I just watched The Godfather. Early in the movie, Kay asks Michael about a strange man in a corner, talking to himself. That’s Luca Brasi, says Michael, the man who held a gun to the head of a famous Hollywood big shot while Don Corleone assured him that either his signature or his brains would be on an important contract.
That’s powerful motivation for getting words on the page.
As writers, we’re self-starters. We have no boss standing over our shoulder, cracking the whip, making sure the work happens. There’s no Luca Brasi.
But here’s the thing I’ve realized about writerly motivation: Sometimes you don’t have to dig deep for it. Sometimes it’s staring you in the face and you don’t even realize it.
Fifteen years ago a venture capital guy read the 60-page business plan I’d written for ZoomPak, a shipping venture, and said it was the most literary thing to ever land on his desk. He declined to fund my startup, which collapsed into bankruptcy.
In business school before that, I’d written a fairly detailed, 40-page academic research paper on competition between Boeing and Airbus in the market for super-jumbo airliners. Roget gave me a dozen synonyms for the word ‘competition’ – clash, contention, engagement, rivalry and horse-race among them — and I included a boxing match analogy in the conclusion. My statistics professor called the paper ‘well-written but frothy.’
As a public relations guy during the late 1990s dot-com boom, I wrote a speech for a Silicon Valley mogul. I was awed in the man’s presence. I tried to put beautiful words in his mouth, stunning phrases that rivaled the great orators. The guy read my draft. ‘It’s not f– -ing art,’ he said, and never talked to me again. Pretty soon I lost that job.
I never succeeded in business or PR, or the myriad other careers I attempted. I was never motivated. I was always doing the wrong thing, always trying to be like someone else — college friends who’d made big money after business school, old journalism colleagues who became ‘communications professionals.’ Nothing ever clicked.
But then a time came when I was forced to write my way out of a serious illness. For three years that was all I could do, and by the time I emerged from my hospital room I realized writing was all I wanted to do. I’ve been typing ever since. I’m not a successful writer by the measures of our craft. I haven’t published much. Last year I earned $25 from my words. But I’m driven, and good things are happening.
You might say that illness was my Luca Brasi, forcing me to put words on the page. But I think it just opened my eyes to possibilities, to the writer’s motivation I already possessed. That’s the trick it took me years, and a near-death experience, to figure out.
Open your eyes.
-Mike Sinert, 2016 Nonfiction Fellow