When Hard Work Goes Unnoticed

22 Jul

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.

21 Responses to “When Hard Work Goes Unnoticed”

  1. xxhawkeyexx Wednesday / 22 July 09 at 10:07 am #

    Great post! I liked how you expressed yourself and decided that you wanted to do something else, so that you could use your creativity and fulfill something outstanding compared to what you were previously doing. 😀
    I don’t really remember how I began writing. It was probably a couple of years ago.
    I’m pretty competitive and, at that time, wanted to do something with my life. I’ve always been creative, that’s why I would always think about stories, characters and a setting. I wasn’t really sure if I would be able to put any of those ideas into words, but, one day, a friend told me she had been working on a novel. She told me about how she began writing, how she chose the setting, her characters and the plot. She inspired me. I was a kid, about twelve years old and she was sixteen, when she told me. I wanted to write, but couldn’t since I couldn’t put any of my ideas in order, and my writing sucked.
    I gave up for another two years and then began writing poems, songs and short stories. Time passed by, and I kept on practicing. I learned how to put everything in order, the dialogues, my characters personalities, the plot, setting, etc.
    About a month ago, I found my first story, about thirty one thousand words long, and I must really say…I really sucked!
    I didn’t gave up even though I was pretty bad at it(I’ve still got a lot to learn) and that’s how I become the “writer” I am right now. I know I’m not perfect at it, but I’ll keep practicing and try to get better at it.
    I’d like others to read my work because my friends don’t really like writing(too busy with alcohol, girls, guys, partying), don’t get me wrong, I also go out and enjoy partying and doing crazy things, is just that I’d like to see others like my work.
    That’s why I post some of my work at my blog :D!
    Still, I know the main reason of why I write, writing is part of my life. I enjoy writing. It got me out of a lot of harsh moments because instead of getting all drunk or consuming drugs(like some people do), I wrote.
    I love writing just how I love life and cheesecakes.
    Sorry…I wrote too much… 🙂
    Take care,

    • owlandsparrow Wednesday / 22 July 09 at 5:24 pm #

      No worries about the long post. I loved reading about your experiences! I heard once that the best way to learn how to write is to just sit down and do it. So, that’s what I did – It looks like this is your method of choice, too 🙂 Are you still working on making the 31,000 word story you wrote better, or are you going to start a totally new project?

  2. Eleanor Wednesday / 22 July 09 at 10:22 am #

    “One day, though, it occurred to me: these are not bad jobs, but they don’t use all of me.”

    I think that sums it up brilliantly. I’ve felt the same way about jobs I’ve had.

    I started writing a short while ago because I felt as though something was missing in my life. The stories I created sort of filled that hole for me. Like you, I’d love to have someone else appreciate it, but my own satisfaction is really enough.

    • owlandsparrow Wednesday / 22 July 09 at 5:34 pm #

      Thanks, Eleanor. Like you, I felt like something was missing. I always had this vague feeling of, “Well, I feel like I should be doing something more…” but for the longest time, couldn’t put my finger on what, exactly, I should do instead. I had always wanted to write a novel, and decided, finally, that even though I didn’t love my job, I could use my free time to do something more fulfilling. I’m so glad I did. Never knew what I was missing!

  3. Laura Best Wednesday / 22 July 09 at 1:35 pm #

    Writing was something I loved doing from a very early age. I wrote all through elementary and high school. Then I got married and had three kids..I was a stay at home Mom for a lot of years but I slowly began to realize I had to have something in my life other than my kids and husband—something just for me. Too often people lose themselves along the way and I didn’t want that to happen to me.I wanted to be happy..I knew I was the only one capable of creating the happiness I wanted. It was almost as if I had been too busy for a lot of years to even consider writing, it was as if I had forgotten how wonderful it feels to create with words.

    What drives me to keep going now? The sense of accomplishment I feel when I’ve completed a story that finds its way to publication, knowing this is something I’ve accomplished all on my own

    • owlandsparrow Wednesday / 22 July 09 at 5:38 pm #

      This is great. I love that you took initiative to go after what you wanted, and to not lose yourself. The very thought of tasting the accomplishment you feel is enough to make me want to churn out pages on my project!!

  4. Ann Wednesday / 22 July 09 at 5:05 pm #

    My first attempt to write fiction was when I was five or six years old. I gave up on that story and every other story I started until about a year ago. As odd as it might seem, I asked myself what I would regret most if I were to die young. The answer surprised me. I realized what I wanted to do most was learn how to write stories.

    I intend to sell one of my stories one day. I’d like to win an award or make a NYT Best-Seller list. What matters most to me, though, is to live as a writer–to write when I can, what I can, and how I can while learning to do more.

    I know I’m making a difference in my life. If I don’t keep going, I’ll be killing a part of myself that years ago I didn’t even know existed. To borrow your analogy, I want to blossom.

    • owlandsparrow Wednesday / 22 July 09 at 5:46 pm #

      Oh, I know that story well…I never made it past a few chapters of any project until the one I started last August. It feels good to stick with it. Your potential regret of never learning to write does not sound odd to me – I think it’s a wonderful (not to mention challenging) goal. Also, I really like what you wrote about living life as a writer. I want to live like that, too.

  5. jenniferneri Wednesday / 22 July 09 at 7:32 pm #

    I LOVE this post! And I find all the answers here fascinating. I find some lines in your post owlandsparrow that describe me to a T. I relate to Laura, and to Ann as well.

