Math as Motivation for Writers (No, Really!)

Math for Motivation for Writers

I don’t believe in perfection. Just two things in this world come close:

Music and math.

They’re the only two truly universal languages. One can solve almost any problem. The other can touch any soul. And a world without either is one I can’t bear to imagine.

Today I’d like to talk about math.

I can already sense some of you cringing. But bear with me. Let’s not focus on formulas and basic number-crunching right now. (We’ll get there. I have another post planned for that.)

Instead, for this week’s Monday Motivation exercise, I’d like you to think about math in terms of beauty, order, and inspiration.

Math is Everywhere

We often think of math as simply theoretical – something we study in school that doesn’t apply to our actual lives. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Math serves as a foundation for much of the beauty in nature that surrounds us every day, from the efficiency of Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio in flower formations to the radial symmetry of every snowflake that falls.

We use math in our everyday lives, often without thinking about it – calculating sales tax in our heads while shopping or using basic algebra in business for example (“if I charge $100 per hour and I want to earn $7500 this month, I’ll need to book ‘X’ hours with clients”).

And I was more recently reminded of the importance of math in creative works as well.

Are Math and Creativity Compatible?

I’m planning a trip home to New York City soon, and I know I’ll have about half a day to spare. So I checked into the current exhibits at The Met.

While I’m mostly going for the Seurat exhibit, my cousin and I are bumping our trip up a couple of weeks so I don’t miss another – one celebrating math in art.

The artist and the math geek in me don’t often get giddy over the same things.

Delighting in the beauty of ancient architecture while being impressed by what an engineering feat it was for its time? Sure.

Appreciating a gorgeous foxglove in my garden while simultaneously calculating how much of it I’d need to kill someone (in a story)? Of course.

But in general, when I’m focused on my creative work, I’m not consciously thinking about math.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t there. That doesn’t mean math didn’t serve as some sort of inspiration in a design or a story or even in a business decision for that matter.

And that’s why I’m so excited for this exhibit. It’s a reminder that what we see on the surface in finished artwork, music, and writing… on some level it all comes back to math.

That’s even true in work where creative liberties are taken. You have to understand perspective, proportions, and symmetry – even if subconsciously – in order to manipulate them artistically. And it’s true even if you’re creating an entirely new world through your writing. You have to understand balance and order enough to create that for your fictional world even if it looks nothing like the natural order of ours.

Math as Motivation

What appeals to me so much about math is that it’s objective. It serves as a bridge, taking me from Point A to Point B when there’s a problem to solve or a situation I need to figure out.

Yet math is just as much a part of the creative side of a writing career as it is about business.

So I’d like you to think about a problem that’s plaguing you right now in your writing business. Then think about how math might be able to push you through and get you back on the right track. Let it serve as a temporary buffer between your emotions and your business.

Maybe you’re feeling discouraged because you aren’t earning enough.

Use math to explore a few different opportunities to fix that – what might happen if you raise your rates versus if you add additional income streams for example?

Which is riskier? Which has the biggest potential for reward?

Perhaps you’re working on a long blog post for a client and you feel stuck.

The words aren’t flowing. Think about how math might help you map out a structure and plan first, guiding you through the writing process.

For example, all parts of that post must add up to one whole. What percentage should each section, or point you want to cover, take?

If you can estimate that and you have the word count requirement of your client, you know exactly how much to write and can do so in a non-linear way without going off-course.

Did a client tear you down because they didn’t love an initial draft you delivered?

First of all, that guy’s a jerk.

Second, let math motivate you to get back to work and feel a little less awful about the situation. Think about how many clients you’ve worked with. How many have reacted like that?

On the other hand, how many have been happy with your work? And what percentage does that miserable client make up? I bet it’s an itty bitty one.

If so, cheer yourself up by turning those numbers into a cute little pie chart.

Imagine all your good clients collectively as a sort of Pac-man-like character, gobbling up that other bastard who made you feel like crap. Sound effects are optional, though I highly recommend them.

See? Math is your friend.

Math is everywhere, like it or not. It’s involved in just about everything you do or create whether you choose to actively think about it or not. So why not embrace it and use math as a motivational tool?

Apply math to business decisions you feel unsure of. It can help you figure out logical solutions when your emotions are otherwise leading you down a destructive path.

Apply math to your writing process or schedule to improve your efficiency with difficult projects and get more done in less time (which equals more moolah in your bank account and more smug, yet justified, self-satisfaction as you tame your to-do list).

Apply math to your writing itself. If you’re working on fiction, use it to help you find a way past tricky plot points. If you’re writing nonfiction, use it to help you break down articles or copy into easier-to-tackle elements.

Or, if you’re already using math as a motivational tool in your writing career, tell me about it! I’d love to learn some new tricks and hear how you’re making math work for you.

In the next few weeks, I’ll have another math post for you. That one will focus on the practical side, using simple and even advanced mathematics to improve your writing career and creative projects. I promise to make it as easy and as fun as possible. In the meantime, if you think you have a good example, and you’d like me to consider featuring it in that upcoming post, email me and tell me about it.

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