JAN BROGAN: I've always thought that novel-writing was a little like delivering a baby. Your brain has to deliberately forget all the pain and agony of the event so that you'd consider doing it again.
A new study on motivation (Haung et al, 2010), posted by my favorite blog, PSYBLOG seems to confirm this. It's all now official: the motivated mind often steps in with some helpful trickery.
If the new goal is to be achieved, it must be made to seem less daunting. In other words, if viewed realistically, babies wouldn't be born and novels wouldn't be written.
In the study, participants were told they were going to be involved in an ongoing effort to collect one thousand t-shirts to send to refugees in Haiti. To make sure they were motivated, they were given a lot of background on how important their task was, how desperate the state of refugees, and in particular, how severe a lack of basic clothing.
One group of participants were shown only two full boxes of t-shirts already collected, simulating the feeling we get at the start of a big project, i.e. that there is still a lot of work to do.
These participants coped with this by over-estimating the number of t-shirts already in the bag. In fact, in comparison to an unmotivated control group who thought there were, on average, 92 in the box, those motivated souls committed to the task estimated there were 220 t-shirts.
The overestimating made them feel that the goal was more attainable. A self-delusional jump start.
Towards the end of the project, study participants also had a habit of keeping themselves motivated to completion by under-estimating the progress they had already made. This helped them push themselves on harder as they approached the goal, when the temptation is to slack off.
In other words, we lie to ourselves both to start and to finish.
This all makes perfect sense to me, especially since I am reading the Steve Jobs biography and learning about his reality distortion field. But how about you? Have you ever tricked yourself into starting or completing a goal?
ROSEMARY HARRIS: Happens every time I start a hike! "This isn't that long...I've gone farther at a higher altitude. Look, I've already gone 20% of the way!" It doesn't work quite as well for me with writing - as in "Whaddaymean it's ONLY 300 pages?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, yeah. Every time. "Oh, sure, I can write five hundred words a day starting NOW and the book will be finished ahead of schedule." Ha, ha. Only problem is I never have any idea what I'm doing at the beginning of the book... but if we didn't underestimate how hard it was going to be, I don't know how we'd ever get up the nerve to start.
LUCY BURDETTE: Oh of course, it's fun in the beginning! Anything is possible. We're getting ideas like crazy and thinking of crimes and suspects. Only later does it become clear that we really had NOTHING. Little snatches of ideas with nothing figured out... I'm in that stage now where I need another 50 pages at least--but I've long since outrun my synopsis.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Are you kidding me? Tricking myself is an integral part of my entire life. My clocks are set fast so I'm not late. I SET THE CLOCKS. And then I "forget." I don't enter my whole paycheck to my checking register--so I think I have less money than I really have. I'M THE ONE WHO ENTERS THE DEPOSITS. I believe my own stratagems. Oh, and I hide money from myself. I stash $20.00 in a little pocket of my wallet, just in case. I put it there! But I always forget, and then when I need, it, I'm SO happy! About writing? I don't need to trick myself. The fear works just fine.
HALLIE EPHRON: Until I started writing fiction, I was one of those annoying people who got everything finished early. Projects. Thank you cards. College essays. It wasn't hard; I just did it. I found it calming to know I was ahead of my deadlines.
The problem with a book is that the deadline when you start is SO FAR OFF. Now I'm a ditherer, and no 'trick' other than a deadline bearing down on me can get me to buckle down and write. And sometimes even that doesn't work unless I already have figured out what happens next.
RHYS BOWEN: I can't trick myself when it comes to writing. I'm in full blown panic mode at the start of every single book. The voice in my head whispers "You'll never get this story going. It won't be long enough. You'll say all you want to in 50 pages. It will be a horrible failure and they'll want their advance back." So the first 50 pages are like pulling teeth. Then there is a glimmer of hope. I see my way ahead. I start to write faster and with more confidence. By page 150 we are romping along merrily. I'm on my 29th mystery now and you'd think I'd realize that I know how to do it. But I've found that I need the panic mode to make me work. Several friends say the same.Nut cases, all of us.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I suspect in my case it's less "tricking myself" than blindly and optimistically planning that I'll be able to write to my max word count every day and that nothing in the rest of my life will interfere with my work. HA. I have to confess, I do the same when I plan to drive somewhere. If Google maps says it takes one hour fifteen minutes, I'll assume traffic is non-existent AND that I'll pick up time by speeding on the highways. Result: always arriving late and harried. Why do I keep doing this I don't know.
JAN: Yes, Julia, I do the same exact thing whenever I go somewhere and I never understood why I did it. Predictably. Almost compulsively. Then, in my last book, Teaser, my addictive protagonist, Hallie Ahern, became dependent on the adrenaline rush of danger (think the Kennedy clan) and I thought - okay, now I've written something I really can't relate to, because I don't even like the thrill of boardwalk rides. But then one day as I was racing around, leaving myself no time and getting harried in traffic, the thought occurred to me: Maybe I'm doing this for the adreneline rush. I mean, why else would I put myself through this all the time?
But that's some other study I'm sure! How about everyone else out there? What mind games do you play to get your goals accomplished?
REMINDER: Melissa Robbins, your name was chosen to win a copy of No Way to Kill a Lady by Nancy Martin. Please email me at Janbrog@comcast.net with your snail mail address so Nancy can send you a copy. Thanks!