Is "Motivation" Useless? Are "Opportunities" Overrated?

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I hear all the time that “motivational stuff” is crap, that cheerleading is useless, that all those books and speeches are there simply to take our money. What is success? Well, I don’t believe that success is worth giving up everything. Life and love are more important than being the best. And, to an extent I will agree.

Motivational Stuff is Crap

I don’t know about you guys, but I love The Container Store. Every year I set my New Year’s Resolution and it always…always includes this phrase. “Be more organized.” This morning I was hunting for the cat food. I’d apparently hidden it from myself. In the bottom of my pantry I spotted one of those white-board weekly organizers…still in the WRAP.

*hides head in shame*

Exactly how well is that weekly organizer working for me tucked in the back of a pantry? Yes, The Container Store really does exist simply to take my money. They aren’t going to do a home visit and make sure I actually hung that calendar on my WALL. It is not their responsibility to make sure I applied that product for its intended purpose.

Same with motivational stuff.

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

Thing is, motivation alone is useless. Motivation is like food. If I buy a bunch of organic veggies and leave them in the fridge to die a slow, lonely death, they do zilch nada for my health and energy levels. Yet, my health and energy levels will suffer without them. I have to make the effort to ingest this fuel so my body can put it to use.

If I don’t feed my body it gets sick and weak and could eventually die. So then how effective will I be if I never feed my spirit?

Motivation is fantastic, but it is worthless unless applied. It is potential energy that we must convert into kinetic energy.

The Mind and Will are POWERFUL

If motivation wasn’t powerful, then why do we remember Ghandi, Churchill, Kennedy, and Vince Lombardi?

I love crime shows and after you watch a few thousand episodes of Law & Order or Hannibal or whatever, they kind of all blend together. But, there was one episode of Criminal Minds that affected me deeply. It actually wasn’t the goriest or the most gruesome of the killers. In comparison to some of the crime scenes from Hannibal? It paled.

Why did it disturb me so much?

I have looked for which episode it was and can’t find it, so here goes.

The team is discovering victims who clearly were abducted and held captive, but there is no clear reason why they are dead. They simply are.

What the team uncovers is the killer abducts a victim and holds them. Day after day they are fed, given what they need to survive (physically) and the killer brings in the one thing that keeps them hoping. In one case, it is a young mother. He wheels in a TV with video of her children as they are growing up without her. Day after day she sees the one thing that keeps her pressing.

Then, he stops. He continues to bring food and water, but no more footage of her children.

Without hope, the woman simply one day rolls over and dies.

When the team captures the killer and gets his backstory, he talks about being a boy and running across a young woman who’d fallen into a well on their property. She is treading water and screaming for help. He bent over and reached out a hand to help her and her face lit up. Then? He pulls his hand back and simply watches her. The moment she realizes she has no hope of being saved, her eyes change and she lets go and lets herself float down and die.

It was that look, that moment he craved. The moment in his vicim’s eyes when they gave up. When hope simply evaporated and there was no WHY to carry on. He managed to kill all his victims without ever laying a hand on them.

Though I saw this episode at least eight years ago, I still remember it. And it still freaks me out.

Granted, this is an extreme dramatization, but is it? We have all kinds of stories about people who survived POW camps, concentration camps, disasters, etc. who shouldn’t have. Why did they? They kept hoping. The mind and will were far more powerful and able to go beyond the limits of the physical body.

Success is Personal and It WILL Cost Us

When I talk about success, I am using very broad strokes. Success has to be defined by US. I actually have no interest in being a billionaire. Granted, it would be fantastic if it happened, but I am unwilling to have money at the expense of people and relationships. People are my WHY, not money. Success to me is then measured in those around me, not necessarily my bank account.

But that is ME.

Success of any kind has a price. To be a “successful” mother, I have to sacrifice. It is way easier for me to let The Spawn go feral and forage off chips for breakfast. It takes time to make him a healthy meal. It takes time to watch documentaries with him and teach him to swim and help teach his Jiu Jitsu class. But, I am sacrificing to invest in him. In our relationship and in his future.

A great marriage will cost us. A clean house, a tidy yard, a balanced bank account, a trim waist, etc.

If we want to be “successful” at this writing thing, the bare minimum requirement for “being a successful writer” is words written down…which will cost us time we could be spending watching Criminal Minds 😀 .

No One Else Can Define It 

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

First, I will say we have to take the wheel. What my success looks like and what YOURS look like are vastly different things. For years, I allowed others to define my success. I spent years reaching for outside approval that never came.

