Skip to main content

It's a Writer Thing -- It's All About Control

This is a guest post by Jessica Bayliss. 


Hello lovely writers! Welcome back to my It’s a Writer Thing mini-series on stimulus control and generalizability. As you may recall, I’m a clinical psychologist, which means I get to take advantage of all those great psychological theories and put them to work for me in my writing, and I want to share that with you.

In my last two posts, I talked about the benefit of ingraining a very powerful urge to write by creating a habit. Writing under the same circumstances every day for a few weeks can create stimulus control in which the environment triggers our writing behavior. But I also cautioned that we can sometimes hinder ourselves if we limit our writing to only that special circumstance. We don’t want to limit ourselves! We want to be productive no matter where we are, right? So, to avoid that, once we’ve established a good habit, we need to vary our writing environment (while still sticking with our routine) so we can train ourselves to write under a variety of stimuli. This will allow for optimal productivity.

Today, I want to add in two new concepts: cognitive control and locus of control.


DEFINITIONS:


Cognitive Control: The way people’s behavior can be driven by mental constructs such as plans, instructions, goals, and prior events. It also refers to the way our behavior can vary in real time, allowing it to change as our plans, goals, and values (etc.) vary. This allows our behavior as a whole to be flexible instead of rigid.

Locus of Control: In other words, to whom or what we attribute our success (or failure). Is it because of things inside of us (i.e., internal locus of control) or things outside of us (i.e., external locus of control)?

How does this all fit in with stimulus control and generalizability?

STEP 1:


First off, we must recognize that external stimuli impact our behavior. That’s exactly why stimulus control and generalizability work, right? Whether we’re talking writing behavior, eating behavior, study habits, whether we get on Facebook or get to work on that MS instead, we can’t ignore the impact of external factors on what we do. If we try to, we’re losing out on some potentially helpful stuff and maybe even setting ourselves up for failure (like if we minimize the impact of a coworker bringing donuts to work when we’re trying to count calories).

So, step 1, just remember that external factors impact us.

STEP 2:


External factors don’t have to be the end-all be-all of our behavior. Yes, stimulus control is powerful, but so is your brain. We need to remember that the executive control of our behavior lies within us. 

All too often I hear people saying things like: 

I can’t work out today, because I got stuck in traffic. Or 

There’s no point eating a healthy lunch because I’m going to have an unhealthy dinner. Or 

There’s no point writing; I’ve only got a half hour and I need at least 45 minutes to make it work. Or 

Why try to write? My kids are being all loud and making a mess.


What do all of these situations have in common? They all are examples of external locus of control. In other words, they’re all examples of situations where we assume the external environment has the ultimate power to decide what we do.

Cognitive control is like our trump card, the one that bypasses all of these barriers. By putting the locus of control back inside us, we exert cognitive control. Instead of letting the environment drive our behavior, we can use other important stimuli to drive it instead. Stimuli like: our goals, our values, our decisions, our plans, our prior preparations, the deadline we committed to with our editor/agent/critique partner.

Stimulus control and generalizability are tools to increase our writing by training our behavior around external stimuli. They’re perfect for helping us get productive. Cognitive control and an internal locus of control mindset are tools to overcome barriers and stay productive even if the environment isn’t aligned in our most optimal set-up. 

Your comfy chair and tatty robe won’t write your story for you, right? YOU write your story. And you can do it whether you’re in the perfect spot or in your really uncomfortable work clothes or surrounded by a lot of distraction or with a glass water instead of a huge-ass mug of coffee or jazz instead of polka (you know who you are). 

No matter how powerful the stimuli in our environments, we are always the ones with the executive control. We are in the driver’s seat. We get to veto all the other stuff and put our brains to work for us. So, when I use the mantra shared with me by my dear friend, You can do it! You can write!, I’m literally invoking our powers of cognitive control. 


This concludes my mini-series on stimulus control and generalizability. How will you put these powerful psychological tools to work for you and your writing? Feel free to leave a post in the comments and share.

Thanks to Amber Gregg for hosting my posts on her fabulous site, “Judging More than Just The Cover,” and don’t forget…

You can do it! You can write!



Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially her husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease an ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand. 







Popular posts from this blog

El Deafo | Cece Bell

And being different? That turned out to the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.”
Genre: Middle Grade Graphic Novel/Memoir. Number of Pages: 233. Perspective: First. Location: Virginia.
This graphic novel follows the author throughout her time as a young girl in the 1970s and her experiences losing her hearing from meningitis at the age of four. She learns how to make friends and accept herself. For a complete summary, you can go here.
This was a beautiful story about someone who copes with becoming deaf. I took an American Sign Language course in college and we talked a lot about the deaf culture; it was interesting to learn about some of the daily challenges that someone who is deaf faces. This book explains those challenges in a way that children can understand and relate to. We have come a long way with accessibility since the 70s, but we all could use …

5 Reasons Why I Hate Book Series

Many of you know that I hate book series. If at all possible, I try to stick to stand-alone novels. A few rare trilogies land on my bookshelf and an even rarer few get a good review. Here are my reasons why I hate trilogies: 

1. The first book is perfected.

Authors have an unlimited amount of time to perfect the first book. They may have many rewrites and rejections before it is finally accepted by a publisher. By that point, the book should be pristine. The author may not have a deal with the publisher for a series yet, but once the first book proves its worth, the publisher will definitely ask for the rest of the series. Depending on the popularity, the author will be forced to get the next books out quickly—unless you are George R.R. Martin. There will be less time to perfect the story and it will be sent out without many rewrites, as to appease the fan-base. As a result, the rest of the series suffers in comparison to the debut. 
2. The waiting is torture. 

Part of the reason why the …

My Journey with Scoliosis [and related book reviews]

I have scoliosis. That is a fact and it is a part of my identity. I am on a continuous journey to correct my spinal curve. Part of this journey is educating myself and figuring out which approach I should take next. So I received and reviewed several books on scoliosis ( I will be adding more as time goes on). But before I can begin my reviews, I think it is important that I share my own personal journey with scoliosis. 
I was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curve in my spine, when I was about eight years old. It was purely an accident. My mom was seeing a chiropractor for her own slight curvature, and I was playing around on the scales when the doctor noticed that when I stood on two scales, one foot on each, one side of my body weighed significantly more than the other. So he decided to give me an X-ray. My curve was noticeable at that time, but it became more severe as time went on. The worst was during puberty when I hit a growth spurt. In several years, my spinal curve increased almos…

Hex | Thomas Olde Heuvelt

“Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay 'til death. Whoever settles, never leaves."
Genre: Horror. Number of Pages: 384. Perspective: Third. Location: New York.
Hex is the story of a town that is cursed by a witch with her eyes and mouth sewn shut. She shows up in houses and just stands and stares for days at a time. The people of the town can never leave and are plagued by the fear of what would happen if the witch’s eyes and mouth are ever opened. For a complete summary, you can go here.
This book started off kind of funny and light-hearted. The middle starts to get a little creepy and suspenseful, and the end is downright strange. It was an enjoyable book, but you’ll have to wait a long time for the climax. The bulk of the action happens in the last 50 pages. For me, that felt rushed and left me with more questions than answers. 
Hex was originally written in Dutch and translated to English. With that in mind, I am utterly impressed with the flow and readability of the story. Th…

Ten Things Writers Need to Know

This is a guest post by Heather Weidner. I was asked recently what advice I would give to someone who wants to write. Here’s my list…
1. Read. Read. Read. 

Read everything you can get your hands on. Learn about the genre. Learn about techniques and style. See what works and what doesn't.



2. Seek out writers like you. 

Find a writers' group. I write mysteries, so Sisters in Crime was a perfect fit. I am also in the online community, Guppies. They have tons of resources and advice. And they are so supportive and helpful. 
3. There are a lot of books out there on the craft of writing. 
My favorite is Stephen King's On Writing. Invest in books that help you. But use your library too. FREE is good.



4. If you are serious about writing, find a critique group. 
It's an investment in your time to read the submissions. Make sure that the feedback is helpful. Critiques need to be constructive and not personal. My critique group specializes in mysteries and crime fiction. And that works fo…