In business, companies assess risk vs. reward all the time. Usually, the higher the risk, the higher the potential reward. But for writers and other creative types, we measure these things differently. Or do we?

Every day, we take risks when we follow our creative call. We put words on paper, images on film, pick up an instrument or paintbrush…these things are risky. There’s the risk of failure, the fear of ridicule, the terror of obscurity.

We create anyway.

But after a while, if no one is standing in line to applaud our work or validate our efforts–or worse, we face rejection at every turn–we get weary and start questioning. Why am I doing this? What’s the reward? Where’s the payoff?

This is where it gets tricky. Because it means stripping away the appropriate answers, the ones we think we’re ‘supposed’ to have, and getting down to the truth.

Why do you do what you do? Why do you write? Create? Paint? Play an instrument? Take pictures?

For fame? Fortune? Self-fulfillment?

Unless you know the answer to that, how will you know if you’ve succeeded?

A friend and I started re-reading Ann Lamott’s fabulous book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

In the introduction, she says, “I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is….The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

I’ve been mulling over that statement this week. Somewhere in the quest for commercial success with my writing, I’ve lost touch with the reasons I love it. Just like a character that has gone astray in one of my stories, I’ve lost my motivation. I’ve tried to change and twist the reason I do this into something it is not, and in the process, I’ve lost the thrill of the journey.

I’m taking decisive steps to renew my joy. I’ve started by yanking my motivation back to the place it began: the act of writing. Sure, I have to think about agents and publishers and story structure, but that comes before I sit down to write. Or maybe after. But not during the writing process.

The secret, I think, is to shut the door on those other considerations and allow only the story and the characters into the creative chamber. I must bar the door to those sly thieves who would snatch my confidence.

Instead, I’ll simply wallow in the joy of creating something out of nothing. I’ll remember the thrill of getting the words just right, so the story in my head shows up on the page just as I envisioned it.

That’s the reward. And I think it’s worth it. Don’t you?