This and next Wednesday will be a 2-part installment regarding writing and psychology.
Originally developed by Aaron Beck and later popularized by David Burns, cognitive distortions are, often, automatic thoughts that promote negative feelings. These feelings can seem real, but they are truly based on negative thought patterns rather than facts. Cognitive distortions are a common roadblock hit during psychotherapy, and the goal is to replace the negative thought patterns with more positive, rational ones.
In other words, cognitive distortions cause us to feel as though something is wrong and keep us reinforcing the negative ideas.
There are fifteen cognitive distortions. I will talk about eight this week and seven next. And I’d like to discuss them in terms of something all writers face—rejection. As I’ve heard many times, it is getting that first acceptance that is the toughest, and it often takes many, many, many rejections to get it. That many repetitions of “Sorry, your work just wasn’t right for us” can cause very negative feelings indeed. My goal with these two posts is to introduce cognitive distortions so that you may recognize them and not let them get the better of you and, most importantly, keep you from continuing to submit.
Here we go.
1. Filtering – Filtering is the process of taking all of the details of a situation, filtering out the positive ones so that only the negative ones remain, and amplifying the negative ones as much as possible.
“I was rejected. They said my work wasn’t right. They’re not going to publish my work. They don’t want my work.”
Never mind if the publisher/lit mag/agent/whoever also said that your concept was interesting or that your writing was pristine or that they provided feedback to help spruce up your work. With filtering, all that matters is those negative details and cramming as many of them into your brain as possible.
Solution - Find the positives and cram them into your head, forcing the negatives to make room and eventually leave.
2. Polarized Thinking – Polarized thinking is thinking in black and white.
“I’m the most amazing, talented, interesting writer in the world.”
“My writing is the absolute worst thing that has ever been written in the history of the universe.”
At first glance, this doesn’t look so bad. We categorize a lot of things in black and white, right? Murder is bad. Water is good. However if you look a little deeper, you will find that not everything is so easily categorized.
Music is good—unless it’s music that was written with lyrics specifically for demeaning a race of people.
More than this, polarized thinking when applied to your writing can be dangerous. If it’s not the best thing you’ve ever written, it’s crap and must be stricken from existence. You’ll lose a lot of potentially great work/ideas like that.
Solution – Look for mediocre qualities in everything. If you think something is downright terrible, challenge yourself to find one thing about it that’s good. The rest will follow.
3. Overgeneralization - This occurs when we come to a conclusion based on a single piece of evidence.
“That e-zine rejected my short story. I can’t write.”
Not true. You can write. That e-zine obviously doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Lol
No, seriously, it’s one failure. It doesn’t rule your life. My senior year of high school I auditioned for the district chorus. The year before I’d gotten into districts and gone on to All-State. Senior year, I had a terrible day and a terrible audition. When we got our results back, I wasn’t surprised (though still very let down) to see that I’d scored pretty badly. At the tender age of eighteen, I’d been ready to throw in the towel with singing. I’d gone to my seventh period class (Musical Theatre) in a not-so-great mood. The teacher (not even close to my favorite) came in and cut off the chatter about district scores and who got in and who didn’t. Naturally there was some overflow from choir to musical theatre. He proceeded to tell us “All right, let’s put it away until the bell rings. Not everyone made it, and I don’t want those who didn’t to feel bad. It’s one person judging you on one aspect on one day in your entire life.”
That made me feel so much better. I was still upset, but I recognized my audition for what it was—unfortunate bad timing. If a teacher I barely liked could say that and make me feel better about myself, anyone can beat overgeneralization.
Solution – Try again. Keep trying. Someone will take that short story. You just have to find the right person.
4. Jumping to Conclusions - Jumping to conclusions is the belief that you know how people are going to react/feel about everything. Specifically, you know how people feel about you.
“I just know that publisher thinks my work is terrible.”
Beg pardon for asking but if you haven’t submitted, how do you know they think you’re terrible? Or if you have submitted and they rejected you, how do you know they thought your stuff was terrible? In the case of the first, they have no experience with you. Why/how would they not like you? In the case of the second, it is possible that the publisher has developed a deep, seething hatred toward you based on your manuscript, but I doubt it.
Solution – Think. Logically, people who have never met you/read your work can’t hate you/it. People who have rejected your work rejected it because it didn’t fit their mold, not because it was bad writing. Though, if you have had repetitive rejections and you are concerned about your writing, it never hurts to have someone look it over.
5. Catastrophizing - This is the expectation of disaster, often in the form of “what if” questions.
“What if they don’t accept my manuscript?”
Answer—you move on to the next publisher/agent. To quote the Broadway musical “Into the Woods,” “But what if! But what if! Will only a giant’s foot stop your arguing?” Sounds like a silly line, but think about it. If you spend your time asking “what if,” you’ll never submit your work. If you never submit your work, no one will ever get the chance to accept it. And if they do reject it, so what? Their loss. And if a giant foot comes down from the heavens to crush them….
Solution – Just submit. To quote another Broadway musical—“Avenue Q”—“Don’t stress. Relax. Let life roll off your backs.”
6. Personalization – This is taking everything that others do or say and believing that it applies to you. This also involves comparing yourself to others in a less than flattering light.
“I can’t write as good as J. K. Rowling.”
It’s not a question of whether you write better or worse than J. K. Rowling. In my opinion, it’s not a fair comparison to even make. The woman wrote “Harry Potter” and is legend for it. You write how you write.
Solution – Be proud of what you do/accomplish. Don’t compare yourself to people. As I said above, if you are truly concerned about your writing, seek critique partners. But otherwise, it’s not a question of better. It’s a question of different. Voice is unique.
7. Control Fallacies - This is a state in which you assume control of the happiness and pain of everyone around you.
“The publisher is upset because my work is terrible. That’s why he rejected me.”
Again, I doubt you personally had anything to do with it. Maybe he just got back from dental surgery. Unless you’re his dentist, you had nothing to do with it. He just happened to reject your manuscript the same day. If his e-mail was a bit harsh, not your fault.
Solution – Step back. Repeat to yourself that you are not responsible for how others feel. Because you are not.
8. Fallacy of Fairness – This is when we feel that we know what is fair and no one else agrees. It leaves us feeling resentful.
“That publisher doesn’t know what’s good writing. It isn’t fair.”
Again, your manuscript probably didn’t fit what he was looking for. It is possible that the publisher/agent doesn’t know what good writing is. Since no industry is perfect, I will not say this is never the case. It may be the case sometimes, but, more often than not, is probably not. The important thing to remember here is that everyone has their own sense of fairness and what’s good or bad.
Solution – Remember that people are individuals. You might not like what some people write. People may not like what you write. It’s not a question of fair. It’s a question of preference.
Come back next Wednesday for the final seven cognitive distortions.
Wednesday Word Count
Character: Warren Gazeban
Inspector Warren Gazeban is the head of the New York branch of MIA (Magical Investigation Agency). He’s got a quick mind, a fondness for his team (with the possible exception of the fairy), and a memory the size of Russia. He’s protective of Vern—something he often gets yelled at for—but, overall, his intentions are good. His crew wouldn’t replace him in a million years.
|Day||Start Count||Written||Final Count|
Total Words Written: 10552
Average Per Day: 1057
Words Remaining: 34,757
Goal is 80,000. Here’s to crossing the half way mark!