Permission to Let Go: Lessons from The Concorde Fallacy

About two *cough* decades ago, I conducted my Ph.D research on parental behavior, using a bird species as my model system. In the biological sciences, it’s common practice to use research models to ask questions that then might be applicable to other species — perhaps even applicable to… people *gasp*. Through my background research, I discovered that there are actually a lot of social parallels between people and birds. Birds are socially monogamous and they are largely biparental, meaning that in most species, both father and mother provide parental care to the offspring (not necessarily equally or through the same tasks, but for most bird species where offspring are born helpless, fathers and mothers collaborate to care for these youngsters). In my studies, I also learned about this relatively straightforward seeming concept called the Concorde Fallacy. Named after the very expensive supersonic jet, the Concorde Fallacy refers to the error in reasoning of the British and French governments’ continued investment into the aircraft program because they already had invested in it, despite the impracticality and lack of economic need of this luxury transport. The Concorde Fallacy serves as a warning against the common argument that “we have come this far and now we should continue.” The argument is not that you shouldn’t ever use past investment as a justification for continuing: just as all businesses require a start-up period with initial investment, all writing takes time, effort, and sacrifice before you can finish a project or publish a book.

How often do writers commit The Concorde Fallacy with their own work? How many times have we persisted with a project because we’ve come this far and can’t quit now? How could we let go of a project if we’ve put years and years of our time and energy and effort into it? How do we avoid feeling like the planet’s biggest failure if we do walk away?

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In working on my Ph.D so long ago, I remember grappling with the question of whether I could apply some of these principles to my own life. According to my advisor, I wasn’t supposed to think of my own research concepts in the context of my own life. After discussing-arguing this point with him for the twentieth time, he gritted his teeth (or maybe he was smiling) and said that I had the mind of a sociologist and not a biologist. To this day, I love teaching biology and asking scientific questions. While I occasionally use my scientific background in my fiction writing, I more or less gave up on trying to apply those long-ago research concepts to my own life — until recently.

Last weekend I attended the Storymakers Conference for the very first time, and everything about this conference spoke to me: the classes, the intensives, the energy, and meeting old friends and new. But one of the things that struck me most of all came during one of the keynote speeches, delivered by the brilliant and talented, and kind and humble, author Ally Condie. As just one example of the many inspiring messages, Ally told us about two back-burner projects that she wrote. These began as projects that were not what her publisher requested. Despite this, she felt compelled to write them, and so she did. As I sat in the ballroom listening to Ally’s speech, I felt like someone had punched me in the chest (and no, it wasn’t Ally because she is too kind). But it was her message on giving yourself permission to be daring, to start something new and something that you’re excited about, to write something that you want to write, not necessarily something that you’re supposed to write. She made the important point that while some of these projects will never see the light of day, others will. In Ally’s case, the two back-burner projects she mentioned were ones you may have heard of: MATCHED and SUMMERLOST.

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Some amount of fangirling may have happened at Storymakers!

So, I have been working on a manuscript since the summer of 2014. It started as a challenge from one of my critique partners. For much of the first three months of writing this, what I will here refer to as the “scarred story” didn’t feel quite right. At the three month mark, I was forced to put it aside to finish the third book in my YA trilogy, which was on a deadline (while the scarred story was not). Book three of my trilogy was finished the following spring, and at that time, I went back to working on my scarred story. That was over two years ago, I have rewritten it many many MANY times. I am still unhappy with the beginning, parts of the middle, and I have never gotten to the ending. I know my characters well, but they don’t speak to me very openly anymore. But for over two years, I told myself I had to keep at it because I owed it to those characters to finish their story. Because I am not a quitter. Because I don’t want to fail. Because I have already come this far so how could I ever … oh. OH! Oh.

The morning after Ally Condie’s keynote speech, I closed all of my files that held my scarred story, the story that was so familiar to me yet so distant. I took my little AlphaSmart word processor down to the hotel lobby and opened up a brand new file. I started to write a new story, a back-burner project that has been rattling around in my head for some time now, and as I tapped on my keyboard, those ideas jumped out and started to play out in my mind like they were celebrating. I’m not kidding — I seriously felt like crying, in part because it felt so good to start working on this new project, but also because I had finally given myself permission to let go of the scarred one.