If you read last post, I told y’all I was a high school drop out twice over. I worked my tail off to win an Air Force Scholarship to become a doctor and I did. Why did I do it? After years of being a disappointment to all those around me, I wanted my grandparents to finally say they were proud of me.

When I came home to tell my grandparents the news I’d won, my grandmother’s first words were, “Well, they must have been short on their quota for women.”

*Kristen dies more than a little inside*

Later, I graduated from TCU with a degree in International Relations. Actually, it was Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa. You know, one of those easy fluff degrees 😉 .

I did this hoping they’d be proud. Ehhh, no.

Then, I landed a premium job in sales hoping they’d be proud. Nope.

Then I got into law school. Nope.

Finally? I gave up trying to make others give me that atta’ girl and did what I loved. I became a writer. All those years I was reaching for dreams that weren’t mine, I was sick and miserable because I had the wrong WHY. When I finally went after MY dream, eventually I no longer cared if they were proud of me or not.

Definitions are Personal and Ever-Changing

When we read motivational stories or watch videos or movies, it is easy to feel like a loser. But, we all start where we are. When I was a baby writer, I remember thinking, Wow, if I could write 500 words a day, then I will have made it. Now, I write a thousand words before breakfast, but that took YEARS and YEARS.

But if I’d started with a goal of 2-3,000 words a day? If I’d beaten myself up because I only wrote 500? I would have given up a long time ago.

When was smacked with Shingles last year, my definition of a “successful day” had to change if I was ever going to get better. And I would love to say that I didn’t cry and whine and complain and throw tantrums. I did. Shingles involved month after month of pain piled on pain piled on even more pain.

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Actually this is a pic after it was a LOT better….

I hated everyone. I hated myself, my family and probably hated kittens and puppies, too. If Zig Ziglar had visited me? I might have just punched him in the face. It was hard to admit that “success” during that time, might have just involved getting out of bed and wearing a bra (the Shingles were all down my ribs).

But eventually we must adjust what is a “win” or our mind will devour us.

Of course, now that I am in remission from Shingles, I need to adjust. Wearing a bra is a noble goal, but I kinda should be past that 😉 .

No One Else Can DO It

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Crossfit.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Crossfit.

We have to do the work. We have to define what we want and why we want it. Then we have to do the work. There is a lot of talk about giving others the right opportunity. I used to believe in that, but now? Not so much.

I was president of a writing group for years. They complained the reason they didn’t attend was the meeting place, so I got us a nice meeting space. None of them showed. Then, these folks griped that they couldn’t attend because we met at an inconvenient time, so I managed to find a second meeting space on Saturday mornings for those who couldn’t make a weekday evening.

Again, none of them showed. The handful of complainers who did sporadically attend never wrote anything.

Members complained when I recommended craft books. Was I suggesting they didn’t know how to WRITE? Most refused to go to conferences or take classes. They groused about the speakers. They didn’t have time to write the novel, but they had plenty of time to craft long e-mails complaining about some new thing I wasn’t doing for them.

Week after week, year after year, I showed and tried to add more “opportunities” to no avail. Finally, I learned a tough lesson I hadn’t wanted to believe. Talk is cheap. Though being part of that group was painful, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I thought I’d overcome my addiction to approval when I told my family to “Pound sand” and became a writer.

Ah, but did I?

Nope, I’d simply shifted my addiction from my family to a local writing group. I was still just as addicted to people pleasing and I needed others to “approve” of me and my dreams.

I had to learn that I could not expect average people to be extraordinary. Also, I could no longer hide behind their lack of approval as an excuse of not moving forward. I had to leave them behind and risk failing alone. I could not hand them enough opportunities and definitely could not motivate them into success.

Motivation is the fuel for the soul, but we have to light the spark and WE have to take charge of using and directing that for forward momentum. Like approval, motivation is wonderful, but not entirely necessary. Sometimes, we simply have to dig deep and keep going even when there is no outward sign we are doing anything right.

Writing is NOT an Easy Job

We don’t clock in and clock out. We don’t have a boss looking over our shoulders who will send us to Writer Jail if we don’t make word count. No one will discipline us if we don’t take any Continuing Education. Most of what we DO, others don’t see (or even value). This is a very unique profession that probably requires us take care of our Spirit Self more than other jobs.

Take time for yourself. Feed your spirit, but then put that fuel to work. Just like craft books do us NO good collecting dust on a shelf, motivation is similarly useless if not put into action. Opportunities are meaningless if we ignore them.

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself falling into approval addiction or people pleasing? Do you have to revisit your goals because you’ve let others do too much influencing when it comes to what “success” looks like? Do you rely too much on motivation? Heck, I am guilty. Do you forget that your mind and will need nourishing too?

