The Machiavellian Motivation Theory
Before I write, I need an idea. I’ll think it out, go through all the scenes, and then I promise myself I’ll write it down. Then, I will absolutely forget about it. Why? Because I have no self-discipline. Why else? Because I have no motivation.
There are two ways to motivate yourself. You can promise yourself a reward if you make it, or some appropriately fear-inducing punishment if you don’t. It’s the carrot and the stick theory. But somehow, for me, that carrot is never juicy enough to jump for.
Okay, okay, there are those for whom “I’ll buy myself ice cream every day I write 5,000 words” works, but some of us are on a diet and some of us can only function if an angry mob is at the door demanding those 5,000 words. It’s the adrenaline that makes everything snap into perspective. It’s why people can lift small cars, and it’s the only possible explanation for why anyone would win National Novel Writing Month.
For those of you who are like me, I sympathize, but you aren’t beaten yet.
The Rocky Road Principle
I will be quoting Machiavelli often, because for those of us who function better with a threat, writing is a Machiavellian process. The first quote (the famous one) goes “it is better to be feared than to be loved.” Simple, easy to understand, right? But then he goes on to say “Men are less hesitant about harming someone who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared, because love is held together by a chain of obligation which, since men are wretched creatures, is broken on every occasion in which their own interests are concerned; but fear is sustained by dread of punishment which will never abandon you”
Which is a long-winded way of saying; I can live without Rocky Road, but I can’t live with the angry mob.
The Yardstick Principle
Speaking as someone who has an incredible amount of difficulty in writing anything longer than a yardstick, I am able to explain the Machiavellian Motivation Theory using this quote from the Prince.
“People are fickle by nature; and it is a simple matter to convince them of something but difficult to hold them in that conviction; and, therefore, affairs should be managed in such a way that when they no longer believe, they can be made to believe by force” which is quite a frightening statement when referring to government, but it is perfectly acceptable in writing. In fact, let me apply it to writing.
“people are fickle (I want to write my bug-girl story, but I’m supposed to be working on my space orangutan story, and oops, I missed the deadline for the cannibal tree story contest) by nature; and it is a simple to convince them of something (sure, I’ll write 80K in one week! How hard could it be?) but difficult to hold them in that conviction (eh, 350 words is close enough…); and, therefore, affairs should be managed in such a way that when they no longer believe, they can be made to believe by force”
In short, if you don’t write the length of your yardstick (which, by the way, is your word goal), beat yourself with it until you do.
So now you know what you have to do and why you have to do it, and all that’s left is how to choose your threat… and I have a quote for that too.
The Dobby Principle
“For a writer should have two fears: one, internal concerning his mental state; the other, external, concerning others saying ‘hey, weren’t you going to write that novel? Don’t you remember what you told me to do to you if you didn’t finish it?’” Obviously, I replaced a few things, which are underlined for your convenience. What he did say was something about rebellions and invasions, which are actually quite applicable in the writing process, but not in this blog post.
In this case, since I am focusing on motivations and not distractions, what it all comes down to is choosing your threat, which should be both frightening (internal) and unstoppable (because it should be external).
People have various methods, for example, one person told her mother that she would donate $50 to the campaign fund of a politician that her family does not support, if she didn’t make her word count. She almost ended up on the streets, but as far as I know she’s making good progress with her novel.
But wait! What if you don’t want to take that kind of risk based on your writing speed (understandable), or think you actually would end up homeless (Children’s Services
330-424-1471)? Fear not! Because it doesn’t matter what the threat is, as long as it is both suitably scary and you take yourself seriously.
For example, dressing up as a clown doesn’t fly unless you parade around your school or workplace, or unless you have a morbid fear of clowns on account of having recently read It by Stephen King.
Also, no wimping out after you choose your threat. You must do it, once you choose it. Think about Dobby, from Harry Potter. You aspire to be Dobby. It is your life’s goal for people to look at you and say ‘OMG IT’S DOBBY KISS ME!’ This is my biggest problem, the actual follow through, but the whole Machiavellian Motivation Theory falls apart if you chicken out, and you only have to chicken out once. After the first time, you think to yourself in the back of your mind ‘pssssh, I’m not really going to do it’ and then you will lose, terrifically. Horribly. Catastrophically.
Therefore you must choose a threat that is both horrific and yet not so horrific that you won’t follow through with it. For the sake of making things easy; you must become one with Dobby.
Machiavellian Motivation Theory in easy list form:
1. I can live without Rocky Road, but I can’t live with the angy mob.
2. If you don’t write the length of your yardstick, beat yourself with it until you do.
3. You must become one with Dobby.
January 18, 2011 @ 9:36 pm
On mobs: this is why networking is useful. If necessary, you can get a mob of volunteers, all willing to storm your (usually virtual) house if you don’t pay their word-ransom.