by Jerry Waxler
Money motivates us to achieve remarkable things. We go to work whether we feel like it or not, accepting the alarm clock, traffic, and other rigors of the working life in exchange for pay. When we come home at the end of the day, motivations shift dramatically. We do what we must for home and family, and when we’re ready to relax, we can follow our whims. We can watch television, play with the computer, or read a book. Occasionally, we desire to harness our creative force and achieve a more sophisticated goal, like writing a memoir. To write a memoir, you must hone writing and editing skills, peer into the hazy and sometimes uncomfortable past, organize your material and try to craft it into a story. You could do it as much or as little as you choose. It sounds so free and easy. And that’s the problem. Without boss or deadline, why write when you could watch television?
Freedom is one of the most difficult challenges an aspiring memoir writer can face. If you don’t have good reasons to stay focused on the work, there are many other pastimes that will seem more attractive. So to write your memoir, keep your passion burning. When you wonder if it’s worth it, review your list of payoffs: creative ones like the pleasure of crafting your story; psychological ones like hoping to put old demons to rest; and social ones like giving a gift to your kids or reaching out to strangers.
There is one more reason that might occur to you. “Perhaps I can publish it and make money.” Money could help pay for a vacation, or add to your retirement fund. Writing for money could launch a new career, or help you advance in your existing one. If you hit the publishing lottery, it could change your lifestyle. The desire for money leads to rewards beyond the purely pragmatic. Money is a symbol of approval. When people buy your work, you feel validated and accepted. As you imagine a broader audience, your writing expands, changing what had once been a personal memory into an interesting and accessible story.
And yet, as robust as this motivation at first seems, it can be undermined by doubts. “Will I really make money from a memoir? Is my story big enough? I’m not famous. I’ve never been published. Who would want to read this stuff?” The conversations you have with yourself on this subject, like any internal debate that pits motivations against doubts, will help determine how much energy you are willing to invest in your writing project.
Most successful writers agree that it takes time to develop the publishing credentials, the writing skills, and find the markets that will earn enough money to make a difference. So while you work towards a longterm goal, you probably won’t be living on the income. In fact, there is no way to guarantee whether you will ever make money. If you’re looking at the odds, one thing is certain. If you don’t try you will fail, and conversely the harder you work, the higher the odds.
Fortunately, you don’t need to rely just on the prospect of future benefits. Once you do actually try, something magical begins to happen. You find the process of writing is in itself pleasurable and satisfying. When I write I always feel better after, than before. That turns into a good motivation to keep going. Writing engages your mind and makes you feel sharper. Your writing skills improve, contributing to better speed and quality that you can apply in other writing projects. The subtle rewards of doing the daily work becomes one of the most satisfying payoffs of all. Now in your sense of purpose, you feel a rhythm between the fantasy of future payoffs and the subtle pleasures of immediate ones.
To fortify your resolve through a variety of moods, pay attention as you gradually reconcile emotions from your past that you thought were hopeless, or as you deepen your relationship with siblings, or feel more whole and alive, or any of a thousand other side effects of memoir writing. Before you started writing, you may have heard about these benefits, but you only actually feel them for yourself once you get started. And if money gets you started and keeps you going then your desire for money is already paying dividends.