My (previously) dirty little secret

So I had a realization this week talking with a colleague about what my passions are–what lights me up, drives me, makes me feel alive. And in the course of this conversation I “admitted” something to him I’d always been a little ashamed of before:

“You know,” I said, “the common thread I’ve noticed between all my creative pursuits is that I start with an idea I’m excited about–but what really keeps me going to continue to produce is when I hear from someone else that they are excited about it, that they want more.”

I didn’t want to admit this because it felt like breaking a cardinal rule of the creative life: you’re supposed to be a visionary, right? Pursuing this great creative pursuit because of some unique challenge, some core inner drive to do so. You’re not supposed to need anyone’s approval, anyone’s interest, to keep you going.

And so I thought of this influence of other people on my drive to write, or draw, or get all etsy-crafty on something as a weakness I should keep concealed until I managed to expurgate it. 

But my friend, he saw it totally differently. His immediate response was “Oh, so creativity is like an act of service for you–it’s only fully rewarding if it brings someone else joy.”

You might have thought he was singing it with a choir of angels for the effect it had on me. Suddenly, this thing I’d always thought of as being wrong with me as a writer and artist had a new frame on it, one that stopped making me a hack for being influenced by other people’s excitement. Suddenly, I didn’t feel massively guilty for my work on the post-Burn book going so slowly. Why would it go faster? I hadn’t heard from anyone that they were dying to read the next book, that they couldn’t wait to see more of Jo, and since my own curiosity about Jo has already been satiated by planning out the full arc of the next book, there wasn’t an internal driver applying pressure either.

Ironically, the effect of no longer feeling guilty about this motivator lightened my whole mental space around the book in a way that does make me want to go write more of it. Heh.

To be fair, there are real dangers to getting a new frame–especially to sharing it with other people. It could come off as a weird shaming of the opposite approach, a kind of “oh, you write for yourself? How tawdry and selfish.”

Let me be crystal clear: that is not what I think. I’m still, frankly, jealous of people that can be motivated entirely internally, rather than through this weird mix of internal curiosity/experimentation and externally-oriented audience interest that I seem to be motivated by. Having any external orientation runs the risk of writing only for readers, of being just a parrot of culture, of a sense of fulfillment becoming wholly dependent on the whims of others.

But this conversation with my colleague helped me get clear that, at least for now, that’s just fear and not reality. I’m not looking for everyone who reads my novels or looks at my art to love it. I’m just looking for it to specifically matter to a few people enough for them to directly tell me it matters to them, and why. Writing a novel is a massive commitment in time and energy, and I’m okay, now, with admitting that I’m just not that motivated to do it unless I think at least a few specific people are really excited to have it exist in the world. 

And if they aren’t, that’s okay. I’m not going to stop creating. I’m just going to find something else to create that at least a few people are excited about.

And in the meantime, I’ll keep putting Burn up for the occasional free day–like today–to see if anyone new discovers it and reaches out excitedly as a result to ask me to please stop experimenting with other stuff and finish telling Jo’s story first, because they really want to know it.

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About Noelle Ryan

Avid reader, writer, animal adorer, art appreciator, and snark enthusiast. Author of the Valkanas Clan series (Mirror is the first book in this series). Mother claimed first complete sentence was "Mom, I'm going to be a writer when I grow up."

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