Coming from the “Why”

When approaching a new writing project, search for the "why"When approaching a creative work, turn your attention away from your goalposts and explore your motivations.

Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?

For the past few weeks, I’ve found myself stuck refurbishing and reposting old content rather than striking out in a new direction. The recycling serves two purposes really – to revisit some past entries whose content is once again relevant and to reintroduce new followers and old fans the purpose and point of the Daily Creative Writer blog. I plan to continue this content recirculation because it breathes new life into my current endeavors and reminds me how much time and effort I’ve committed to this enterprise.
And because sometimes it’s just fun to go back and time and check in with your past incarnations.

But my intro paragraph hints at something freshly crafted, and so let me dive into a concept thoughtfully placed in my lap by the gods of Serendipity and the powers-that-be at my current gig.

In preparation for a big industry event next week, I received an email asking that I take 18 minutes to watch Simon Sinek’s TED talk on leadership and inspiration. With great brevity and clear exposition, Sinek manages to quantify the thought processes behind some of the world’s biggest innovators, from Steve Jobs to the Wright brothers, answer the question “What do these leaders and futurists have in common?”

Using Sinek's Golden Circle makes sense for creative projects
Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle – the Why, the How, and the What

They all believe in a purpose or cause, the “why” of the matter, instead of the “what” or the “how.” Sinek calls this the Golden Circle, and he proposes that the average person thinks from the outside circle of “what” towards the “how” with a brief contemplation of “why.” But the folks that effect real change – those who alter perception and make great leaps of invention – begin at the “why” of the matter. These “why-sters” possess a grand notion of where they are headed, and they are emotionally invested in what they are hoping to accomplish.

“People don’t buy WHAT you do,” Sinek repeatedly says throughout his presentation, “they buy WHY you do it.”

As Sinek explains, the allure of the “why” has more to do with basic biology than psychology. Individuals may think they make decisions based on the rational thought processes of the neocortex, but in reality, it’s our brain’s limbic system – the portion of our mind ruled by feelings – that dictates our behavior. We sometimes call this “acting from the heart” or “following my gut.” It’s not our hearts or stomachs that sway us; it’s our primitive, emotional center convincing us to choose that particular product or service or social cause.

Sinek’s message is tailored to business, and he cajoles salespeople and marketers to aim for the customer that believes in the company’s “why.”

“The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs the ‘what’ you create,” says Sinek, “but to do business with the people who believe what you believe.”

“What you do serves as proof of what you believe,” he continues, pointing to Martin Luther King Jr. as a shining example of harnesses his faith in a higher moral authority and its inherent fairness and using it to promote the civil rights movement.
So what does any of this have to do with writing or pursuing artistic endeavors?
Well, here’s where coincidence and opportunity collide.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for content that might apply to my Daily Creative Writer audience, but I felt bereft of inspiration. I felt like I’d explored every avenue and mined every juicy vein, but happening upon Sinek’s TED lecture showed me that writerly tips, tricks, and inspiration don’t always come from the usual sources. Though Sinek’s championing of the “why” makes sense from a marketing perspective, I feel it applies to creativity as well.

When embarking on a new project, or trying to breathe life into an existing endeavor that’s lost its luster, try focusing on the “why” to gain a new perspective. Don’t get too preoccupied with your own individual “why” – your core belief or inspiration – instead think of how the “why” of the work itself influences all its elements.
Ponder the core message of your project and dig around for the main inspiration or primary thought energizing your book, painting, or poem. What does your character believe? What “why” are they coming from, and does it align with your own center or does it veer off wildly into new territory (a prospect that’s usually even more interesting to explore).

If you’re on the cusp of something new, or just trying to figure out where to start, why not take a few moments to contemplate the “why” behind your intentions. If it’s a narrative you’re working on, try to think of the different drives pushing your characters. What do they accept as true? Are they even aware that their beliefs are influencing their behaviors? Are the other characters convinced of the “why,” or are they focused on the “what” and the “how” of their plotlines?

I believe unearthing your characters limbic-core will go a long way towards reinvigorating your interest and pushing you towards greater insight.

As Sinek says, “We don’t follow a leader for their beliefs, we follow them based on what we believe.”

What do you believe?

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