Sunday, September 25, 2011

~ Decision Fatigue ~

Are your daily choices hurting your writing?

Death by 1000 Choices

NYTimes article on decision fatigue reveals some interesting ramifications for writers. [Skip to "For Writers."]

What is decision fatigue? 

The Times article begins with an anecdote: Three prisoners are appealing for parole. The first appears before the judge at 8:50 AM, the second at 3:10 PM, and the third at 4:25 PM.

Only the prisoner who appears first is granted parole.

Why? Basically, the judge's decision fatigue screwed the last two prisoners.

Decision fatigue is the effect of making decisions throughout the day, the depletion of your "finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control" [Times 2]. Willpower isn't a personality constant. Rather, it's in constant flux, and those who exert it early in the day will find it depleted for afternoon and evening tasks.

Decision fatigue usually leads to two responses:
  1. Making reckless decisions (impulsiveness).
  2. Doing nothing (procrastination).

Thus, the judge paroles the first prisoner while his decision-making reserve his high--in the morning--and declines the second two appeals in the afternoon--procrastinating, since they can appeal again. Other decisions from 8 o'clock on have depleted his reserve.

This reserve of willpower can be replenished:
  1. Get enough sleep.
  2. Eat breakfast and small snacks throughout the day: Studies show that an injection of glucose will re-energize the brain's capacity for good decision-making.
  3. Save big decisions for the morning, when your capacity for good choices is up.
  4. Conserve willpower by creating habits: A constant schedule--for getting up, work, eating, exercise, relaxation, and bedtime--will let you bypass small daily decisions, keeping your reserve high for extraneous or urgent decisions you might face. Like hiring someone, or buying a car, or cutting a plotline or character from your novel.
Ramifications of decision fatigue for writers.

Img from Word Wenches
There are three major parts of the writing process: research, drafting, and revision.

In research and drafting mode, the most important thing is getting the butt in chair. Motivation can be a major problem here. (Tips on motivation for writers.) But motivation can also be entwined with decision fatigue. Imagine you've been going about your day making great decisions, carefully resisting Twitter and Facebook, resisting temptations to snack or chat with coworkers or watch the news, etc.

Now, come evening, you must decide whether to put butt in chair. If your decision tank is low, you might 1. recklessly decide to write 10K words (drafting mode) or read an entire book on ghosts in the 18th century (research mode), thus blowing off, say, the report for work due tomorrow or the kids' soccer game you told them you'd attend... Either way, such impulsive decisions often lead to ineffective writing. Or you might 2. decide to research/write later. Procrastinate.

In revision mode, the butt-in-chair decision is equally important. But then you're hit with a milieu of tiny decisions that, if you're deep into decision fatigue, might make your butt-in-chair time essentially useless. You might recklessly decide that you're overusing the word stab: instead of checking each occasion by reading the context to decide whether it works, you impulsively find and replace. You might recklessly cut a chapter or plotline you're annoyed with because this is easier than fixing it; you decide to summarize, present that scene off-screen. Or you decide to leave it in and deal with it later. Let your betas find it. Procrastinate.

Don't write under the influence of decision fatigue!


Replenish your decision-making reserve before writing:
  1. Get enough sleep.
  2. Eat a small snack about 15 minutes before writing: This glucose injection will re-energize your brain's capacity for good decision-making. 
  3. Save big revisions for the morning, when your capacity for good choices is up. If you have a huge decision to make on a WIP, plan to do it in the morning.
  4. Conserve willpower by creating habits: A constant schedule--for waking, writing, work, eating, exercise, relaxation, and bedtime--will let you bypass small daily decisions, keeping your reserve high for extraneous or urgent decisions you might face. Like cutting a plotline or character from your novel.
  5. Query in the morning! Query when your decision-making tank is full, just as if you were sending out an important resume or doing an interview.

Do you suffer from decision fatigue? Do hundreds of daily choices zap your ability to make important WIP decisions? How do you replenish your tank or fortify your brain against decision fatigue?

Further reading:

Take a poll! Help Less Wrong research decision fatigue and akrasia (lack of willpower).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On the Commercialization of Hate
-- Pardon My Rant --

All right, pretty cool commercial. 
Clean design, smart graphics, brief, edgy.
And for those of us who can't stand the buffering wait, bang on.

But is anybody else outraged by this flippant commercialization of hate? --An emotional force responsible for mundane violence at best. At its worst, it's the seed of racism, murder, war, and genocide.

Obviously, this marketing team has brilliantly captured my attention; thus the commercial is doing its job--making me think of Verizon. But I wonder if it's in the company's best interest for its audience to associate a morally reprehensible marketing campaign like this with its own name and branding: Hate equals Verizon Wireless.

