I want to be remembered as someone who did the very best with the talent she was given.
– J.K. Rowling, J.K. Rowling: A Year In The Life
Motivation: we all need it. Some of us have it. It’s sometimes easy to lose, in the face of difficulty or after hard work that seems to go unnoticed. It’s definitely easy to lose in the face of hard work that will never get noticed.
I’ve been thinking about my novel’s characters a lot lately, and why they do the things they do. It occurred to me to ask myself, the author, the same question: why is it that I do what I do? Why do I love this work so very much, why does it feel so satisfying when I complete something that may never get appreciated by someone else? I hope it gets noticed by someone else one day, but there’s no guarantee of that.
So why do I do it?
The quote above resonated in me when I heard it. It’s no foreign concept to me – for a while now, this has also been one of my main reasons for writing. What struck me about it is that it was THE answer she chose – not to be remembered for her uncanny knack at telling a great story, not for her rags-to-riches story, but for doing the best with what she had.
About a year ago, I was on my knees, scrubbing coffee from the undersides of the tables in Starbucks. I spent countless days, not making the lattes, but taking orders and handing drinks out the window.
The years before that, I cashed checks and made deposits all day, most every day. My cash drawer always balanced, and it was perfectly organized. I got yelled at (um, cursed at, rather) for asking for ID. I got yelled at for things I didn’t do and couldn’t change.
I did those jobs as well as I could, though. I learned how to craft great drinks. I scrubbed the tables vigorously (more from annoyance than from love of scrubbing, I have to add). I smiled at the people who yelled at me.
I did the best I could, but I felt a gaping chasm where I should feel at least a little satisfaction in the work I got up every day to do. I tried to push my pride aside when the (evil) man in the Starbucks drive through said, “Oh, your parents paid for college? I bet they’re really proud of you working here.” I tried, but I was truly, deeply unfulfilled.
Why, though? People do these jobs every day. We need people to scrub tables, we need people to deal with the money. Goodness knows I need my lattes! I rationalized myself into staying with them, because they are good jobs and I am not above them.
One day, though, it occurred to me: these are not bad jobs, but they don’t use all of me. They use my people skills and my ability to be responsible with money, but what about my brain? What about my passion to create? What about thoughts about life, love, morality, spiritual things, and people? What about my heart? Where does being project-driven fit in jobs that have no end and make no progress?
It’s not just about doing the best you can – it’s about doing the best you can with the talent you are given.
For me, writing is where I feel myself blossoming. Hours and days fly by before I know it. Writing a novel seems to be the perfect combination of using my brain, my creativity, my discipline, my organization, and working in all sorts of things I care about. I get to explore so many avenues of myself just by sitting down to write. Therein, I find motivation.
Doing the best with what I’ve been given might lead to some great side-effects – publication, success (whatever that is), and seeing my printed ideas in the hands of other people. But it might not. Whatever happens, I love what I do every day, and it is satisfying to exercise all, not half, of me.
How about you? What was it that motivated you to write in the first place? What drives you to keep going, especially through times when you feel like nothing you’re doing is making a difference?
PS: J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life is a documentary put together by James Runcie, a novelist/filmmaker. There’s an article about the documentary here.
PPS: I notice, often, that people find this blog by searching for “When my hard work doesn’t get noticed,” and other similar things. If this is you, I hope your situation gets better soon. Under-appreciation is never fun, and boy do I understand. Please feel free to drop a line in the comment section, I love hearing from new readers.