I love hearing from you!

Quick Announcement: 

Due to popular demand, THIS SATURDAY I am rerunning my Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages at the end of the month and I am doing something different. Gold Level includes me looking (and shredding your first five) but I have added in some higher levels and will look at up to 20 pages. This can be really useful if you’re stuck. I can help you diagnose the problems. It’s also a great deal if you have to submit to an agent and want to make your work the best it can be.

Again, I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). 

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


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  1. I would say it’s how we look at it. Is it an actual sacrifice, a cost? Or is it an investment. If I see it as an investment then I’m much more likely to continue to…invest–because it will continue to lead to something better. Yeah, yeah, my middle name is Pollyanna.

  2. It’s kind of funny, I don’t see myself as a writer. I’m a photographer, but almost everything you say could be applied on what I do. Most people don’t know all the “behind the scenes job” it takes to create one good photo. Sometimes that drives me nuts…BUT ..I take pictures because it’s my passion, that it makes some people very happy is an added bonus. If I get a reaction of any kind..I’m pretty happy. It hasn’t always been like that. Love your posts!!

    • Shelby on July 23, 2015 at 1:12 pm
    • Reply

    I love this, and I so needed this today,or should I say at this point in my life. I like the part of punching Zig Ziglar in the face. Actually, I would like to ask him a bunch of questions when I get pissy feeling.

    • annaerishkigal on July 23, 2015 at 1:13 pm
    • Reply

    Are we sisters, raised by the same family, and simply forgot because our sucky childhoods were so traumatic?

    Seriously… I know what it’s like to keep piling up degrees, only to cry when your FOI tells you it’s not good enough, or worse, after years of saying you’re not good enough for them, then turns around and says you think you’re TOO good for them because you’ve been working your butt off to please them.

    A great post, as always. Keep ’em coming 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on The quill, the e-word, the looniness.

  4. This post has given me something to think about.

    For me it’s not so much that I let what other people want *for me* to define my own success, but that I define it in relation to other people (and my goals from a decade ago) and find myself lacking. I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, and right through my teen years I thought I’d be published and writing full-time by now. At 25, I know I have decades ahead of me in which to forge a writing career, but every time I pick up a book by someone younger than me (or even someone who was younger than me when it was accepted for publication/published), I feel like I’ve failed, because I haven’t managed a writing career yet and other people have.

    I think in my case the issue is that I haven’t redefined my goals much in over ten years. 25 seemed like a good age at which to have a book published by, because it’s a nice round number, it’s a few years after graduating university, and it seems incredibly old when you’re 15. And so when other people have met that arbitrary goal and I haven’t I feel like a failure.

    I think it’s time to allow myself to redefine my goals a little 😉

  5. It’s a constant battle, but I’m a approval junkie. It started in childhood and took me half-a-lifetime to recognise. So, I forge on and instead of seeking approval I seek self-motivation and often that involves studying those have wisdom to share. When it comes to craft books, I take from them what works for me or what I haven’t read before and discard the rest. There are, like you, some great folks in both categories, but there are some who are little more than a scam. I’ve come to recognise those without the wisdom and it usually starts with promises and easy fixes. There are no easy fixes, just hard work.

  6. Powerful read, Kristen. Being one of thirteen grandchildren, I was the only one to graduate college. I thought my grandmother would be ecstatic. She says, “Humph, I never thought you would make a nurse, must be the shortage.” *ouch*

    I had to get off the same train to nowhere.

    Wondering about your log-line class. Are you doing it again soon. Sorry I missed it. Don’t know how that happened.

  7. Proofread your title. And, hugs.

    Sincerely, Wendy Reis

    1. *Dies a thousand deaths* It has been one of those days.

      1. That you’re not perfect is a gift to me Kristen… after I sent an email to you with not one but TWO typos *head slap* – hope that helps!!!

  8. I agree with you, writing is not an easy your blog.

  9. A powerful article. I do think that hope and ambition are both required to do the hard work of writing. I also wonder if some of the people who take years to write their books are really working continuously on their book. Or are they living, and getting to the writing whenever. Just a thought.

      • Barbara on July 24, 2015 at 4:42 am
      • Reply

      The second one in my case.

  10. Funny, I thought the title typo was on purpose, to discreetly make the point. But, naw, that’s not your style, Kristen. Keep the digital “make me a better writer” sledgehammers hammering away…

  11. Hey Kristen, I just finished a long missive on this blog; then, thank God I realized it was nothing more than the highjacking your blog for my view.

    So allow me to say this. Everything I have even accomplished was for me first first. I enjoy others approval, and I like to be part of a group; but there is something in me that resonates “ya, I’m an odd one.”