In this age, "going viral" means "being edgy." And success is a matter of viewer numbers. But using "hate" as your catchword crosses a line.

Can't we do without the hate?
Know of any other campaigns with similar strategies?
What's your opinion on the issue?

Friday, September 16, 2011

In light of the
Davis Monthan Lockdown

True Story

A few months ago, I was on my way to sunny California with a friend who worked at Building 4300, the Civil Engineering building at D-M, also called "The Old Dorm." We stopped outside so she could print off a copy of her insurance before the trip. I waited in the car.

A few minutes later, an airman in camouflage stuck his head out the door. Looked right. Left. Looked directly at me. He emerged, shoulders stiff and hunched, hefting an AK-47, thankfully pointed downward. I'd never seen a weapon like that in real life. Sweat started on my forehead; it had nothing to do with the AC being off or the hot Arizona sun.

I had my ID on me, but it wasn't easily accessible. It was packed in the trunk.

The airman in BDUs tracked the perimeter of the building, body coiled, ready for combat. My breath was coming fast by the time he approached the car and tapped hard on the window.

Davis Monthan AFB
"See some ID?" he said.

I stammered, explaining where it was. I made to open the door to get out of the car.

"Don't!" he barked as my fingers touched the door handle. "Stay where you are!" His gun rose slightly and I froze. He backed toward the building, weapon still trained just lower than my seat. His eyes were fixed on me until the moment he slipped inside.

I had no idea what to do. I could only hope it was a drill . . . Did I look suspicious? Was my ID expired?

It turned out to be a joke, I discovered when my friend returned, bristling but amused. "I told him it was stupid," she said.

"Yeah." I felt light-headed. "You think." Frankly, I was pissed.


There is an old, partially wood-body AK-47 hanging in the Civil Engineering Building at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, insides gutted and welded shut. The worst you could do with it is smash somebody over the head.

My suspicion: It made quite the national hoopla today.

From various news sources: "Armed intruder . . . . Man carrying an AK-47 . . . Base is on lock down . . . Man holed-up in the Civil Engineering Building . . . No shots fired." 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eh... Where the eff is the Hook?
*Gouges eyeballs out*

Good novels, like good short stories, contain:

  1. About 250 words per MS page
  2. Interesting, sympathetic characters
  3. Plot or through-line
  4. A hook!

Yes, that thing is bold, underlined, italicized, & exclamation-pointed for extra sparkly emphasis.

The hook needs to be near the beginning of your story if you care about Impulsive readers like me. The shorter the story, the closer to the beginning.

I've been reading Legends, edited by Robert Silverberg, an anthology including stories by Robert Jordan, Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K LeGuin, etc. The Greats. Unfortunately, I'm disappointed by these most beloved authors. At the entree of each new story, I have to grit my teeth and bulldoze through by sheer force of will. Why? I mulled and mulled, and then discovered something (as one is wont to do while mulling).

In Legends, the Greats are at a disadvantage. Their stories are set in pre-made worlds; they have at their disposal more backstory than perhaps Rowling herself had at then end of Deathly Hallows. Sometimes, this wealth of backstory becomes a crutch.

By and large, the Greats rely on their own names, their fame, and their pre-made worlds to hook readers. But in doing so, they allow their story's hook -- that which compels us by desire and intrigue to read on -- to go by the wayside. This, I realized, is why I wanted to stab myself in the eye while reading much of Legends.

The remedy:

  1. Don't forget the hook.
  2. Open with intrigue. Readers are curious and will respond favorably to even the tiniest (arguably, the tinier the better) hint at bigger, stranger, more wonderful things to come.
  3. Two types of hooks. Hooks can be plot-driven or character-driven, as can books. Know what drives your book, and open with the respective hook. (Unless, of course, you knowingly decide to red herring us; then open with the opposite. *grins*)
  4. Hook us in the first paragraph. A little something to perk up our innately curious ears.
  5. Hook us again. At the end of that first scene, plant another hook, hopefully tying in the first and lacing the story with theme.
  6. Hook us again. Yep, you got it. Next scene, a third beat. Another clearly identifiable plot point.

But isn't this too obvious? Too predictable? I ask you -- when you look at a house, do you expect roof, walls, foundation, windows, doors? And if you found these missing? Um... a thing without roof, walls, foundation, windows, doors -- What is that, like, air?

STRUCTURE IS ESSENTIAL. To houses. And stories.

And the HOOK is an essential part of that structure.

I beg you, weave the backstory later -- weave it well -- and open instead with hook and hook and more hook or you will be sued by readers gouging out their eyes.

