blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
WASH YOUR HANDS
During our weekly agent meeting online, the Books & Such agents have been reading and discussing Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant. They’ve been lively discussions as we’ve examined his theories, his excellence in storytelling, and how his observations can apply to the world of publishing–to publishers, editors, marketing people, content creators.
One of Adam Grant’s stories (no relation to Janet Grant) lingered with us weeks after the book discussion on that chapter.
Grant (Adam, not Janet) referred to a social/psychological experiment also reported in Psychological Science.
He and frequent co-author David A. Hoffman observed that although diseases are often spread in hospitals and clinics because health care providers fail to wash their hands, signage reminding health care workers to wash their hands is not a strong enough motivator. And the reason may surprise you.
WASH YOUR HANDS BEFORE RETURNING TO WORK
By nature, health care workers volunteer to risk their own well-being and safety for the needs of others. They’re constantly putting themselves in harm’s way. They lose sleep for their patients, risk infection, pour themselves out for other people’s health needs. So a sign reminding them “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases” was far less effective than one that tapped into their empathy and compassion: “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.”
Only one word was changed in each sign: from you to patients. That’s a concept with which the caregivers could identify. Research reflected a significant uptick in thorough and frequent hand-washing when the emphasis was on the consequence to patients.
WASH YOUR HANDS LIKE A WRITER
Where’s the connection to us? Other than removing the evidence of deadline-week M&Ms or Cheetos, what does the writing world and hand-washing have in common?
You may have heard the phrase, “Good enough for who it’s for.” In addition to its rebellion against the principle of not ending a sentence with a preposition, the phrase always irks me, as it may you. It insinuates it’s okay to do the bare minimum, just enough to get by. It supports a quality of work that’s barely sufficient because the person on the receiving end doesn’t really know or care. Or worse–the worker doesn’t care enough about the recipient to do excellent work.
It’s sometimes the equivalent of phoning it in. Idiom dictionaries describe that phrase as doing something with low effort or enthusiasm.
Wise writers can’t afford to phone it in.
Even if the writer is personally satisfied with a “good enough” attitude, it’s not the writer’s risk that matters. Editors, agents, and readers are at risk of catching the fallout of insufficient effort.
WRITE LIKE YOU CARE
How does phoning it in (insufficient hand-washing) show up in a writer’s life?
- Queries that say nothing about the book but provide a link to the author’s website so the agent or editor can go searching for themselves if they want to. (They don’t.)
- Refer to a social media presence without actual numbers. (Do the work. Show you respect the agent’s or editor’s time.)
- Determine to write the story as it originally came to them in a dream rather than spending time honing and polishing the dream.
- Stubbornly refuse agent or editor counsel about writing for the reader.
- Cheat on research.
- Consider deadlines as suggestions.
- Independently publish prematurely, before the project has matured, been professionally edited, and the author understands both the publishing process and readers. As Robin Lee Hatcher says, “Don’t put your mistakes into print.”
- Fail to consider that poor sales of your book, or an awkward relationship with your publishing house, or your ho-hum attitude about your role in cooperative marketing efforts may affect someone else’s job. Some authors are only conscious of how a book’s success affects them personally. But editors’ positions within their publishing house may be on the line.
WRITE WITH EXCELLENCE
Excellence always. Because we care about others. Out of consideration for others. Because if we ignore the hand-washing sign, we’re not the only ones affected. Knowing that what we write will lose its ability to inspire, influence, and impact others if concern for others is not our strongest motivation.
(Note the difference between perfectionism–which can paralyze an author–and excellence.)
What are your thoughts? What motivates you to consistently make the choices that benefit the “health” of others through your writing?