By Abby Crain
What motivates you to write?
If you’re writing a text message, your motivation may be the need to ask a question or just the desire to be communicating with someone.
With emails, which college students typically avoid like the plague, the motivation is usually that you need to ask a teacher a question that can’t wait until class time, or you don’t want to ask in person.
For an academic essay, let’s be honest—we are typically motivated by the deadline above all else. Sometimes the topic is to blame, because it’s boring; sometimes you have to choose your own topic and you’re waiting for divine inspiration to strike. Sometimes you just plain DO NOT want to write a paper.
I get it; despite being an English major, I sometimes struggle with academic writing and the box it tends to place around writers. That box is one of the main reasons I have always wanted to be a fiction author, because creative writing has rules but at the same time those rules can be broken for the sake of creative license.
This brings me to the point of this blog: motivation and the key to finding what yours is/are.
The ARCS Model of Motivational Design by John Keller (which can be read in detail HERE) discusses four steps of motivation that each build on the previous step and result in motivation: attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction. The design was written with the intent of having two people involved—one motivating and one being motivated—but it is also useful for self-motivation if you seek out feedback when you need it.
These steps can be used separately from the others, especially if you are stuck for a specific reason that pertains precisely to one of them, but it is ideal if you have time to go through the process in order. The ARCS model is definitely versatile and can be used to motivate any of the academic disciplines, but I will stick with discussing its use for writing.
First, attention—grab the attention of the writer in some way. Keller mentions perceptual arousal and inquiry arousal as two bases for this goal. Perceptual arousal indicates some sort of surprise or surprising events to the writer, while inquiry arousal creates curiosity by you asking the writer questions or you both finding questions to answer. For example, brainstorming for a short story summary-critique can involve everything from asking questions about the author’s life to making a game of how many times you see a certain story element in the piece. For those who are using the ARCS model to self-motivate, getting your own attention is not hard, but you also have a more difficult time of keeping it; therefore, seek out aspects of the piece that you can relate to, and think of questions to answer as you are writing about the piece.
Next, you need to establish some sort of relevance between the writer and what he/she is going to write about. Keller outlines six different strategies, but they all boil down to creating some sort of connection that is going to resonate within the writer as he/she is writing. This step relies heavily not only on your ability to demonstrate how the piece can relate to the writer but also on the inner motivations of the writer. Therefore, this step is one of the most difficult of the four if not the most difficult. Because you cannot force someone to relate to something else, with anti-motivated students you may have to skip this step and move on before returning to it later. If you are trying to motivate yourself, this step is completely in your hands and you may have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find something relatable in the piece.
Third, building confidence is so necessary in order to create motivation. Not only does it help when a writer feels able to write, but it also will help him/her to be able to think back at the encouragement you gave, and therefore increase self-motivation. I definitely do not want you to give false encouragement to students, but there is always something in their writing for which they can be proud (even if it is only the fact that they were able to get something down on paper). If you need to build your own confidence, you may simply need to pause and think about successful aspects of your previous writings. Positive self-talk is important to continue growing and stretching yourself as a writer.
Finally, to be fully motivated, students need to understand the satisfaction that comes with writing. If they have already experienced the gratification of writing a full paper or short story, it will be easier for them to become motivated again; this is even truer if they enjoyed the previous experience in most aspects. A satisfied student is more likely to look back on his/her writing with joy, knowing that the work was written to its full potential, and then use that to spark interest in the next topic. If the student is unable or unwilling to think back on previous works, then it would be helpful to go back to building confidence and prompting him/her to figure out what part of writing makes them the most satisfied. Self-motivating students are probably quite able to recall the satisfaction they have when a work is finished, so there would be little difficulty in that regard. Sometimes it is not a full finished work that satisfies a student but the process itself, or even one small piece of the process such as brainstorming.
John Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivation is just one approach out of many that targets the action of motivating students. There is no one formula to motivate a person, as we are all unique and have varied abilities, but there is something within each of us that comes alive when motivation lights its flame. It is nothing short of amazing when we first find that flicker.