    That has not changed the smacks of life that come to anyone who lives it “large.” It merely makes it easy to point the finger at who is responsible and who I MUST please.

    Do what needs doing in life, first; then do what you like to do. Be a student to anyone able to better your endeavors. Jude your progress, but do so with the temperament and understanding you would give your child. Allow all adversity its due time to pass through you; it must have its time, and your body must resonate its arrival as it will its passing.

    A life lived has already found its purpose.

  12. ……oh, and send everything to and editor, BEFORE posting

  13. …….yes, that was for MY mistakes

  14. Loved this post! Success to me is finishing my first book and getting one person to enjoy reading it. If this happens I will have made it! Great post!

    • Melissa Keaster on July 23, 2015 at 3:04 pm
    • Reply

    I relate to this so much, but allow me to say, my definition of success includes NOT wearing a bra. 😉

    As a newbie writer who is chronically ill with a rare allergic disease (allergic to everything is a literal term for me), I’ve learned to be satisfied whether I write 300 or 2000 words a day…as long as I write SOMETHING. Some days I’m too sick to sit up, so I lie down in the bed and write. Sometimes DURING reactions. I probably wrote over a quarter of my novel in a reclined position.

    I just finished draft 2.5 last week so I am stoked! Finishing at all is huge success as far as I’m concerned. As a bonus, my husband couldn’t put my manuscript down and complained of a serious case of story grip. I feel as spectacular as if I’d landed an agent and book deal. We’ll see if it lasts when the inevitable rejection letters start streaming in. Ha! But two more revisions and beta readers await first!

    1. Hello Kristen,

      First of all, thank you for this particular post. Second, thank you for the timing of this post as I was really ready to throw in the towel today. Finally, thank you for the content and addressing the need for approval and comparing our progress to others.

      I have issues with goals because when I cannot keep them for reasons beyond my control, not because I got lazy, distracted or just had a bad case of the don’twanna’s, I feel stressed and guilty and then unworthy, unable, overwhelmed and, well, just like a loser in general. For me, it is a straight shot from not meeting a goal to total worthlessness as a human being. So, I have to be very careful with goal setting. However, I keep setting them.

      For seven straight years, I set three New Year’s Resolutions: quit smoking, lose weight, and exercise more. It took six years, and I finally kicked the cigarettes for good (going on 10 years without one now), I then lost 98 pounds which I kept off until my foster son committed suicide and that was followed by spinal injuries . The pain meds which make me ravenous, and the pain both physical and emotional has just been too much, so I have fallen back into my comfort zone, sweets, sweets and more sweets. I do water exercises as my job and my checkbook allow, and I write, blog and market my books as my spine allows (after taking care of my day job responsibilities). For now, that is going to have to be my standards for success because it is all my body and mind can handle.

      I had hoped to have my newest novel finished this year. That was the goal taped to my monitor. Well, that has been tossed because looking at that goal and not being able to succeed sent me down that “I’m a loser” road daily. So, now my goals are much smaller and I don’t compare them to other peoples’ goals. They are mine and based on my current abilities.

      However, I really needed this reminder to not compare my progress with others and to quit seeking the approval of others. Jeez Louise, you would think at my age I would be over it!

      Anyway, than you again.

      Your admirer, Nancy

    2. Hi Melissa,

      First of all, congratulations on completing your first draft. I know how awesome that feels. Also, my daily goal is also NEVER wearing a bra, but I do have a question for you. My spinal injuries make laying down for greater parts of the day an absolute necessity, but I have not been able to figure out how to write laying down. I tried Evernote, but it doesn’t hold the formatting and it was too much work – sitting up at the computer time – to reformat it especially dialogue. I would love to know how you are doing this.

      Thanks so much for your time.

      Smiles, Nancy

        • Melissa Keaster on July 23, 2015 at 6:38 pm
        • Reply

        Sure! I prop my back with two or three pillows and set my computer on my belly. You can use one of those lap desk things if it gets hot. I can’t do it forever in that position due to various aches and pins that come with my disease, so I have no idea how it would affect you physically. I really hope you are able to figure something out. Being able to forget how bad I feel and write anyway is so good for my spirits. I wish the same for you.

        1. Hi Melissa,

          Thanks for the response, unfortunately when I said I must lay down, it means being completely horizontal and even using a special pillow to keep my spine as straight as possible. It allows for very little movement, and really sucks for sleeping. But, I do understand about how writing takes you away from everything. It is the only job I have ever had that had done this for me. All of the others, have been clock-watchers, i.e. watching the clock not move for 8 miserable hours.

