Friday, August 19, 2011

Carrots are not the opposite of Sticks

Some days I feel so much like a cynic, a hardened soul. But when I was asked, "Does your son work better with sticks or carrots?" recently, my idealism aborts its vow to stay hidden and comes back roaring.

"Carrots and st
icks are the same," I retort, trying not to sound too snooty, and stopped the words "bribery" and "manipulation" just before they escaped my mouth. "They come after something has been done and typically from an outside source and have very little to do with the task/lesson itself."

In all my years of teaching, motivation has always been the area that has fascinated (and frustrated) me the most. As a teacher, I want a key to the place where motivation resides in my students, to see what's there. As a parent, that desire is intensified a thousand times.

But this is getting away from what I want to write about today.Today, I want to write about writing and motivation, and about now my heart soared when I read the comments on my last post.

In my post, I lamented the unfortunate situation in which writers are told to polish their opening or nobody would notice their manuscripts. Most of us write because we love to or we need to but publishing is a goal as well. And when we read the same advice everywhere, it's hard not to pay heed. Some days, the heed-paying takes its toll. Like many others, I have to continually peek at my motivation and my direction, to make sure I haven't forgotten my primary responsibility is not to get published but to write what I must write.

So, when I saw in my fellow writers' comments that their concern is all about their stories, and not about how to fit into a mold that conventional wisdom insists is, if not the only one, then the bes
t, I felt like weeping.

Listen to how they talk about their work. Scott Bailey said this about beginnings:

My idea is to take the reader by the hand and say, "Hey, let's go have fun" and establish the reader's trust that I have the technique and the imagination to make good on that promise of fun.

Domey Malasarn's explanation about why he couldn't skim on his middles is simple but speaks to the real reason we write: because we care.

The middle is my favorite parts of a book, so I care about it a lot!

And I'm going to think about my endings the way Tanita Davis does from now on:

...leaving a book is so hard. I want the reader to feel the same reluctance to read the last paragraph.

Not a single comment by anyone about doing something to get published. Instead, the focus was on character and relationships and setting. Nobody mentioned anything about carrots or sticks, only the stories. So there, B. F. Skinner et al!

Go, Take heart. Write.


Anne Gallagher said...

I agree with you. Why do we need to conform our writing to publishing standards when so much of publishing is falling apart. Everywhere I look paper books have typo's, grammar issues, bad covers...who wants to be a part of that.

I began the writing journey with the idea to write a book that no one had ever read before. Then of course, ego stepped in and I tried to conform to the standards set by New York. Then I realized those standards weren't doing me any good. So here I am again, writing my books that no one has ever read before. (minus the typo's of course.)

Yat-Yee said...

Anne: writing a book that no one has read before: that's a great goal. I wish you the best!