Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose…

… or, ‘Why Writing Fiction is the Best Job in the World’

You may remember this 2010 video from RSA Animate. If you haven’t seen it before, I highly recommend that you take 10 minutes to watch it.

In summary the talk says that past the point where needs are met, money doesn’t motivate people who work with their mind. What does motivate us is:

  • The ability to choose our own path (autonomy)
  • The opportunity to improve our skills (mastery)
  • The feeling that our work has meaning (purpose)

If it was all about the money for writers, then JK Rowling would have stopped at 5 Harry Potter books, Amanda Hocking would be putting her feet up for the next decade, Stephen King would have called it a day at the end of the millennium (and not let the initially awesome Dark Tower books disappear up their own backsides).

[Sidenote: All these bestselling authors have surnames that end in ‘-ing’. Coincidence? Maybe I should change my pen name – how does Erin Searling sound? :-D]

Writing is an awesome job, because it offers all three of the main motivating factors.

  • Autonomy. You decide what to write. You design the plots. You choose the right word or phrase. OK, your editor and beta readers have input too, but in the end you can choose whether or not to listen to them.
  • Mastery. Writing isn’t binary. It isn’t something that you can either do or not do. There are varying levels of skill and you can always get better.  Every story I write feels better written than the last and I don’t expect that to plateau. Even bestselling authors improve over time, compare Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Colour of Magic’ with ‘Going Postal’ or ‘Night Watch’.
  • Purpose. Writing is a creative act, a generative act. You bring something into existence that didn’t exist before. Through your words you can bring enjoyment to your readers. If these aren’t worthy purposes, I don’t know what are.

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