          Smiles, Nancy

      1. What about Dragon? I know someone recommended that for me when I had crippling tendonitis and I didn’t use it I just bitched and whined, but it sounds good 😀 .

        1. Hi Kristen,

          I use Dragon for my -pay-the-bills job on my desktop, but I am not sure it would work laying down as you have to position the microphone just so or it slaughters everything you say and comes up with some really weird word combinations. But, when it does work, it works well.

          Smiles, Nancy

  15. Thank you for an excellent post! It is essential for writers to understand that we must put our efforts into the actual work of writing, and it is crucial for each individual to define success for themselves.

  16. Wow, talk eerie timing!! I’m reading 2 books (@ a time, no less!) Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and Julia Cameron’ s “The Artist’s Way”. Being proactive creative after being everyone’s doormat for years is my aim, now, with a lot of help from God Almighty.

    • KG on July 23, 2015 at 3:48 pm
    • Reply

    Very true–so many people get stuck under piles and piles of advice and how-to books and never actually transform that intent and energy into writing. Granted, it’s not an easy task, but it seems like many writers use that prep and motivational content to procrastinate and distract from the harder work. I did this for a while, and then finally started writing….a sentence a day….a few hundred words a day….and so on for years until now, when I can more easily dive in and face (and enjoy) the hard work of writing.

  17. The older I get, the less I care about getting the approval of others. However, I can’t say I still don’t seek approval. If I make it to my idea of “success” (become an author whose name is recognized in the genre circles), it will take the approval of others – my readers.
    Also, we can find approval and encouragement with the WANAs, and I thank you for making a safe place for us to be creative and flawed and still appreciated.

  18. Brilliant article with the same “Kristen humour” that makes me laugh.
    I think this profound need of approval is the reason why I feel unappreciated and useless and “not good enough”. I’ve been sending cvs (trying to be an employed architect) but have gotten next to nowhere. Instead, I started doing freelance work and building a fragile business and although I did a few jobs, it still feels like it could never compare to someone ACTUALLY taking me on.
    It’s hard. So very hard…

  19. Reblogged this on Nancy Segovia and commented:
    About those goals and motivational books, you gotta put feet to those words….

  20. There’s always more to learn, and it’s not going to come to me unless I go hunting for it. I’m bingeing on craft books at the moment, before plunging into a major redraft. Wish me luck!

  21. This is a great post! I enjoy learning. I believe that learning is re-learning. In my opinion, success is achieving a goal, but getting rich. Don’t get me wrong, the money would be great, but it’s not always about the money, but the opportunity. I will be ordering one of your books tomorrow! I need to continue to build my platform. Thanks for the great words!

  22. I loved this post because you get down to the nitty gritty of why we write. To put it in terms of numbers I’d say your motivation has to be greater than 50% internal. If it is mostly external– for the money or recognition, you’re going to have a very tough time succeeding because you’ll be chasing your goal instead of living it. I live to write rather than write to live…that’s why I don’t bother with motivation sessions or face writers’ block. If that’s not you, perhaps it’s time to try something else.

  23. Well, I’ve also been into mostly pleasing myself – which with the pile of agent rejection slips, is a good thing. Now I need to please my bank manager, which is a whole other ball game… I could do with your 5-page prize!

  24. I relate to this post a lot, I have and continue to seek people’s approval, I did work on it in my prime time when I was at the school of social work. I guess it was down to my own insecurities which I am very aware of and acknowledge everytime.
    What your post has done is affirm my blogging, I am doing this for me although comments from other bloggers would be encouraging I do hope I do not transfer my need of approval here too. So far I have been managing and continue to post even when I have not received comments on most of my posts I do not stop writing on a daily basis whenever I get time to do so. Thanks for this post.

  25. Hi Kristen. Feed the soul – how true.
    I have just finished ‘Go Set a Watchman’ and I cried. Cried because I will never again hear Harper Lee’s wise voice. Cried because Scout’s holy concept of her father and her world had been crushed by the inevitable wheels that grind human society and relationships into paths we don’t recognise. Food for everyone’s soul.
    Now I’m revisiting Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist – more food for my soul before re-writing my latest novel, turning my predictable 1930’s heroine into a more flawed character and an unreliable narrator. Thank you for giving me permission to stop and listen to the wisdom of others.

  26. Working on this right now. Your message of hope really resonates with me. I struggle with just getting the words on paper at this time…I thought I had stopped believing in myself, but I think now maybe I was just giving up my hope. Thanks for helping me through.

