What Keeps You Going?


As complicated as we humans are, there are certain rules that hold true for pretty much everyone. For instance, we don't do things for no reason. Whether it's conscious or not, we do things for some kind of payoff (or to avoid some type of negative consequence). This is why "they" tell you to not shower your child with attention when they are acting out--don't give them a reward for a bad behavior. This is also why you know not to touch a hot stove--you want to avoid the consequence.
For those of you who took Psyc 101, you'll recognize this as behavior theory or operant conditioning.
So why am I going all psyc student on you? Because the other day I read Tina Lynn's post on the difficult journey of trying to get published and the fact that even if the dream comes true, we're most likely not going to be rich and famous or anything. It got me to wondering, what keeps up going despite the bleak outlook and lack of monetary reward? Are we just stupid?
So let me insult everyone and compare us to rats...
There are four factors that determine if a rat/person will continue to do a certain behavior:
1. Satiation/Deprivation
Rats: If a rat is really hungry and the reward is food, then he's more likely to perform whatever action. However, if he's full, he will be less motivated.
Writers: We are STARVED for publication, so we are like those girls on Survivor, taking our clothes off for a spoonful of peanut butter.
2. Immediacy
Rats: If the reward is given right after the behavior, the rats are more likely to perform. If it's delayed, they aren't as motivated
Writers: There is very little immediacy for us. Writing and editing take time, query responses can take months (if you ever get a response). If you're lucky enough to get a agent--then the shopping to publishers takes time and it still may not sell. Then if you do sell, to get on the shelf takes even longer. Which means--we're dumber than rats in this respect. :) However, I think this is also one reason we get crit groups and blog--this offers small bouts of immediate gratification to keep us going--we'll take crumbs.
3. Contingency
Rats: If the food pellet is offered every time they hit the lever, they're more likely to keep doing it. If it only happens some of the time, they won't do it as much.
Writers: We hit that lever over and over and over again hoping someone will dish out a pellet. Even though the big one hasn't come out yet, we're still hopeful. We're also happy if just a bit comes out (a good crit, a nice comment, a breakthrough in writing our plot , a personalized rejection letter, etc.) We have this in common with slot machine players--one day we could hit the jackpot.
4. Size
Rats: If the reward is lame, the rat isn't that motivated. Give that rodent a big hunk of cheese and he's good to go.
Writers: The reward is HUGE, if elusive. Having a professional believe in our writing, getting published, seeing our name on a book, having others read what we wrote and enjoy it, being able to do what we love for a living, etc. I think this, above all, is what keeps many of us on the path.
So in a lab, we wouldn't be the smartest rats, but at least we're dedicated, right? Why am I telling you all of this? Well, first it's because I'm a psychology nerd. But really it's because when you get down or feel like giving up, remember these things. Go seek out some crumbs--talk to your crit group, focus on the positives you've experienced, think about the end goal.
Earlier this week I was having one of those days where I just felt down. Why am I doing this? Will this ever happen? Do I totally suck? Am I wasting my time? I love to write, but should I be more practical? Blah, blah, blah.
Then, I got two positive crits back from my group on chapters. This perked me up and I felt a little better. However, I still was feeling frustrated. I did the whole--I need some kind of sign, universe. And seriously, later that day, I was answered.
I received a full request on Wanderlust from a publisher (who will remain nameless, but let's just say I'm beyond thrilled.) So the rat inside me ran around in circles because I got a big chunk of cheddar. And my motivation was renewed. Now I have enough juice in my tank to wait the months to hear back and to continue writing my next manuscript.
So what about you? What keeps you going despite the adversity? If you're having a bad day, what turns it around for you? If you knew you would never get published, would you still write?

**Today's Theme Song**

"Bullet with Butterfly Wings" - Smashing Pumpkins
AKA Despite All My Rage I am Still Just a Rat in a Cage
(player in sidebar if you'd like a listen)