I haven’t shelved my scarred story forever. I know will come back to it, and I know will do it justice, but I will do it when I’m ready. And it’s okay to let it go for now (and yes, even if it is forever) because writing is about heart. If our hearts are not in our work, then there is really no purpose.

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At Storymakers, I got to play with the other authors at the mass book signing ❤

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the upper YA MYTHOLOGY trilogy and new adult contemporary romances. You can find out more about her books at www.helenboswell.com.

(Almost) Everything I Learned About Writing, I Learned from Parenting

Last week, some of the Cedar City members of Thinking Through Our Fingers met at our local library for a writer’s panel discussion (which was wonderful). The first thing our lovely panel moderator asked us was to share our most important piece of writing advice. Mine was along the lines of every project being different and how it therefore becomes necessary to temper our expectations along the way (i.e., just because book three was a relative breeze doesn’t guarantee that book five won’t be a beast with horns). Each work has its own personality, and I began to think about how in some ways, tending to our “book babies” is a lot like parenting. Not a parent? No worries. These analogies apply to other crazily difficult if not impossible tasks as well. Like domesticating wild zebras. Or learning how to sky-dive into volcanoes.

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READING ABOUT IT IS FINE, BUT TO REALLY LEARN HOW TO DO IT, YOU HAVE TO JUST DO IT.doit

  • Prior to becoming a parent, maybe you stocked up on those “What to Expect” or other parenting books (Goodness knows I did). While useful for some technical things (like how to get that dirty diaper off and the clean one on before the baby pees or poops EVERYWHERE), nothing can better make you a better parent except for rolling up your sleeves and actually tackling parenting. Seriously. Despite the best books, you will have those days, weeks, months (or more) where you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, but take comfort in the fact that you are learning more every day (especially from your mistakes), and that you’re doing the best that you can. Because you’re doing it.
  • Similarly, you might have a favorite stack of craft books and podcasts and go-to blogs about writing. You may attend writing conferences and workshops to learn about your craft. Yes. DO THOSE THINGS. But in addition to getting ideas, inspiration, and technical details, nothing will teach you more about writing than rolling up your sleeves, sitting your butt in that chair, and writing. And yes, you will have those days, weeks, months (or more) where you feel doubtful about your writing and maybe even question your entire writing career, but take comfort in the knowledge that by actually writing, you are learning more about writing every single day (especially from your mistakes), and that you’re doing the very best that you can. Because you’re doing it.

MAINTAIN REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.expectations.gif

  • Even before I became a parent, I had plans. I planned to go the route of natural childbirth for my first child. I read up on it, spoke to my physician and other professionals, and attended classes to prepare myself and my husband for what would hopefully be a memorable experience. Well. What wound up happening was a total of 28+ hours of difficult labor, two separate epidurals, and an emergency C-section that saved both my and my son’s life (talk about the opposite of “natural”)! And the important and special bonding process between mother and baby that’s supposed to happen immediately after birth? I didn’t get to even see him until two days after he was born because we were both recovering from those 28+ hours of trauma. That little guy is now almost ten years old, and I’ve learned to chill out (a little) about my expectations. If he remembers to brush his teeth and comes home from school with a smile on his face, then this is a good day! If he also does his homework and helps around the house and doesn’t argue with me and doesn’t torture his younger brother too much and practices piano without me nagging him 194 times, then that’s an amazing day. The point is not to set low expectations, but maybe it would be better to set realistic ones and understand there are lots (and lots) of things in life that out of your control.
  • Oh boy. We expect so much from ourselves as writers, don’t we? We go to conferences, connect with other writers, read about others’ experiences, and educate ourselves as best as we can about what it takes to get published. We hope that people (critique partners, beta readers, agents, editors, and eventually EVERYONE) will read and enjoy and possibly even connect with our stories. Once our book babies are out there in the world, we hope and hope and hope they will do well. I made the emotionally draining mistake with my third published book of having unrealistic expectations. This was the first contemporary story I’d written, it had gotten great pre-release buzz, and so many people worked hard to promote it on release day. Well. This book never did too well, and at first, I let that bring me down. However, I still dearly love that book baby, am currently working on another contemporary story that shall be published later this year, and I’m being careful to not unrealistically inflate my expectations. Since I’ve published my first book, I’ve chilled out (a lot) about expectations. Honestly, as long as I’m still writing, I’m good :). If people read my book and connect with it, that’s amazing. I don’t stress about charts and rankings so much anymore, especially because things like hitting bestseller charts are not in your control and therefore aren’t realistic goals.