And because I believe in reward driving motivation & resulting action, I'll put it this way. Can you spot the hook?

Img by Zynga Games

For further reading:
A great post on the hook by @Mooderino: "The Little Hook."

If you know of any other hook posts, please leave them in the comments and I'll list them! Thank you!!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The 7X7 Link Award

Oooo, it's all sparkly and colorful!
From the lovely Nancy S. Thompson. Thank you!
You should go visit her.

Blog awards are sometimes a bit wanting in bang for buck, but I like this one. It homes in on a blogger's best posts, in her own opinion, of course. The nice thing here is that readers can easily navigate to important posts without the hassle of searches. The award requires that I list posts categorically. Hope you enjoy!!

Most Beautiful:
"Thoughts on the Eve"
A Christmastime car ride up the west coast.

Most Helpful:
"A Query Checklist"
See if your query conforms to the basic-basics.

A slew of tools for getting your writing mojo on.

Most Controversial:
On the evolution of language and literature in this age.

Most Surprisingly Successful:
    "GUTGAA Blogfest - First 200 Words Contest"
Didn't really imagine so many amazing blogfesters would be hopping over
 to help me perfect those first 200 words of Dark Mettle.

Most Underrated:
    "A Dangerous Cocktail"
Kind of a rant on the idea of love...

Most Pride-worthy:
    "Starfall 1st Draft Complete: The Writerly Rush"
First time really cracking down and finishing a WIP.

*Clears throat*
And now I hereby bestow this award upon the under-mentioned (mostly b/c they're great friends & I'd love to see their posts).

1. Kara  at Playing Beethoven
2. Jaye at Hanging on to Wonder
3. Unikorna at Why I Wake Up Every Day
4. Jen at Unedited
5. Angelina at YAScribe

Hope y'all play along!! xoxo

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Future of Gaming . . .

So one of my beautiful crit partners emailed me today with this link, saying it reminded her of my WIP.

Thanks to Jaye Robin Brown, lovely #wipmadness host this month, I finished the book this morning in a writing duel with Angelina C. Hansen. We finished simultaneously!! How crazy is that?

Anyway, here's the vid:

Warning: May not be suitable for all ages.

But it's pretty sweet. And it does remind me of Jaffrey Pewitt, first underage full Watcher of Area 7.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why don't I want to write??

The Motivation Equation
For Writers

Note: The motivation equation is not my original idea.
Furthermore, this post is almost entirely derivative of the cited articles.
I urge you to check them out. Go to Referenced Articles.


How to increase your desire to write.

Research has proven that motivation and procrastination can be mapped in the human brain using the motivation equation. 

the procrastination equation
Original article by Luke at Less Wrong

Let's look at a story. 

The house is a mess today. Anna grabs her coffee, chugs it black, and runs a hand through snarled hair. She paces between the refrigerator and cluttered dining table awash with bills, manuscripts, writing group excerpts, a mountain of agent rejections, advertisements, magazines, day-old dishes, yes, even stacks of t-shirts, socks, and underwear. Her laptop is somewhere under all that mess.

So is her Middle Grade novel, entering its climax. But who knows whether, if she sits down to write, the words will come out. Who knows whether, if she manages to finish the climax, the novel will need massive revisions. Who knows whether, if she slogs through those revisions, the book will be any good at all, good enough to snag an agent, snag a publisher, snag a readership. And what will all that do for her, anyway? Does any author actually make money today on their work? Is there a point?

She downs a second cup of coffee and decides to do yoga instead.

Mapping Anna's story

Let's map Anna's story in terms of the motivation equation.

E: Anna's Expectancy is very low. She has finished two books, sent them out prematurely with poor query letters to a random selection of agents, and received the corresponding number of rejections. In effort to push herself to write, she stacked them by her computer. Every time she writes, she thinks about them inadvertently. Thus, she does not expect to succeed with this book either, since history has taught her that her efforts fail.

V: Anna does not find her writing time, her butt-in-chair time, very valuable. She doesn't see much in the way of long-term benefits, either, and she's certainly not interested in the large amount of cleaning it would take to actually have a habitable work space. The Value ascribed to writing is very low.

D: The Delay Anna envisions between today's butt-in-chair writing time and any pay-off whatsoever seems to be quite large. True, she might upchuck a few words. She might even finish the book. But since she doesn't find either valuable considering her inhibitingly low Expectancy value, the Delay period until she reaps the heartening rewards for her efforts overwhelms desire to sit down this morning.

