Telling the Truth: What Motivates You?

Recently, I had to watch some training videos for work. In one of them, they asked a question that took me off guard: “What motivates you?”

What does motivate me? Why do I keep creating? What do I hope to achieve?

There’s no simple answer to that. Certainly, I have a desire to be heard, that maybe something that I say will resonate with someone and make their life a little easier. That connection, across time and space through art, is so important to artistic endeavor.

But then there’s the reality of wanting compensation for my work. There’s validation that comes with a payday for all the hard work I’ve put in. Some artists will tell you that if you’re doing your work to be paid, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, but in a world where money denotes value, if our work isn’t worth anything does that mean it has a no value?

And of course, there is the ego, that part of me that likes the little pats on the back I get for even my smallest accomplishments. I get a poem published? I get a pat on the back. I post about getting that poem published? I get more pats. Maybe its my way of proving to myself “I matter!” Maybe we have to fish for that encouragement because we don’t know how to get it otherwise.

And then, way off in the distance, is fame. The more people who are exposed to my work, the more famous I am. It’s a grown up version of who was more popular in high school, and even though fame is a pipe dream for most of us, does it drive me in some Hollywood kind of way?  

I’m not writing this for answers or to solve a problem. It seems though that the question is more important, that we ask ourselves why we do what we do? What do we really seek? What do we WANT? And we continue to ask, assessing how our goals change, how we change. Even if our answers are uncomfortable, they help us be honest with ourselves, and they might even help us get to where we want to go.

What motivates YOU?

Review for flashes of light from the deep now available!

Earlier this week, a review of my book written by Philip Dykhouse was published on the Mad Poets Society’s blog. I am so honored and appreciative of this review. One of the highlights of having my book published has been hearing the response and interpretations by poets and artists that I respect. Again many thanks!

If you don’t have your copy yet, you can purchase a copy right here

New Work, New Poem “Grief”

With my book having come out recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time posting and talking about it. However, that doesn’t mean I have not been working on new stuff. I’ve been putting down some new fiction, and even writing some music. As for poetry, I have a bunch of poems and partial work composed in my journal. I almost always write things first by hand before I type and revise them. Here is a peek at sections of a poem I’ve been working on called “Grief.” Excuse the handwriting – it’s pretty bad!

When Being a Poet isn’t Enough: Accessibility and the ‘Business’ of Writing Poetry

I remember my time in college writing classes fondly. I enjoyed myself, enjoyed hearing what others wrote, and I certainly made connections that were fruitful and fulfilling. But what I also remember is the emphasis on writing as a craft. Those classes instilled in us the belief that if you wrote well enough, and if you were committed to it, success would find you. All you would have to do is write.

Fast forward twenty years, and I now understand that much of what I believed regarding what writers did wasn’t true. As a poet, a lot of what I was taught about writing does not apply to me. Poets don’t have agents (at least none that I know do). With little assistance from publishers, and with little hope of financial return on their investment, most poets have to do the heavy lifting on their own to market their books, book events, and distribute their brand. They have social media presences, email lists, and marketing strategies. In essence, to be a successful poet today requires a lot more than mere skill at putting words together.

Admittedly, I don’t mind most of it. Would I like to make more money doing it? Absolutely, but the work itself is fulfilling. It gives me as a creative a lot of agency over my own work. But all of this has had to be self-taught. While college taught me to be a better writer, it didn’t teach me what to expect from writing poetry as a profession.

What most poets do actually has more in common with being an entrepreneur. We are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to book a reading, do a workshop, sell books. When there are no or few opportunities available (like, say, during a global pandemic), we are forced to create them for ourselves.

I attribute most of this up to being ‘it is what it is,’ but I can’t help but think back to my education as a poet. Was I misled? Perhaps creative writing degrees should include entrepreneurial classes, website development classes, and even classes on how to write for the ‘industry’ (reviews, conduct interviews about their work, etc.). I often say that generations after me are more in tune with the business of writing, but is this a natural change in generational values, or are schools getting better at teaching these things more? This is a genuine question – I really don’t know.

I wonder if MFA programs do in fact better prepare writers for the ‘industry.’ However, if they do, that seems problematic as well. If that is the case, it means that writers don’t get a full understanding of what it means to be a writer until they are studying for an MFA.

Then again, is a college degree even needed in order to ‘be a poet?’

Limiting access to the skills needed for the industry of poetry to the college level seems awfully unfair, excluding poets not able to afford these programs, as well as poets who merely don’t ‘fit the mold’ of the types of writers that colleges accept and produce. Without these degrees, poets appear to be severely hobbled in acquiring the skills they need, but that is exactly what happens.

All of this creates more questions than answers, but I think it points to the fact that poets need to be given more access to the tools and knowledge to survive as writers, and these tools need to not be hidden behind high tuitions and college degrees. Poetic communities need to acknowledge this, and try to support poets in all the steps of writing, not just in publication.

The Imposter Writing My Lines

Ever since flashes of light from the deep came out, I have been experiencing a terrible case of ‘imposter syndrome,’ the inescapable feeling that I am not worthy of the attention that I have gotten. According to verywellmind.com, imposter syndrome makes “you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don’t belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck.” Of course, as a writer I am used to people talking about my work, but this is different. I read what people have written about my poetry, and I think to myself, “are they talking about me?”

The main source of my feelings, though, seems to come from the exchange of money. Every time people pay me, ask how to pay me, or want to know what the book costs, I want to stop them, and tell them to put their money away, sending them off with a smile and an “Enjoy!”

I’m not posting this because I want you to reply with assertions of support, validity and comfort; I did not do this to stroke my own ego. I’m posting this because I wanted to explore why I feel this way. I think I know the answer. It is simple, but I don’t think it is comfortable:

As Poets, we have been conditioned to not be compensated for our work.

Some of this comes from the societal belief that what we do has no value. That is a topic for another day. However, for much of this, we have to blame the culture of poetry that we ourselves have created. We read for free. We send our work to literary magazines and journals expecting nothing but copies of a book or a new line in our bios as compensation. We do service work for other writers and organizations, expecting nothing in return.

Not only do we do this for free, but we judge and chastise each other when we do ask for compensation. People refuse to pay the minimal cover charges of events so the performers can get paid. Poets are viewed as greedy or arrogant if they do ask for compensation. As warm and as welcoming as poetic communities can be, in some ways we are crabs in a bucket.

The consequence of this is even more disturbing. Our lack of compensation means that our efforts are, in a sense, worthless. We invest the most important resource we have, time, and we expect nothing in return for it.

This observation comes from a place of love. I love sharing my work with others, and I readily give my work, often with no hope of compensation. However, I can’t help but identify the injustice in this. We need to come up with ways to make poetry more financially viable. We need to let people know that their time is worth it. Poetry changes peoples’ lives, and it’s time we recognize just how important the people who write it are.