    • morgynstarz on July 24, 2015 at 7:49 am
    • Reply

    Man, I can’t get that killer outta my head. That is some villain. So hear you re the complainers too. You can lead a horse to water and all that. I ditched a similar I can’t write because F2F group in favor of an online crit group and am populating it like the Zombie Apocalypse succeeded. Guess what? You put writers in a “room” with other writers and babe, the juice is on!

  27. You’ve done it again! Another great post! Highly motivating! I’m glad you became a writer. BTW, my motivational masterpiece is now available on Kindle. Murphy’s Law Breaker: Positive Thinking for Pessimists. I think it’s going to do way better than one of my previous efforts. The title was Murphy at Law: The Power of Negative Thinking. It didn’t sell well. Go figure. In all seriousness, I appreciate the way you’re cranking it out, Kristen.

  28. Loved this post. I sometimes feel like giving up. I came very close to punching my sister-in-law in the nose when she asked me how much money I’ve made off my first two published books. I ignored her question. For one thing, it’s none of her business and her smug smile almost landed her in the hospital. I don’t expect any family members to read my books, except I know my daughters and grandkids and one niece all have read everything that’s been published so far. I don’t think any other family members have on my side or my husbands side of the family, have read anything I’ve ever written and I refuse to give them free copies, which I think, that’s what they expect. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t write to try and please anyone, except maybe my editor and publisher. I write because I love it.

  29. Kristen, I appreciate that you’re writing to help people who may not have put in the effort and the time. Because even when you have the money and the connections (which are the basic necessities for succeeding in this business), you can’t do it without a lot of hard work. And, yes, there is the occasional fluke where someone without money or connections gets a lucky break, something drops in their lap, and they are allowed in, but ONLY if they have been doing the work, their craft is spectacular and they have been clocking that word count. When you say you hear from people (like me I assume) that motivational stuff is aggravating and scammy, it comes from the fact that those of us who have put in the years (and decades) of unrelenting work or who have succeeded in one part of the trade know that the motivational stuff is only one piece of it. It is frustrating and even nauseating to see it portrayed as the only or the most important piece.

    When was 18 I had a dream to become an international newspaper correspondent. At the time, in the 1990s this was a similar dream to being a professional author today (an author who actually makes the bulk of their living from book sales). Statistics said that one in ten thousand young people who wanted that job would ever get it and the professionals knew that 95 percent of those successful ones were promoted through relatives or friends in the business.

    It was ridiculous odds for a broke kid with no connections to speak of. BUT there was that whisper, “It’s hard and extremely unlikely but it’s POSSIBLE.” I pursued it. I got scholarships, so I could get the right education and work for free for years without having to pay off loans. I beat the pavement and the mud of reporting locations for years. I did the work and wrote the word count and perfected craft and learned the business side.

    Then one day while I was washing the dishes in a tiny apartment in a squalid neighborhood, the phone rang and a successful reporter was on the other end. He had a job he couldn’t do and he needed to give it to someone and he picked me. That was my big break. I got into the elite club. It lasted a short time because the whole profession of stringer journalism collapsed a few years later, but I made it. Still I have never forgotten the lesson. My experiences before and after that break showed me that all of my motivation and hard work counted for a very small percentage of the success. What really mattered was that phone call. And it might well never have come. I knew others just as motivated, just as good or better, who it never came for and I knew those who had it made easily through lucky birth who were not nearly so good.

    And now I find myself in the slush pile again and I have researched the business enough to know that the game is the same. It is simply not true that an unknown author without capital for major advertising in 2015 can bootstrap their way into making an income with genre fiction. Well, one or two can but those will be lucky breaks helped along by an enthusiastic Amazon or BookBub editor whose hobby happens to correspond to the book’s themes (or a similar fluke), not bootstrapping. That’s the point. We all know that and yet many (who have discovered that one of the easiest markets to access is comprised of authors themselves) keep pedaling the dream. You and some others got lucky as I once got lucky with journalism. You were ready at the right time and could put books on the market at a time when the market was open enough for hard work and good craft to matter a great deal (between 2009 and 2012 roughly). You got a lucky break but you only got it because you were prepared and already working hard at the right time. I was sunk in huge medical problems at the time and even though I heard about the opportunity I couldn’t take advantage of it because I wasn’t doing the work at that particular point in my life. And by the time I got my head above water that window was closed. But I know what it’s like to be the one who got through. I did it once before and I know that if I had looked at the odds and decided not to do the work back in my twenties, I would never have gotten into international journalism. That phone call would never have come or if it had it wouldn’t have helped because I wouldn’t have been able to do the job.