    I always knew I would write. Everyone did, from a very young age. My grandmother died not long after the birth of my first, and it triggered a novel. That was the first thing I ever wrote since a young teen. I spent one year writing it, and four on and off re-drafting. I am writing a second novel which I began one year ago while doing the final polishing on my first. And I love my shorts which are just glimpses I have. Prior to being pregnant I finished a degree in Biochemistry. Prior to that I was a professional ballet dancer who had injuries and could not dance anymore. Science did not fulfill my in the same way, yet I was intrigued with it. Then, writing found me, and I think it fulfills me in a way that not even dancing did. This is why I write.

    It is never the same. it is all about self-exploration. There is never a dull moment 🙂

    Wow – you really have us revealing ourselves over here!


    • owlandsparrow Thursday / 23 July 09 at 4:56 pm #

      Thank you, Jennifer! You’re right, this has turned out to be quite the revealing series of comments, and I am loving it. It’s so wonderful to have such substantial conversations, and to hear what drives people.

      Wow, biochemistry and ballet? What a variety of influences! I bet your work reflects these in such a cool way. And your first book must be so filled with passion – those are two pretty huge, emotional events (a death, a birth) and it’s not surprising they triggered you to spend so much time on that project.

      It seems we relate on a lot of things. It’s always nice to find someone like that – I’m glad we’re getting to know each other! 🙂

  6. Linda Wednesday / 22 July 09 at 8:35 pm #

    I’ve had many artistic pursuits, but like you, I wanted something that used more of my brain. I started writing ten years ago and wrote several stories and finished a novel before real life intervened and I pushed my writing to the backgroud. I’m not a writer who feels I will die if I can’t write, but now I can’t wait to write something every day, even if it’s only a blog post.

    I’m not published yet, but then I haven’t submitted anything either. So, it’s my dream to have something out there for other to read, and I believe that will happen, if I just keep at it.

    • owlandsparrow Thursday / 23 July 09 at 5:06 pm #

      I totally identify with the many artistic pursuits thing. Writing is only one of many artsy things I love to do. For a long time, I actually thought I’d do more with music (singing & playing piano/guitar). Also, I enjoy sewing and making crafty things like stationery. In my free time, I’d do whatever creative thing I felt like doing. When I started my novel, I had to distinguish between my goals (the book) and my hobbies (everything else).

      Like you, I look forward to writing as much as possible, blogs included. Good luck with submissions and, hopefully, publication! Do you plan to submit anything in the near future?

  7. christine Thursday / 23 July 09 at 4:38 am #

    Writing has always been a necessary part of me, an outlet for frustrations and every-day dramas. When I finally ran out of excuses for doing jobs that made me unhappy I started to look at writing, as the thing that actually made me happy, in a more serious way. I’m taking a break from employment so have the perfect conditions to write but for a long while I still considered it ‘playing’ and less important than the ironing, for example. Not anymore. Stuff still gets done but more writing is written too!

    Most days I still write for the pure, unadulterated pleasure of doing so but now I’ll try and get more stuff published but won’t let myself get screwed up over it…

    • owlandsparrow Thursday / 23 July 09 at 5:13 pm #

      Yes! An outlet – it’s like that for me, too. There are three reasons I started this site: one, to write about the writing process. Two, to try my hand at writing recaps for shows like Lost (which, sadly, doesn’t return until January). And three, because I have random drama that I need to vent (Examples? See my posts about the Wal-Mart parking lot, the maintenance man, or anything else in the “Why do people…?” category!!).

      I identify with a lot of what you wrote, since I’ve also taken a break from employment. Like you, I’m still learning the best way to balance home life, social life, and writing life! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  8. sherrymeneley Thursday / 23 July 09 at 2:23 pm #

    Love this post. I was wondering if this is this your first (“I’m really gonna do it”) novel? Not that it matters one way or the other – just curious.
    As for me, writing is something “I can’t NOT do”. For all my life writing has been a fun thing, a journaling thing, a pass time, a way to self-express. But only in the last year did it become a yearning and beast of it’s own… It became the “thing” I couldn’t ignore. Once I got serious in Feb 2009, I have been lucky enough to get 40,000 words to my manuscript.
    Your post title also struck a tender chord in me; as we all need so desperately to have others comment on our work and notice it… good or bad, we just need to know our post/blogs/etc… are not “all for nothing”. It’s daunting to know how many blogs are out there. But to know that someone who isn’t a relative, and doesn’t have any sense of requirement to read our blogs, is reading our work and is interested, and then ever more so takes the time to leave a comment is fuel that lasts through the cold and lonely times. It’s hope that one day a book is be published and read my many.
    Best of luck, blessings for fruitful writing and well deserved motivation…just when you need it 🙂

    • owlandsparrow Thursday / 23 July 09 at 5:24 pm #

      Indeed, it is my first novel, and thanks so much for the encouragement. I think I relate to pretty much everything you wrote. I have stacks and stacks of journals, but my blog and (eventually) my novel are my first public efforts.

      Great job on sticking with your manuscript and getting serious about writing. I think it feels so satisfying to make progress not only on a project, but in my personal life (i.e. follow-through with goals and such). Best of luck to you, too. I’ll be sure to visit your blog soon…and comment, of course 🙂


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