
  10. Accept that change is part of living (we know that, but there are many people who are resistance to change)

There is a lot of help out there to help you bounce back after failures.

The last bit of Vroom’s motivation theory has to do with valence—what do you value?

Until next time…stay strong.

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.

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?

Motivation and the Writer, Part 2: Expectancy

The last time I was here, I introduced Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory with an application to all the writers out there. This theory of motivation should also speak to the readers of the world as well; basically, if we’re ever to be motivated to do anything, we have obstacles in our way. Like so many things in life, the obstacles are usually within our minds.

Expectancy theory, in its basic form, boils down to three questions:

  1. Can I do the job?
  2. Will all that work lead to something?
  3. Will I even be satisfied with the outcome?

If any one of these three questions can be answered in the negative, there’s going to be a problem being motivated. This is what Vroom called expectancy, instrumentality, and valence.

Today, it’s all about the expectancy.

When analyzing your own motivation—or lack thereof—do you ever feel like the mountain in front of you is too high to climb? For example: you have a great idea for a novel, but you just can’t get yourself motivated to move past the first chapter or even the prologue.

  • Is it because you feel you don’t have the skill to write?
  • Is it because your mind is so scattered about the world you see in your head that you just can’t focus on one area?
  • Are there roadblocks in your way with regard to time and/or the privacy you need to write the book?

These types of questions should lead you to think there might be a lack of confidence in your ability. If there is a lack of confidence, you’re going to have trouble being motivated to move forward with the work.

Lack of confidence, however, is not always caused by a lack of training or a lack of resources available to  complete the task. In fact, for many people out there, lack of confidence is a symptom of learned helplessness.

What the deuce? I’m blathering on about behavioral science and I have to throw yet another psychobabble term in to the mix? How can you “learn” helplessness? And what does that have to do with confidence.

learned_helplessnessIn 1967, Martin Seligman and Steven Maier conducted an experiment using dogs, electric shocks, and a box. The end result was the discovery (or naming of) a psychological force present in many organisms: learned helplessness.

Let’s say you’re in fifth grade and you’re given a math test. You fail. The teacher and your parents urge you to study more, take home practice tests, and maybe get some tutoring.  The next test you get is, once again, a failure. So you study even more. You get a “D.” Maybe a little better, but the more you study, the less likely it becomes that you’ll ever get better. You either fail or barely pass no matter how hard you try.

Now, skip ahead to sixth grade. It’s math class again and you’re handed your first test of the year.

What is your first reaction? For most people, “I’m going to fail this,” is going to be a prevalent thought. What you did was “learn” to be “helpless.”

The same can be said about the writing process. You once wrote a book. People told you it was okay but could be better. You went to seminars, conferences, took classes at the local community college, read all the books on writing you could get your hands on. The next time you present people with a book, they say exactly the same thing to you: it was okay but could be better.

How’s that for a confidence boost? It’s more like a kick in the head, is it not?

So what does this have to do with expectancy? It’s really all about confidence. You have the skill, you have the time, you have the resources, but in the past something kept you from finishing the task…or worse, someone told you that your work wasn’t good enough.

And that will lead us into Instrumentality: does the effort a person puts forth lead to an expected outcome?

Next time.

For now, think about expectancy. How do you combat this learned helplessness or this lack of confidence in your abilities? What do you do to get through the first roadblock of motivation?

Motivation and the Writer


It’s hard for some people to get motivated to do anything: lose weight, perform a task at work, write a book. And when these people don’t do something we expect them to do, we often tell them to “just do it” and they’ll be happier after all.

However, motivation is a lot more complicated than it looks on the outside, especially if we’re the ones who are motivated and can’t understand the lack of motivation in other people. To combat a perceived lack, we have to understand what it is that’s demotivating them in the first place.

motivation_signThere are oodles of theories out there on what motivates a person, and yes, I used the word “oodles.” Victor Vroom proposed my favorite back in the 60s: expectancy theory. And because this is my forum today, let’s look a little closer at what Vroom was saying. What the heck are we expecting?

There are three elements in Vroom’s theory: expectancy, instrumentality, and valence. Since these are more complicated than just words, I’ll only focus on the basics here and break them out in later posts.

First, there’s expectancy: does your effort result in performance. In other words, do you have the ability or self-confidence to perform a task? Let’s pretend you want to write a novel. If you don’t quite have the requisite skill, you may not expect to perform. If you’re lacking in self-confidence, you might be unwilling to try.

Second, a person has to have instrumentality, or the belief that they will receive a reward if the performance expectation is met. So what is the reward? Is it sales, a sense of self-worth, 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.

Finally, if a person does have the ability and their efforts have led to outcomes according to the process, do they have valance? In simple terms, is the outcome satisfying? What if you wrote books and they sold? What if fame was something you didn’t want but you received it anyway? If you don’t see value in the outcome, you’re not going to be motivated.

I’m going to dive into these three parts in future posts. I’ve been doing a lot of research into motivation these past few weeks, not only because I teach the stuff, but also because I might have found myself a little less motivated to write like I used to.

So what’s holding you back? Is there an expectancy, instrumentality, or is it valence? For most writers of today in the Indie world, I would bet money on instrumentality. But I won’t bet it all until I’ve laid out my case.