    So, here’s the thing. Many of us are doing what you urge people to do. I actually have no trouble keeping up a word count. I’ve been doing it since age seven. I love to read craft books. It’s fun. I love to tinker and improve my writing. If I didn’t have kids and the necessity of making a living, I could crank out a novel about every month or two in good condition. I don’t exactly love the marketing and business end but I know how to do the research and develop strategy and do the work. And I’m doing it in those few hours I have because I can’t help myself. Writers write because they can’t help themselves and generally don’t need any motivational encouragement to do so. And it is possible that some fluke or chance or lucky break will come and I might just be ready for it because of all this work. But it is much more likely that it will never come, that most of us who do all the necessary steps and have what it takes to make a living writing will never get that chance. When I went into journalism as a young kid, I knew that. I knew the truth, that the chances I would make it were ridiculously small and I did it anyway.

    I didn’t go into journalism with some motivational book or speaker telling me, “Just keep at it. Practice makes perfect. You can achieve it if you climb the mountain.” No, my mentor told me, “You have chosen a damn hard business, but I see that isn’t going to stop you, so here are a couple of tips that might slightly help your chances.” And was both a comfort and a help. It was a comfort because someone actually cared and was giving me real encouragement rather than a fluffy dream. And it was helpful because I went into it with my eyes open. I went because my inner drive wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and I gathered every skill I could to slightly increase my odds.

    And that is what writers need today. They don’t need a pep talk on good habits and reaching goals. They need to know the real odds and the mechanisms by which most paid writers become paid (even if those mechanisms are depressingly rigged). Writers need to know the mechanics and how to do the business right, and also that even if you do everything right and your books are excellent, you will most likely never be able to make a living at it. They need to know that lightning does sometimes strike and if you are ready when it does, you might just be able to ride it. (Now, I’m just hoping lightning might strike twice in the same lifetime. 😛 )

    Pumping up artificial visions of a path up the mountain where there is no path smells a bit of profiteering, which is why I can’t bring myself to do it even though I can see that I could market something like that with fair success. You have the experience and the knowledge of how the market actually works. You are friends with some of paid professional authors today, as you’ve mentioned. You could write for your market of fellow writers in a realistic way that would be of great help and I would eagerly read it as would many others. Yes, I would even pay money for a book that had real information in it rather than motivational fluff, not just read free blog posts. (I just read Susan Kaye Quinn’s new book and she does this to a large extent. Mostly it was real information that I already had, yes. But there was one bit that I hadn’t thought through and that has helped me to see where I might be able to increase my chances a bit.) I say this because your writing on bullying, which is refreshingly realistic compared to many, caught my eye and I have continued to follow you as a result.

    1. Ariefarnam,

      I love your response, but here’s the deal. The motivational posts and books, keep us going. Yes, I am quite aware, have been for decades that very, very few wanna be writers ever make it. That is the honest truth. However, some do and that is the hope. That is the carrot. That is what keeps us going. Writers cannot not write. However, that carrot provides a lot of motivation to keep on writing when “life” gets in the way. It is very much like Kristen said about that crime show she remembered so well. When you take away that hope, no matter how slim a chance of hope it may be, then you have killed your dreams and basically yourself. Because when you are a writer that is your self.

      I also worked in journalism and believe it or not, I started in the telemarketing department nagging people on the phone to buy a subscription to the newspaper. I worked damn hard and I was good at it. I was the best in fact, and when my supervisor heard about my dream of being a newspaper journalist he passed the news on upstairs, and that is when lightening struck for me. They said we new someone to cover this story, can you do it. I did. I did it without a real high school diploma and no college education. But, I was a darn good writer and newspaper journalist anyway.

      I loved that job, hated it to. Hard covering hard news and seeing your sheriff cry over the cruel and insane death of one one his deputies with a death wish, or a mother driving drunk in an accident where both of her children are killed. But, lightening did strike for me. Like you there were some medical issues, and they are even worse today, but these motivational blogs keep me going, even though sometimes I do hate them because they paint that rosy, happy every after picture.

      However, I know that it is just a dream, and I know that it may never happen. But the hope is there. That is what these blogs and motivational books are for to keep the hope going because the hope inspires actions. Without the hope, there would be no action. I would always write, but without the hope I would not submit, publish and market. That is the difference. A writer writes, but with hope a writer publishes, markets and keeps going and working toward the time when lightening strikes.

      Today, I have not only that high school diploma, but two master’s degrees one in Religion- Spiritual Formation and one in Creative Writing, and I will continue to write and maybe one day lightening will strike again. If not, I have left a legacy for my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. You really can’t ask for more than that.

