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Thursday, December 16, 2010

T3 - Sunk-Cost Effect

I'm about to tell you why it can be so hard to let go and move on from your unpublished manuscripts that didn't garner an agent or editor's attention. The Sunk-Cost Effect can actually be applied to a variety of areas in a person's life, from financial investments (which many authors would agree their writing is) to emotional/relational ones.

The idea behind this psychological theory is that when a person has "sunk" a lot of effort, time, and money into something, they are reluctant to cut their losses, even if cutting their losses will lead to less loss in the long run. No one wants to admit that they made a mistake, as this brings cognitive dissonance, so they would rather hang on to the blind hope that things will get better.

Research has shown that investors will hang on to their shares in a company even when the market tanks because they desperately hope the shares will rise again in price. Same goes with intimate relationships. People aren't clicking emotionally anymore, but they stay together because they have invested so much time in them or have children together.

Cults operate on this system, as well. Cults often have inner elite circles that can only be accessed if considerable money, time, and effort are given by the congregational member. Some elite cult members have learned lengthy texts by heart, have gone through bizarre rituals, or have given heavily of their funds, all of which serve to ingratiate the cult to the person, drawing them in deeper. In other words, the cult sinks their teeth in further the more they can get the person to invest.

This theory is also helpful in looking at relationships from all angles. Most people look at their satisfaction in a relationship as a result of 3 things:
  • Rewards and costs and what they see as a fair balance.
  • A comparison with potential alternative relationships
  • How much they have already invested in the relationship (the Sunk-Cost Effect).
Abusive characters intrinsically know this. The more invested the woman is in the relationship (the more children, the more the abuser makes the woman feel he can't live without her), the more likely she is to stay and keep on getting abused. They will continually remind the woman what all she has invested, to make sure that cost is uppermost in her mind so that leaving is put on the back burner.

Can you see how this might apply to your manuscripts? You go through critiques, conferences, and contests, all of which you paid for. You labor hours after your day job to get scenes just right. You diligently prepare a synopsis and proposal and revise and edit. All of this represents your time, love, energy, dedication. When that's not received glowingly by an agent or editor, it can be hard to accept...and thus writers can spend an inordinate amount of time trying to market a finished book rather than starting on a new one.

How To Move On

In the abusive relationship example above, there must come a time in the victim's life when she will stop thinking of everything she has already invested and will look to the future, and what all she might be able to save if she jumps ship. The past is the past, and rather than dwell on what you can't get back, it's better to look ahead to what you might potentially get.

See how this can apply to moving on past your finished manuscript? Looking ahead to the next big story you roll out is far better than ruminating on the perceived "wasted time." No time writing is wasted. It's all going to aid in making you a better writer. Book Two (or Twenty) will be even better because you will have learned how to keep additional "costs" at a minimum from Book One.

So go ahead and file that manuscript away in a drawer. It's served it's purpose.

Wordle: signature


Heather Sunseri said...

Hi,Jeannie! This is such great advice. Even when we're still shopping a manuscript, it's best to move on to a new project. Who knows? An agent might like our writing, but not the story and want to see something else. Wouldn't it be nice to have more to show them?

Hope you're doing well, Jeannie! Merry Christmas!

SM Blooding said...

But it's so haaaaarrrrdd!!!

Merry Christmas, Jeannie!!!!



Miss Sharp said...

"No time writing is wasted." A true gem! I only wish my DH would stop saying the opposite. Grrrr

Shannon said...

Hmm, well, that's a really good point. I think that I will have an arbitrary time limit of 'until the end of this month' to finally finish my edits and then I will start writing something else.

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