I: This factor depends largely on the person. A more Impulsive person will be easily distracted from chosen tasks. A more focused person will have a smaller default Impulsiveness and will need to put in less work to stay on task. Additionally, Impulsiveness can be thought of as one's sensitivity to Delay and reward. Anna's default Impulsiveness isn't written into this story, but one might glean from the state of the dining table that it's somewhat higher than average. Add to that the obvious desire for elusive reward, and you get a high level of Impulsiveness, crippling when multiplied by her perceived skyrocketing Delay.

Avoiding procrastination:

Let's help Anna avoid future procrastination and demotivating attitudes by increasing factors E and V and decreasing D and I. There's robust evidence that these brain states can be changed with practice.

Increase Expectancy with....

1. "Success Spirals." Make small, achievable, but still challenging goals. Note when you achieve them. I like Angelina C. Hansen's "Sentence Pact: Write one sentence. Success! Write another sentence. More success! Repeat." Make sure to decide ahead of time that meeting these small goals counts. Note them, count them, and continue this positive reinforcement over a period of time.

2. "Vicarious Victory." Science proves your mind absorbs the belief in victory just by observing it happen. Watch sporting events, not for team victory but for the players' skill at ball-handling or endurance, etc. Writers, go to readings and listen. Watch someone else write. Weird, but it syncs writing with accomplishment in the mind. Go to the bookstore and pick up books. Don't look at who wrote them. Just feel them in your hands. Let your brain see and feel victory.

3. "Mental Contrasting." THIS WORKS. Watch this video. IT WORKS. But you have to practice. I'm trying very small tasks using this option, one-a-day, increasing my brain's ability to be pulled toward tasks rather than being pushed toward them. I used this step to write this long blog post for writers!

Increase Value with....

1. "Flow." You know that complete joy that can come when you're in the process, feeling the flow of creativity? Practice entering this flow! Free-writing is good to get brain juices going, but it's also good for flow. You can set up your brain to desire this flow by, for instance, practicing free-writing. Recognize that all you want is to train your brain to equate writing anything with flow, and to equate flow with value.

2. "Meaning and Passion." Of course, if you're a writer, you probably know why you write. Lots of us just have to tell stories and bring characters to life, and that's meaning in itself. Maybe we have something to say; then inject this something into your story's theme. Why do you write? Remind yourself of meaning before you put butt-in-chair. While you're driving. While you're walking. Tweet it! Sing it out! And this brings me to...

3. "Rewards." Reward yourself for meeting little goals, for completing little tasks. Reward yourself for thinking about writing...  But only if your thought is "I genuinely want to write." Not "God, I need to write." "Good freaking Lord, I haven't written anything all day." Those last two are struggle-infused push thoughts and not naturally-motivating pull thoughts. There's a huge difference.

--How do you reward yourself? Smile. Inwardly or, better yet, outwardly. Laugh! Tweet! (I <3 Twitter.) Jump! Clap! Seriously. I know it's silly, but do this. Let the anticipation build between thought and butt-in-chair action. Eventually, you'll feel like you can't stop yourself from writing. That craving you get for a big, creamy, deliciously happy cupcake? You'll get that kind of visceral desire for writing.

Decrease Delay and your sensitivity to it by....

1. "Setting goals." Which you get to reward upon completion! Little ones, remember.

2. I love #wipmadness for this. Wipmadness was originally engineered by Denise Jaden and is currently hosted by Jaye Robin Brown. You set weekly goals (which for me turn into daily goals), and meet or struggle with them to a round of cheers and encouragements from fellow tweeps and writer/bloggers.

3. Weekly writing groups are an absolute must. Think how a writing group increases Expectancy -- you consistently succeed in bringing in 10 pages, more or less polished, for constructive critique. And Value -- you hopefully like the people you're working with. Seeing them light up with encouragement and ideas for your WIP is thrilling. And it decreases Delay. Once a week, you get the satisfaction of bringing in material. (Check out my crit girls: the lovely and talented Leigh Madrid & Karin Tobiason.)

Pull not Push

If you're like me, you may have trained your brain into doing things by pushing yourself rather than feeling a  natural positive energy to accomplish a task.

Kaj_Sotala has written a full article on this. I recommend reading it, as it shows how continually pushing yourself to do something you're naturally unmotivated to do (check the motivation equation for deets) can train your brain into confusion. It will equate pain (instead of pleasure) with tasks that bring accomplishment and success. No wonder writers burn out! "Pushing yourself" might feel intuitive -- "If I don't write, I can't call myself a writer, so I'd better write" -- but long-term this kind of brain state is harmful.

Check out PJ's Mind-Hack video on mental contrasting for a sure-fire way to begin retraining your brain to feel desire (pull) for writing.

Referenced articles:

1. How to Beat Procrastination
2. Pain and Gain Motivation
3. PJ's Mind-Hacking Video