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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why You Shouldn't Be a Closet Writer

I was reading about psychology theories, and one came across that just made some sense to me in the writing world.

Justification of effort is a theory that says, "If I have to work hard to achieve something, I will afterward find it more attractive." We all understand this. The thought of wasting time and energy toward a particular end would prove us to be sort of daft, right? Consequently, it would damage your self esteem and confidence.

The research that proves this phenomena cracked me up. Aronson and Mills (1959) recruited students for a discussion group. For every third person recruited, they made the process more difficult to get "in." Afterward, when all the participants of the discussion group were asked to rate a boring tape recording they were asked to listen to, those who had a harder time getting into the group rated it higher.

Tell me you don't think that's funny!

But how does this apply to writers?

The reality is that writing is all one long process of getting "in" the publishing industry. Contests, conferences, critique partners, proposals, agents...consider it much the same way you would an examination to get into an exclusive Ivy League school, or perhaps like an initiation period into a fraternity/sorority/gang.

Those who successfully make it through the enlistment look back with very real pride (as they should) on this accomplishment. There is an air of exclusivity to those who have passed through the flaming hoops, at least to those who have yet to traverse the hallowed published grounds.

I propose that if you're at all thinking about being a writer, getting published, and making your millions relatives and friends smile that they know an "author," then you should tell people your goals! Part of the research indicated that if other people know about the effort a person is making, the cost of backing out is even higher.

Gangs and mobs have used this knowledge for years. If the process if hard to get in, people are less likely to quit. I mean, there must be a reason for all their sacrifice--whether it's blood, sweat, or tears. Is that any different from writing?

Let people know your goals, and then you'll have built in accountability to press on for the goal and finish your path to completion.

Q4U: Have you ever had to work hard for something only to later justify it to yourself or others for why you worked so hard?

19 comments:

Jessica Nelson said...

This makes perfect sense. I have worked hard for things but sometimes the justification is shallow to me (like how hard I work to clean my house when deep down I know that a clean house isn't very important in the grand scheme of things)

Jennifer said...

Yes, this makes sense. You've almost convinced me to confess.

The next question is: why be a closet writer?

As a secret writer, I can only say, I'm sure fear has something to do with it.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

jennifer - i'd say that you're not as secret a writer as you say you are. your email is totally a writer's email!!

Shilpa said...

I think blogs are a way to announce the world about your goals and being accountable to it. There are many writers who use blogs to chronicle their journey from aspiring to published author. ANd I agree with you that the major reason is to ensure that they keep on track. To not quit trying to achieve this incredibly difficult task.
A nice post to simplify a concept that boggles and stresses a lot of us! :)

Jennifer said...

Jeannie - true enough about my email, but that isn't my personal email. I've yet to tell anyone (other than my spouse and 1 sib) in the real world that I'm writing. No one knows about my blog. I suppose there are two levels here: telling other writers that you write and telling your friends and family.

I agree with Shilpa says about blogging and writers. Fits in with some of my reasons for starting a blog.

mplanck said...

Your article reminds me of early college days when the young husband of a wealthy young wife was washing their new car. It was a gift from the in-laws and he opined that while it was great, he'd appreciate a lot more if he'd bought it himself.

Christine Hardy said...

Yes. My book, which I've started and abandoned many times over the past several years. My husband prefers to call it "that damn book" because my failure to produce a finished manuscript after all this time proves what a wasted effort it is.

Joanne Sher said...

LOVE this - and yeah, made me laugh too. I am a COMPLETE believer in this. I have my writing goals in the top right corner of my blog and do a post about them once a month. It makes SUCH a difference.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Awesome post, Jeannie! Makes me think of the comparison between a self-made millionaire who's worked to make his money versus a Paris-Hilton who had it all handed to her. Ummm, yeah, I think we can all see the difference there. :)

Tonya said...

That makes a lot of sense!
I'm a closet writer more because I'm afraid of being laughed at and having people say "she thinks she's going to be a writer" behind me back than I am of being accountable. I also had an experience where I did tell someone about my goals and in a few months when I didn't have a book or contract acted like I wasn't trying or wasn't good at it. So that makes me standoffish because some people don't understand the real hard work writing takes.
Some people know I like to write but they don't know they extent of my desire. I guess in always hoped to have a manuscript to bring to a conference before I really told anyone and even then it'd only be those I was close too.

Miss Sharp said...

I used to fear telling others, too, but it's such a big part of what I do, it seemed dishonest for me not to be upfront about it. So I dredged up a big chunk of "I don't care what they think" and mentioned it whenever it seemed appropriate at first and then proudly after a while.

Yes, proudly! Let them snicker. Sticks and stones, right?

But then my husband also told a few folks and to my surprise at a Christmas party one of his associate's wives asked me how the book was coming! lol

I could have said something bland but instead I told her the truth: "I keep starting it over." And she was very nice about it (to my face anyway which is all that really matters) and said there was a TV series she liked about a frustrated novelist (can't remember the name of it)...we had a nice conversation. I felt like it was good practice for when I'm a bestselling writer and have to talk to lots of different people.

Moral of the story: honesty is indeed the best policy! :D

Keli Gwyn said...

When I first began writing with the goal of publication nearly six years ago, I decided at the outset that I was going to tell my friends. My thinking was that if they knew, I'd be less likely to decide the arduous process was too much and give up. While that proved true, the bigger blessing was the tremendous amount of support I received from my family and friends. When my book sold, I'd been writing for five years. Because my friends had shared in my journey from the outset, they appreciated how much hard work goes into getting a traditional publishing contract and were very happy for me.

Carol Baldwin said...

APpreciated this and passed it along.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

When I began my fiction writing journey husband was disappointing. He loves my mind and wants me to write non-fiction. when I told him you can reach more people with fiction, he got on board and wanted to tell the world. But I thought it was bad luck to talk about it before you were published.

Then I learned one of my good friends was writing a novel. And I have been blessed ever sense. Writers at least need other writers to share the journey.

Jennifer K. Hale said...

Love this, J! For a long time I kept my writing a secret from everyone but my immediate family with the idea that if I failed, I wouldn't have to be embarrassed because no one knew but me. However, a good friend (once I told her about it) said, "Either you're a writer or you're not." And she was right. So I went public with my goals. And yes, there is an idea of accountability just because people know. And yes, it pushes me harder. No one wants to fail.
Love this post!

girlseeksplace said...

Thank you for this post. I am constantly justifying my moves to at least one person. It gets old after a while. Part of why I freelance is to not have to justify the way I breathe to a boss. But it's hard. Sometimes it's easier to not do something than it is to do it and have to explain myself a dozen times.

Cecilia Marie Pulliam said...

Yes, the human mind is an interesting arena. Struggle not only brings about greater satisfaction, it also builds character and appreciation, as you pointed out so well. Thanks for an inspiring post.

Crystal Laine said...

There are agents I know who say you shouldn't talk about your project while you're writing it because it takes all the excitement for the project out. Not good to talk about it.

But, with that said, I do think if you tell select people (like crit partners, another writing buddy who understands) then it does help in keeping accountable. I don't think you should tell extended family or outside-of-the-writer-weird-world people because they don't get it and they ask the wrong questions, and sometimes discourage you.

Your blog posts are always interesting!

Heather Sunseri said...

You were right, Jeannie!! I loved this. This is a perfect post for what I've been going through. Thanks for pointing me to it.

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