the biology of self-defeating thoughts

Here’s an epiphany I had last night that definitely turns me into a scientist or something:

When I won the Valerie Parv Award last July, part of my prize was a critique from a senior Harlequin editor in New York, Leslie Waigner. I had completely given up on hearing from her, but a couple of weeks ago her critique arrived. It was comprehensive, engaged with my work, and made many good points. It was also useless because my MS has changed completely in the meantime.

However, she was interested in seeing a revised draft, so I sent her what I have. A couple of days ago she sent another critique and basically said that the story’s not working for her, and she doesn’t want to see any more versions of it.

The worst thing is that I would never have queried Harlequin with it anyway, because I know that it’s not the kind of book they would publish. A rejection all for nothing! It’s been scrolling through my mind though, recently, and making me wonder whether it’s time to give up on this story, and whether my writing will ever really be good enough, and whether maybe it’s time to put words away for a while…

Then last-night I stopped mid-monologue and thought: “Hey! Why is my brain recycling this useless stuff back at me! What’s the point?” And I wasn’t thinking in terms of emotionally-learnt responses to possible failure, I was thinking what the mechanical, biological reason for such self-defeating thoughts could possibly be.

Here’s what occurred to me: Given that we’re the product of adaptation and survival, it makes sense that our brains sift logically through the paraphernalia of every situation to evaluate whether we should proceed or not. It’s basically risk-evaluation.

So rather than seeing my brain as somehow emotionally opposed to me succeeding (evil-brain), I saw my brain as doing mechanical calculations for risk, success, survival (this brain is neither good nor evil. It’s a slightly anxious nerd who doesn’t really get the nuance of human interaction and just kept going with its calculations because nobody told it to stop).

Instead of those thoughts being crippling, and eroding, I could say, “Oh yeah, thanks brain, but we’re all good here.”

And I could evaluate other parts of the equation. Like the fact that Leslie Waigner stressed how much she’d love to see my next project. Like the fact that one of the Allen & Unwin girls told me she only gives full critiques to writers she adores. Like the fact that this might take a while, but I’m doing it no matter what.

I might be a scientist, too.

About anna cowan

I look around, and here I am - housewife and aspiring romance novelist. This seems unexpected.
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4 Responses to the biology of self-defeating thoughts

  1. Catherine says:

    Your book sounded like a lot of fun when you described it to me last year! I’m still hoping to read it one day…


    Catherine, who has no idea what genre she is writing in at this point

    • anna cowan says:

      haha, the joys of being a writer! I do love the story and am gonna see it through whatever the outcome! My hero’s definitely not your typical hero material… I loved your comment the other day on your blog that you were going to picnic in the sun and spend some time with your characters. Growing characters is so much fun (even if they won’t tell you what genre their universe is).

  2. Ella Smethurst says:

    cool blog Anna! makes me laugh 🙂

  3. anna cowan says:

    thanks Ella. Me and two friends were trying to figure out some pretty intensive theoretical physics today – just by intuition. Science without knowing science makes for some good comedy, that’s for sure…

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