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?

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, 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.