Tag Archives: Writing thresholds

Willpower vs passion


When I wrote about writing thresholds, I didn’t talk about what caused me to cross the threshold but rather what I was experiencing.  It occurred to me that some people might think that I crossed the threshold through sheer self-will and discipline.  In other words, that I am an enormously disciplined person who can force myself to sit down, write and produce papers.  Those of you who know me, will know that I’m not a fan of ‘discipline’ at all.  This morning, I read a quote by Annie Dillard:


“There’s a common notion that self-discipline is a freakish peculiarity of writers – that writers differ from other people by possessing enormous and equal portions of talent and willpower.  They grit their powerful teeth and go into their little rooms.  I think that’s a bad misunderstanding of what impels the writer.  What impels the writer is a deep love for and respect for language, for literary forms, for books.  It’s a privilege to muck about in sentences all morning.  It’s a challenge to bring off a powerful effect.  You don’t do it from willpower; you do it from abiding passion for the field.  I’m sure its the same in every field.  Writing a book is like rearing children – willpower has very little to do with it.  If you have a little baby crying in the middle of the night, and if you depend only on willpower to get you out of bed to feed the baby, that baby will starve.  You do it out of love.  Willpower is a weak idea; love is strong.  You don’t have to scourge yourself with cat-o’-nine-tails to go to the baby.  You go to the baby out of love for that particular baby.  That’s the same way you go to your desk.  There’s nothing freakish about it.  Caring passionately about something isn’t against nature, and it isn’t against human nature.  It’s what we’re here to do.” Annie Dillard.


Your motivation might not involve words and language.  It may, instead, revolve around the substance of your research and the priority you give it.  Your need to write this paper lies in the importance of getting this message out.  Perhaps not because it will be read by millions but because the publication will give you credibility and authority to participate in further discussions on this topic.  The bigger aim is to change things, to make it better – whatever ‘it’ is for you.  For me, my aim is always to change student experiences of higher education so I focus my research on pedagogy.  That’s where it becomes meaningful for me and that’s why it is important for me to cross the threshold and finish the paper.


What’s meaningful for you?  Where does your passion lie?  Is that where you are focusing your energies?