“Why do you write?” A question I’m sometimes asked, more often a question I ask others. The answers vary: “Fame and fortune.” (usually tongue in cheek.) “I have to write.” “It’s fun, a hobby, gives me something to do.” All valid reasons.
I have my reasons too. It allows me to create something tangible, it helps keep my mind focused on something other than bad news. In my more vain moments, I feel some pride when I see my books in print. Writing has allowed me to meet and become friends with some remarkable writers. I can live comfortably off my royalties. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch. Were I to calculate what I’ve earned from my writing, I can without doubt say I’ve spent far more money on printer ink cartridges and paper than I’ve made selling books.
In my graduate education as a social worker, I read and learned about the work of psychologist B F Skinner. His research regarding operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement for behavior) was monumental. Within his work, two terms were coined: continuous reinforcement and intermittent reinforcement. Simply stated, either positive or negative reinforcement is provided every time a behavior occurs, or it is given randomly. The interesting thing is behaviors become more consistent when the reinforcement is intermittent. This seems to be counter intuitive. So why am I saying this while talking about writing?
People, all people, seek positive reinforcement. We want to get what we want. That desire becomes a driving force. As writers, it’s good we respond better to intermittent rewards. I’ll let you in on a secret, not everyone is going to like what you write. Shocking, I know. Most folks will say something like, “that was interesting,” or “I liked how you didn’t use the word “like” so many times,” and the best, “since it’s a hobby, its good you enjoy your real job.” Ouch!
I’ll just say it. My most painful review for my first book, Running In, Walking Out, said, “The title should have been Stumbling In, Falling Out. Okay, in my defense it had come after I’d previously said something which hinted that I had week-old grapes with a higher IQ than that of the reviewer. I later apologized and told him his IQ was in fact a few points higher than a grape.
But there are also those moments when a few kind words make a writer feel like Superman, or perhaps Superwoman. They can be few and far between, but when they come, just like a Skinner box, we writers keep pecking that button, hoping one more compliment will fall out of the chute. Recently one fell into my feeding cup and I’ve devoured its sustenance for the past week. A reader whom I’ve not met, read my second book, The Unusual Man, and said some nice things about it. A bonus was she mentioned it to a friend, who also bought a copy. Both events were nice. She then ordered my first book, and I told her I thought it was a good story, but also felt it was not as well written as the second book.
Perhaps I was subconsciously laying down a soft mattress for my impending fall. A few days after the second purchase, I received an email from the reader. It was the note from her that stoked my writing fire and created the grin which is now a permanent fixture. She said she had finished Running In, Walking Out, and she “loved it more and more as the story moved on.” Very nice words, which I appreciated. Then she wrote what has made my smile and my heart sing. Her words –“Again, it’s how you cradle your characters in love and respect that moves me.” Those fourteen words made my day, my week, and probably the next six months. One intermittent reward and I’m back at the keyboard trying even harder to produce something to elicit my next feeding. It may come in a week, six months, or six years. It may never come. As B F Skinner knew, it is positive reward that will keep me trying.
For all who write, paint, play a musical instrument, cook, sing, or take photographs, be patient, I hope you get a healthy meal of encouragement on just enough of an intermittent basis to keep you trying. I wish you the very best in your efforts and persistence.
“Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.” Cormac McCarthy.
McCarthy, a personal hero of mine.
“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.” Hal Borland.
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Louie’s Book Bark!
Bird by Bird written by Anne Lamont. A wonderful book about the joys and pitfalls of writing. Lamont has a style that makes you cry from laughter as she speaks about the pitfalls of writing. Encouraging, she doesn’t sugar-coat the efforts needed to become an accomplished writer. In this book, she gives hope to novice writers while urging them to not expect to be the next J. K. Rowling. As a bonus to a fun read, Lamont gives useful advice and tips.
Louie gives this book a four woof endorsement.