Friday, November 15, 2013

The Psychological Reason for Why Querying Writers Go Chaotic

It's frequently said that writers, in their querying phase, are quite chaotic. Their nerves are frazzled, they are quick to react, they sleep very little, etc. But hoorah! Psychology has an explanation for this! And while I still can't find a solution to this, at least we know why it occurs!

There's a thing in psychology called operant conditioning. It boils down to the fact that the consequences of your behavior determine whether you continue that behavior or not. So, an example: if a dog gets a treat every time it stands on its hind legs, it'll stand on its hind legs more and more so it gets food (the consequence of his action). This is called positive reinforcement, meaning the dog's behavior (standing on its hind legs) is reinforced or encouraged.

Now, the interesting part:

Operant conditioning can be funneled down to four more categories, but of those four, we'll only concentrate on the two important ones that apply to us writers. They all depend on when the consequence of the action occurs. We'll say that the consequence is a good result (getting food, etc.).

1. Fixed Ratio - Every single (or every second, third, fourth, etc.) time the creature does the action, the reward is given. This leads to incredibly crazed behavior from the creature. Meaning, a pigeon will peck at a spot hundreds of times just to get the food. However, the minute this constant reward stops, the pigeon will almost immediately spot pecking. So if you take away the food, the pigeon stops pecking.

2. Variable Ratio - Ah. The one that causes minds to warp and nerves to twist. The one that makes writers' brains go haywire. I'm laughing just at writing this because of how hilariously diabolical this psychological phenomenon is! This means that reward is given randomly. So, a pigeon can get food on its 1st peck, then its 2nd peck, then its 189th peck, then its 210th peck, then its 1,800th peck. No rhyme or reason as to when the reward will comes (think of slot machines in Vegas - the gambler has no idea on which turn they will get money).

Rewards given on a variable ratio are so, so interesting and applicable to us writers because of one fact: while creatures take up the behavior slower if rewards come randomly, they forget the behavior so, so much slower. Meaning, a pigeon will actually peck at a spot 150,000 times before getting its reward!!!!! They have no idea when the reward will come. It'll come next time. It'll come next time. It'll come next time. They go mad with anticipation. There's no schedule to the reward which makes the pigeon's mind calmer.

A pigeon as the subject of a psych experiment.
(I do not own this picture at all.)
This is what happens to us writers in the querying phase.

"Let me check my email. Let me refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. EMAIL FROM AGENT AHHH!!!! Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh  Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. No, no, no sleep, I have to check my email, who knows when an email has come. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. *Wake up in the middle of the night* Let me check my email. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. *A minute's worth of free time between parking in the garage and walking into the home* Let me check my email. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. *Two days later* EMAIL FROM AGENT AHH!!!"

Do you see what I'm talking about??!?!?!

I find it really, really, really funny. It's diabolical and evil! I'm literally laughing right now because of the sheer evilness of it all :) WE ARE ALL PIGEONS.

Psychologically proven: your 'refresh my email' behavior will take a very, very, very long to time go away specifically because you'll never know when an email from an agent will come in. If agents only sent requests at 5 PM EST, I have no doubt that querying writers will have calmer lives, and more peaceful minds.

But, let's be honest. We didn't become writers to have peaceful minds XD

So now you know the reason behind the craziness of writers in the querying phase! The solution.... I don't know. But at least you know the reason behind it!!!

Hehe, I had fun writing this post :)

Did you guys enjoy this post? What do you think about the psychological state of writeres?


  1. I've actually seen this experiment done with toddlers and lollipops. And yeah, the random reward makes that behavior VERY hard to break.

    My phone buzzed, maybe it's an agent.... nope, spam again.

  2. I have been feeling like a pigeon for a very long time. Now I know why! Time to go poop on someone! Ha ha!

  3. Wow, this makes so much sense! And I'm glad to know that there is psychological reasoning behind the madness....because I do this all the time. I even deleted my email account off of my phone so that I wouldn't check it so much anymore. Now I have to be on the computer to check it, which has actually helped, because I only go on the computer once a day :) Very small solution!

  4. Very interesting, SC. I think you're on to something. :-)

  5. You sound like a psych major. I can say that, because I am one.

  6. Kinda depressing. We'll all go crazy.