I’m not inspired to do good work. I’m primarily motivated by punishment and negative reinforcement. Are you aware that punishment and negative reinforcement aren’t the same thing?
Punishment is when you do or don’t do something and a bad thing happens. Like I drop the ball on a deadline and my editor yells at me (ha. I’m not successful enough to have an editor unless you count Mary.) or I miss a due date and my professor docks my grades.
Negative reinforcement is actually something you want. The “negative” refers to the taking away of something. It means that something you do stops something bad. In experiments involving lab rats this can mean that pushing a lever will make a shrill noise go away. In my case it means that Mary stops nagging me or I stop feeling guilty about making promises to people and letting them down.
If I go throughout my whole life never being good at bowling, I’ll be ok with that. I can bowl without reserve, nonchalantly flinging that ball down into the gutters, coming in last with a score under 100. But I cannot face the possibility that I will not be great at writing. I want Lauren Hudgins to be a recognizable name, one belonging to a damn fine writer. The terror of failure makes me a procrastinator, makes me give up before I start. If I have a fresh idea for an essay or short story, I put it off, thinking I could do it more justice later when I’m a better writer.
I entered an MFA program because I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t writing. I need the threat of bad grades, disapproval, and self-loathing to keep going.
Rather than working out of zeal and passion, I work out of fear. I write when the fear of what will happen if I don’t write overcomes the fear of writing something terrible.