One of the most fascinating concepts–to me, anyway–in psychology, is the self-fulfilling prophecy. In a nutshell, it’s an idea or concept that becomes reality, simply because a person believes that it’s true. Sadly, this is more often the case with negative concepts rather than positive ones.
Case in point: Why are people so awestruck when people succeed–despite unlikely or unfavorable circumstances–yet no one is surprised when someone fails given the same?
Why am I bringing this up? Because no one likes to believe that SFPs (as I’ll abbreviate it, because I’m lazy), apply to them. I’m not saying SFPs are the be-all-end-all of a person’s motivation. Certainly not; there are lots of factors at play here. But, there’s no denying that what a person thinks they can do will more often than not be exactly that.
I had a bit of an epiphany a month or so ago. I was working on my novel/novella thingy (wonky word count = no category yet), in hopes of getting it done, edited, and ready to query sometime in the near future.
“Near future” being the key words there…
I was sitting there, staring at the Word doc and thinking, “Sweet Jesus on a velociraptor, this thing is taking me forever! It’s only 40,000ish words [about 120 double-spaced Word pages], and I have writer friends who have cranked out full-length novels [60K-100K words] in a month! I even know one who wrote one in a couple of weeks! Sure, what they wrote isn’t anywhere near final draft form, but neither is what I’m writing, either! Every writer goes at their own pace, but what the hell is wrong with me that I can’t even get this damn thing finished?”
At that point, I started feeling like a full-on failure. I’m not proud to admit it, but there was a pity party, and everyone knows that there ain’t no party like a pity party, ‘cuz a pity party don’t stop.
There was more irrational self-loathing, eating of chocolate, loud wailing, and there might have been some fetal position in there somewhere, but eventually it petered out.
What made it stop? My epiphany. I’m getting there, so hold your horses. Even horses like to be held sometimes.
I asked myself why this manuscript was taking so long, and I couldn’t come up with a good answer, which is really shitty when you’re asking yourself questions–if anyone would know, it’s you. No, I hadn’t lost interest in it; if anything, I was more excited to get it done. No, it wasn’t going to be super-long and there was no end in sight; I estimated that I was less than 10K words from typing “THE END”. Blah, blah, blah…
Even worse, was that I didn’t even have a good answer to why some of my lovely fellow authors had the super-human ability to become writing machines. I mentally spouted bullshit like, “Oh, they’re already published, so they’re more familiar with the process than I am.” Not necessarily true; I edit for a publisher, so I’m familiar with the other end of an author’s journey, even though I haven’t been there as an author myself. And, “They probably have a lot more free writing time, yeah, that’s it.” Again, not necessarily true–many of them have kids, jobs other than writing, and other things that take up a lot of valuable writing time. Again, blah, blah, blah…
So what was it? Why was this manuscript taking forever? The answer was so simple that I was floored when I figured it out.
Here it is: Because I thought it was supposed to.
That’s it. I thought a manuscript, this labor of literary love, was supposed to take a long time to write. I mean, you hear about people who have been working on their manuscript for years, and take even longer than that to get published, so, somewhere along the line, my brain had adopted that as a weird mantra I wasn’t even aware of.
My brain rationally knows that novels will take a bit to write, but somehow that had translated into a ridiculously long time with nebulous ideas of when things like the query process would even take place. Because I believed it, even unconsciously, it was happening for me. My manuscript was taking forever.
Now that I’m aware of this, I can consciously make decisions and take actions that will help combat this SFP.
Have you ever experienced a self-fulfilling prophecy, whether it’s about writing or anything else?