Saturday, March 31, 2012

Day 19: Avoid Shame-based De-motivation

I have a 15-year-old son who is brilliantly creative, has the ability to write and the humor to make it relevant to his generation. But he hates writing and school. For most of his school life, he has been told that the unique way he learns and reports back is wrong. The administrators and teachers who believe that every child should learn and test the same have shamed him, told him he was broken and unwilling to learn, when all he wants to do is excel.  Schools lean on shame as a motivational tool. And they lean even harder when it's high school.

Too many writers believe deep down that authors who have made it big, or even self-published at this point, must have a magic formula for understanding the structure, the conventions and the right words in the right order to use. They don't. Many just didn't listen to those voices, or weren't subjected to the talk about laziness or an inability to "play the game."

Because it's seldom possible to get away from that one-size-fits-all school-yard thinking, even in business, as writers it can be difficult to "self motivate."

Philip Stiles points out that "Shame has been called the 'negative side of an individual's motivational scheme," by Giddens. (Stile's paper titled "The Negative Side of Motivation: The Role of Shame," can be found at

Institutions reinforce one viewpoint, corporate or administrative, through setting goals for the employee or student. In turn, this push for normalization and the student's or employee's: "Adherence to the norm or standard of the goal is a process of normalization of the employee and, importantly, deviation or failure to meet the standard invokes a judgment of abnormality...."

Years of having goals pressed on us have led many writers to attempt the same "discipline" in shaping the writing process. Although this may work for some, the restrictive nature of this practice can choke off creative expression.

Hope lives, thrives and trumps every voice that is not ours. Motivation is internal, and the infernal aspect of this blog. The one thing that each of us carries throughout life is an individuality that can drown out the codified voices of shame we internalized long before we could filter out their repetitive mantras.

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