      Smiles to you, Nancy

      1. I do have smiles because I have a family, which seems like a real privilege these days. But it is hard to smile when I have anything to do with the business around writing. I have tried a lot of jobs, and I’m not really good at anything the way I am good at writing. I know that this is what I am meant to do and the reasons I am not allowed to do it as a job are arbitrary and intractable. I can’t put on rose glasses. There is such a thing as failure.

        I once met a woman who was 26 and looked like she was 90. She worked breaking bricks in Bangladesh. Her eight-year-old daughter saved me from an angry mob when I was reporting, which is how I met the family. I looked at that woman and I knew the truth. Life does not owe you anything. Success is not guaranteed if you work hard. Nice phrases about how you never fail when you keep trying are lies. That woman was born into a life where survival was an achievement. I was born into a life where a college education was an achievement. And some people are born into a life where they can publish books and they will be celebrated for a very moderate amount of work, even if the books are lousy because they have the wealth connections and the finances to do it easily. I do not want to hear their speeches about how I can do it too, if I just try. That would be like me telling that woman in Bangladesh, who was utterly broken and dying of a hard life at 26, that she must simply try harder to get a college education, that I know of a Bangladeshi woman who once did it so obviously it is possible and there is hope.

        I personally would rather have the truth and clear-eyed solidarity among writers.

        1. Hello Ariefarnam,

          What you say is true, but I want truth with hope. Because like you pointed out that 26 year old woman really had no hope, but you and I do, and that is a blessing in and of itself.

          Smiles, Nancy

          1. Blessed are those who can live on very little hope, Nancy. And one can also live on gratitude. May you never give up. 🙂

          2. And the same to you Ariefarnam. It seems we are kindred spirits. 🙂

  30. Your post was perfectly timed for me . I’ve never read a post or posted…I am a blogging virgin..I’ve neverror lacked motivations or determination but you also remind me that there is a strong link between self esteem and motivation. Perfect timing to remind myself I can do it all…write and even learn to blog….thanks

  31. It’s interesting how we’re opposite in the people pleasing department. I worked hard all my life, hard enough to receive a lot of compliments but, for me, it was never enough. I was never good enough, smart enough, successful enough, etc. It plunged me into a horrible depression and hermit mode. I was so ashamed and felt like nothing but a failure.

    Looking back, I kept going no matter how many twist and turns life threw at me. Sure, sometimes I existed, instead of lived, but somewhere in my core is this need to never quit. I have better perspective and a better grip on reality but I’m still going, enjoying life and enjoying writing.

    Sure, I’d love to be a rich and famous novelist but, I think, at the core, I love writing because it feels like magic. I love it when characters do things I don’t expect, things happen I didn’t foresee, and how my characters develop when I let them take the reins. I feel the most alive when writing.

  32. Long time reader, first time commenter:

    Needed to read this today, especially the bit about not expecting average people to be extraordinary. I’ve been frustrated with a lot of people lately who talk about wanting but don’t go about doing, and I felt that maybe I was the one in the wrong for being so…obsessed? Now maybe I think it means I have a tiny bit of what it takes to be extraordinary, if I just keep getting back in the saddle. Thanks!

  33. You make me want to just say, “Fuck it all” and just do my own thing, really haha I’ve thought about this before, but ironically, you’ve just pushed me to do my own thing even more. So thank you for that. Such an important post.

  34. Reblogged this on TOTAL Health & Wellness and commented:
    I loved this post! Btw, never saw that Criminal Minds episode, but that is KARAZY!!! Anywho, great post. I would say it was a success. 😉 Thnx!

  35. You know… I’ve listened to motivational speakers, and even though I learned how to hate some of them, others were really good. Understanding, compassionate, helpful. A few of them really gave me serious support, even a little push once in a while. But I have to admit: Most helpful to me was a book… a treasure to me. Thank you for this blog post. It reminded me to pick it up again and read it.

    • Melissa Keaster on July 28, 2015 at 6:09 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, I’ve searched your blog for a post on synopses, but the home page just reloads. As far as I can tell, anyway. Do you have one? If not, can you write one, offer a class, or direct me to a helpful book or post? Thanks!

  36. Shingles, grrr, those puppies suck. hopefully its not gonna contine it’s tirade any time soon.
    I LOVE motivation. It helps sooo much and I adore a really good motivational keynote speaker, like at RWA Nats…makes me want to write with my whole heart!

    Thank you for your wisdom,
    tamara 🙂

  37. I love this post because it resonates with so much, I feel inside myself, and I too, recall that episode of Criminal Minds & the sense of futility it leaves one with.

  38. I agree, motivational stuff is crap if you don’t follow it up with action. I suppose the main reason people keep buying motivational books etc. is that it does move them to take some action for a short period of time.

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