…by Janet Lane
L. M. May wrote in her blog yesterday about fiction writers and learned helplessness. In it, she discussed the theory of learned helplessness which was developed by American psychologist Martin Seligman in the sixties.
May presented a powerful visual in which we hold our query letters, partials or entire manuscripts in our hands and place them in a large red box. (Imagine a shoe box only larger—a boot box, perhaps.)
We begin our submissions career by shoving the precious bundle of our work in this “box” for an agent or editor, and one of three things happens: a) It’s rejected and we get a painful electrical shock; b) We receive no response and nothing happens or c) We get a request for more or a contract and we’re injected with an opiate.
Like lab rats, the process is repeated over and over again over the course of an author’s career. The pattern is burned in our brains.
Enter the new publishing world, with independent publishing as a viable option, and what happens?
Like Pavlov’s dog with a twist, we’re stuck in the brain pattern of timidity and fear learned over time, and we fear the very gift we’ve been given as writers: a new option in which we have more control over how and when our beloved novels are shared with the world.
That we’ve suffered through a market that’s grossly out of balance with supply and demand is not news. What May has offered us, is the power of knowledge, the chance to break free from this pattern of learned helplessness.
May posits that writers have developed coping mechanisms to counteract the learned helpless. Mechanisms like contests to see who can send out the most submissions in a week, for example, or how many rejections one can accumulate in a month. “The games help writers keep writing and also provide a way tocope with the pain of “No” until a thicker emotional skin develops,” says May.
This is all good to know as we consider the Brave New World of e-books, Kindle, and new contract options when marketing our novels.
How do you cope with rejection? Have a fun contest or game you can share with us? Please comment!