Writing in college is extremely different from writing outside of college. Most people work full-time at a non-writing job after graduating, and finding time for writing is more difficult. Then, of course, there are the lucky ducks who get full-time writing jobs after graduating, and have difficulty finding time to write on their own, also. I never completely understood this sudden mass-abandonment of writing in post-grad life, but I was afraid of it from an early age. I imagined that, as soon as I walked across the stage and got my diploma, I would suddenly be transformed into a person who suddenly didn’t write in her free time. I vowed that I would never let that happen to me.
After graduation, I guarded against that in every way I could, carefully logging words every single day, hoping I would not fall into the same kind of “I can’t find time” syndrome that other people seemed to be getting. And then, suddenly, I began understanding that “I can’t find time” thing very well.
I really, really missed people telling me I was a good writer. In college, people tell you that on practically a daily basis. In the real world, it’s much rarer. (One of my co-workers did tell me I was good at spelling once, though; I wanted to hug her.) I missed people telling me that they loved my stories; I missed people saying that they appreciated how I articulated a certain idea. When you’re writing outside of school, no one gives you gold stars or pats on the shoulder for working on your novel or polishing a short story. If you asked me in college how this would affect me, I probably would have been flip about it. “I don’t write for gold stars,” I would have said. “I write because I love to write!” But seriously– I missed the gold stars.
At first, this acute longing for recognition frustrated me, because it didn’t really make sense in my mind. I loved to write. From the age of five, writing has made me very, very happy. How on earth could I be getting discouraged just because I wasn’t getting any awards or praise? If I loved to write so much, that should have been enough for me!
Then, doubt set in. I wondered if I had been kidding myself the whole time about loving to write. I wondered if I had managed to trick myself into thinking I was happy writing when I actually wasn’t. In short, I had a small identity crisis. Who was I? I wondered. What was I supposed to be doing with my life?
In my quest to discover what on earth I was doing with my “one wild and precious life” (as Mary Oliver so beautifully put it), I began researching extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and stumbled on this incredibly insightful study:
In a classic experiment by Lepper, Greene, & Nisbett (1973), children were rewarded lavishly for drawing with felt-tip pens, an activity that they had previously enjoyed doing on their own during play time. When the children were later offered the chance to play with the pens during play time, the children who had been rewarded for using them previously showed little interest in playing with the pens again. The kids who had not been rewarded, however, continued to play with the pens.
In other words, once the kids were rewarded for doing something they loved, they became more extrinsically, rather than intrinsically, motivated. I realized that was exactly what I was feeling. I was lucky to have a wonderful experience in an amazing writing program with brilliant, caring, and insightful professors, and once I left it, it was difficult to get back to writing without all those added bonuses. I had been completely spoiled.
So I realized I needed to go back to the basic things that I knew to be true: writing makes me very, very happy. I’m thankful that writing makes me very, very happy. I make time to write every day because I love to write, and people make time for the things they love.
Everything else is just icing on the cake.