SORRY, BUT IT DOESN’T GET ANY EASIER.screams

  • Okay, yes, some parenting things do get easier with experience. With my second child, I figured out how to multitask a bit better (because simultaneously juggling nursing, helping my son with his homework, cooking dinner, and proofreading a manuscript was necessary). However, I had to give up naps because life became much busier, and that was hard. Most importantly, I quickly learned that my kids’ personalities are not the same, and so I’ve had to adjust my parenting style to fit each child — in a way that’s a bit different for each child but hopefully still fair (unless you ask them directly, then nothing in life is fair). But I haven’t even gotten to the teenage years with them yet, so I know it’s going to get harder and harder and that I might not completely survive adolescent boys. Just kidding. We will be great, and when I get more gray hair, it means that I get to color it even more fun colors. But to say parenting becomes magically easier with each kid — just, no.
  • Likewise, every writing project is different, and prior experience will make some things easier, but not all. For instance, I don’t cry (nearly as much) when my editor comments that something major in my story needs to be changed. On the other hand, drafting is still that untamed beast with horns that gores me and leaves me bleeding on the ground. Each book has its own personality and its own challenges, and I find that these challenges continually surprise me. Book two was a challenge because it was the first one I wrote from dual POV (one male and one female). Book three was actually a relatively easier and pleasant one for me to write, but it was different because it was contemporary and not fantasy. Book four was a huge challenge because I had to balance two stories that were 500 years apart, but I felt pretty good throughout the process. And here I am writing book five, and it has been the hardest thing I’ve ever written and I want to pull out my hair because of ALL the things. GAH. What a problem child my fifth book has been. But I don’t hate it, and I just have to keep reminding myself that this story has its own personality and challenges. But to say that writing becomes magically easier with each project — just, no.

IT’S WORTH IT. (ALSO, DON’T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF!)worthit

  • At the end of the day, I might be hoarse from yelling and my house might be in danger of being classified a Federal Disaster Area, but being the mom of my two creative, hilarious, energetic, and sweet boys is so worth it. Some days I feel like I still know pretty much nothing about parenting, but I know a lot more than I did before I held my first baby.
  • Similarly, writing may make me frustrated, sleep-deprived, feel like a failure, give me anxiety or at the very least, Imposter Syndrome, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it. I know a lot more about writing than I did when I was slogging through my first manuscript.
  • Writing books and being a parent are two of the most challenging things I’ve ever done (and my former graduate school advisor is still mad at me because I told him that getting my Ph.D paled in comparison in difficulty to either of these things). Whether we choose to become parents and/or writers, zebra domesticators and/or volcano skydivers, these difficult tasks that we take on require us to continually build up our abilities with experience. But as long as we acknowledge and embrace that there’s always more to learn, I think we will all be okay.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: HOPE

Even though there have been many, many moments in recent days when it has been a struggle, the last lesson I want to share is this: HOPE. Raising my children requires that I maintain hope, for their happiness, for their lives, for their education and future prospects, and for the world that I leave behind for them. My children are my ultimate inspiration to keep fighting for a better future, and I will continue teaching them about important things such as inclusion, diversity, and how we should speak up and act when we see the need for change. Similarly, as writers, we have the power to write meaningful stories that touch lives and provide connections for those who feel lost. We have the power to share stories that reflect inclusion, unity, diversity, and betterment of the human condition. We have the power to tackle tough topics, heal people and their wounds and empower them. We can create better worlds and give people the power to speak up, and we can give them hope.

Because we always need hope in our world. We really do.

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helen2Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. Mom of two and author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romances LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (<– coming as soon as she can tame that wild beast of a book baby). You can find out more about her writing at www.helenboswell.com.